Monday, August 17, 2009

Books I have read while vegetating

Patty here...

I’ve been traveling most of the past eight weeks, and my schedule hasn’t allowed much free time to indulge in my favorite pastime—gliding in a hammock strung between two sturdy trees and reading a good book.

This past week changed all that. With no planned agenda, I spent the first two days of my trip doing nothing but lounging on a beanbag cushion and staring at the ocean.

I broke through this vegetative state on the afternoon of the third day by reaching into my tote bag to retrieve a novel I’d purchased at an airport bookstore on one of my recent trips. I don’t remember if the buy was made in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York or Boston and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The book got a lot of buzz when it was published in 2008, so I thought I’d give it a try.

On the beginning pages was a short paragraph about the author, stating he had died in 2004 shortly after submitting three manuscripts in a planned series, including the book I now held in my hand. How odd, I thought.

Intrigued, I searched the Internet and learned that author Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist and writer who died of a massive heart attack in 2004 at age fifty. In 2008 his debut novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was published posthumously, made him the second-best selling author in the world, behind Afghani-American author Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner).

There was also a hint of intrigue surrounding Larsson's death. Not everybody believed he died of natural causes. Some thought his work and political convictions made him a target of foul play.

His political convictions, as well as his journalistic experiences, led him to found the Swedish Expo Foundation, similar to the British Searchlight Foundation, established to ‘expose racist and totalitarian organizations and tendencies’; he also became the editor of the foundation's magazine Expo. Larsson quickly became instrumental in documenting and exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organizations; he was an influential debater, lecturer and self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on the subject, allegedly living for years under death threats from his political enemies.

Larsson drafted his will in 1977 but never had it witnessed, rendering it invalid under Swedish law. He apparently intended his assets to go to the Socialist Party but instead all of his estate, including royalties from his books, will go to his father and brother. His long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson will get exactly nothing.

According to this source:

The legal battle between Larsson’s girlfriend and his father and brother could have been plucked from the pages of his three crime novels and is stirring just as much passion in Sweden, where at least one in three people has read them.

So I picked up the book and started reading, and I couldn’t stop until I finished. There are 405 customer reviews of the paperback on Amazon. Read them or just take my word for it. On so many levels this is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. I'm off to buy the next installment in the series, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.

Have you read any good books this summer?

Happy Monday!


  1. from Jacqueline

    Hi Patty - now I will have to go out and procure those books immediately! I seem to have had little time for reading novels for ages (that personal habit of never reading fiction while writing fiction), but in the past few weeks I've been catching up. I read Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes while in England, and it is a terrific book - set in "the season" of 1968, it is really a book about time passing, about aging; and about how we see the past and who we were then and are now - plus it's witty and clever, a hallmark of Fellowes work. Now I'm reading Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese - what a masterpiece. I also read Jane Smiley's A Year At The Races, which of course I loved!

    By the way, where have you been???? I think I missed details of your travel over the summer (apart from Book Passage, where you were a real hit!)

  2. I, too, came late to reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. And I'll admit, after slogging through the first chapter, I told my husband I couldn't, for the life of me, understand what all the fuss was about. The opening chapter had a bunch of financial hooey I didn't care about, a protagonist I found pretty boring, and so far there was no girl, no dragon, and certainly no tattoo. Then I read Chapter 2 and met Lizbeth Salander....

  3. Ah yes, DebbyJ. Lisbeth is one of the most unusual and compeling characters I've encountered in a long time. As I was reading the long exposition at the beginning of the book I wondered if my writing group would nix the passage if I'd brought it to read. But Larsson's writing style is straightforward and easy to follow so I pressed on.

    Our J, I will add those books to my TBR pile. As for travel, I've been everywhere from SFO to Minneapolis to the East Coast on sailing trips. You were in Jolly Ole England when I posted about my trip to Martha's Vineyard. Trying to make the most of the summer...

  4. Our colleague, Janine, is a fierce advocate for this series, and I strongly suspect it's going to be an all-around shop favorite.

    Right now, though, we're all massively enjoy Brett Battles' series. Still, there are only three of them, leaving plenty of time for Larsson.

    Well, if it wasn't for all the other books that need reading, of course.

  5. "Girl's" been on my TBR list, too. Just read the first chapter on

    Agree with Debby that there's no obvious hook and the title character isn't introduced. Not at all unusual. But I wonder, in the age of first-chapter 'Net perusuals, for marketing purposes, should writers of crime fiction pay more attention to a MAJOR PLOT POINT up front?

  6. Fran, plus Brett Battles is such a truly nice guy who deserves his success.

    Paulie, the prologue hooked me with the mysterious flower sent each year on the anniversary of Harriet Vanger's disappearance. The potential problem started with chapter one and the Blomkvist backstory. Still, Larsson made it work for me. The question is what made it work for so many other people? BTW, the trial was a major plot point.

  7. I read and highly recommend Three Junes, a National Book Award winner by Julia Glass.

    The Junes in question are months, one in 1989, followed by another in 1995, and concluding with 1999. It reminds me, no less, of Tolstoy in that intimate details of life are played out in perfect pitch against the backdrop of convincingly rendered and evocative time and place. Believe it or not, the book is set in Greece, Scotland, Manhattan, and Amagansett.

    And here's the kicker: it is her first (published) novel. Oddly enough, I had a bit of a first chapter problem with it as well and almost didn't go ahead with it. I'm beginning to wonder if our attention spans take a bit of a hit as time goes by.

  8. I read this book last year, and I was the same way: couldn't stop until I finished. I will definitely be checking out the next book.

    I took Megan Abbott's very very fine BURY ME DEEP to Paris with me two weeks ago and stayed up way too late one night because I just had to finish it.

  9. Mims, I think you have made a pithy observaton about our collective attention spans. Now, what do we do about the problem?

    Karen, Megan Abbott is a considerable talent. I haven't read her newest book but read the previous one.

  10. James O. Born8/17/2009 7:24 PM

    I do as I'm told. I'll buy the book.


  11. You do as your told and I'm just finding out??????


  13. Hi from Albuquerque, Naked Authors, what a treat to stumble across your blog, thanks to Google Alerts and Eva G. Imagine, a blog by people who can write, and spell too! There's much more info about Stieg Larsson on my blog,

    After you read the books, feel free to ask any questions you might have. (Although it's been almost 3 years since I've read/translated the books.)

    And Jacqueline, my wife Tiina Nunnally (the really famous translator in this house) is a huge fan and has bought all your books in hardback. Maybe I can tempt her into the blogosphere now.

    We've both zoomed through all 3 Brett Battles books recently, and I find him the most Stieg-like of anything I've read lately. Good to hear he's a nice guy too.

    Great to meet you all, and I hope to read more of your stuff soon. Anyone going to Bouchercon?

    "Reg Keeland" / aka Steven T. Murray

  14. Reg, how great to hear from you! And thanks for the link. Hope to meet you at some event.

  15. i haven't read any of larssons books yet, but they have been on my list for quite some time yet.

    during the summer i read a book called Stalin Poker by a new german writer. for my liking it had too much detail where it wasn't needed. then i tried to get into The Tales of Beedle the Bard and a book on Obama.

    this morning i bought the latest by Liza Marklund. the german title is Cold South. i don't think it is out in english yet. she's highly acclaimed swedish writer and amazon says that every second swede has read at least one of her books. so i'm looking forward to get into that now.