Wednesday, March 31, 2010

50 Book Challenge to the Rescue

What do you do when adversity "takes you down" - at least for a while? In the case of this blogger with a nicely broken wrist, there's not much else to do but read, and so I have plunged single-handedly into Bernardsville Public Library's 50 Book Challenge for 2010.

As luck would have it, someone recommended a good book to me the very night before my accident, so when I returned from the E.R., I took up Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir, Left To Tell, a tale of her great faith and survival during the Rwandan genocide. There's nothing like reading about harrowing and unimaginable suffering to put one's own whimperings into perspective.

Finding that misery really does love company, I rushed on to disaster stories next. How exciting was The Lost City Of Z, by David Grann, about a failed expedition to the Amazon which sought to locate a mythical archaeological site in the early part of the 20th century!

Why not read about a shipwreck next?! Being lost at sea had to be worse than nursing a broken bone, and, yes, it certainly was in Nathaniel Philbrick's, In the Heart of the Sea. This nonfiction book is based on accounts of two survivors of the whale ship Essex which was stove by a whale - yes, I learned a new word, too, (stove) -  in 1820.  Herman Melville also thought the original accounts of this shipwreck made for a good yarn since he used the Essex story as a framework for Moby Dick. One thing leads to another, it seems, so I, in turn, reread the atmospheric parts of Melville's Moby Dick.

By now it was time for some heartwarming animal stories. I recommend Making Rounds With Oscar by David Dosa for those who love cats and for those who are caregivers or relatives of Alzheimers patients. The physician author gives gentle, good advice that could help families to accept the slippery slope of this disease. He also recounts the story of the hospice cat, Oscar, who unfailingly appears at the bedsides of those patients about to die. For a lighter but equally touching animal story, I tried The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. Who couldn't love a dear little runt of the litter, but who would guess the piglet would grow into a 750 pound hog with a gift for companionship? This was a very sweet tale within a curly tail.

It was then that I picked up Life of Pi by Yann Martel. How circular my reading had now become!  My earlier books about faith and suffering, shipwrecks, storytelling, and animals all came together in this one curious piece of fiction. 

I think those of you who participate in a dedicated reading routine such as the 50 Book Challenge will also find patterns emerging in your book choices and in the notions expressed by your authors. You, too, will delight in seeing how ideas and themes can be written and rewritten in so many wondrous and diverse ways.

~Evelyn  Fischel

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stieg Larsson and the Millenium Series

Bernardsville Public Library finds the published works of Stieg Larsson to be wildly popular beginning with his first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  In fact, Larsson's books are international sensations.  By one estimation of worldwide sales in 2008, Larsson ranked only second behind Kahled Hosseini (The Kite Runner.)  The library book group, Saturday Samplers, will discuss The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at its meeting this Saturday, March 6th, 3:30 p.m., and I initially wrote the following author profile for them, but I think others might be interested in learning a bit about this once promising, but now deceased writer.

Swedish author Stieg Larsson poured a lifetime of causes and interests into the few pieces of fiction, collectively known as the Millenium series, which he wrote before his untimely death at the age of 50 in 2004. Issues such as feminism, fascism, corporate crime and the role of media in Sweden propelled his life as an activist and as a writer. These same issues fall front and center in his books.

Professionally, Larsson was a graphic designer for Tidningarnas Telegrambyra, a Swedish news agency, but he devoted much of his time to investigative journalism, political activism, ethics causes and (to throw a curveball here) the promotion of science fiction. A member of the Communist Workers League and editor of a Trotskyist journal, Fjarde internationalen, Stieg Larsson put his political beliefs into action by founding the Expo Foundation, a Swedish organization formed to counteract racist and extreme right-wing Swedish groups. He was the editor for this foundation’s magazine, entitled Expo, which is more than a coincidence as the character, Mikael Blomkvist, also publishes a magazine, Millenium, in Larsson’s books.

Karl Stig-Erland Larsson was born in the northern town of Skelleftea, Vasterbotten, Sweden in 1954, but changed the spelling of his name to Stieg as an adult. He was intimately familiar with the culture, landscape and “personality” of the north, having been raised in the country by his grandparents. This knowledge is apparent in his descriptions of the towns and countryside in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. As a young man he pursued interests in photography, and he enjoyed reading science fiction and mysteries.

His efforts to expose racism, neo-Nazism and extremist groups active in Sweden garnered him numerous death threats. For self-protection, he and Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of 32 years, sought to hide their personal information and address as much as possible, and this is why they never married because under Swedish law a married couple must publish their address. The fact that they were not married became a legal issue after Larsson died of a sudden, massive heart attack. Swedish law did not recognize Gabrielsson as his wife, and Larsson’s estate went to his father and brother, neither of whom were close to him nor had the intimate understanding of Larsson’s writings as did Eva Gabrielsson. The Guardian Observer just published an interesting interview with Gabrielsson which provides further insight into Larsson’s life and literary pursuits through Eva's eyes.

Stieg Larsson died having completed three books which he had hoped to turn into an exended series. Known as the Millenium series, they are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish title being Men Who Hate Women), The Girl Who Played with Fire, and finally The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Swedish title being The Aircastle that Blew Up.) The first book has been released in film form by Swedish and English companies and the next two books are to be turned into television productions. The poster for the Swedish film illustrated above gives you some sense of how the book's characters have been portrayed on film.