New Book Club Selection!

Hope you had a good time reading the last book of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I’m really excited about the next book club selection.  It’s a first novel for a female writer from British Columbia.  Here’s the info:

Everything Was Good Bye by Gurjinder Basran

Everything Was Good-bye centers around Meena, a young Indo Canadian woman growing up in the lower mainland of British Columbia and traces her life as she struggles to assert her independence in a Punjabi community. Raised by her tradition bound widowed mother, Meena knows the freedoms of her Canadian peers can never be hers, but unlike her sisters, she is reluctant to submit to a life that is defined by a suitable marriage. Though a narrative moving between race and culture, it is ultimately a story of love, loss and self acceptance amidst shifting cultural ideals.

I met Basran recently at my local Chapters book store and she was just lovely.  I don’t know much more about the book than the summary provided on her website, but I can’t wait to dive in.  Considering we live in a cultural mosaic and so many of us have to navigate dual cultures, it seems a fitting choice.  I also love that it’s a Canadian novel.  Happy Reading!

End date: May 24th

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

spoiler alert: 

although I try not to explicitly state the end of the book, I do discuss it

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In the final book of the Millenium Trilogy we pick up exactly where book two left off.  Lisbeth Salander is in the hospital accused of the attempted murder of Alexander Zalachenko (Salander’s Russian-spy-turned-informant-wife-beater-father).  She is under police guard, with a multitude of powerful men waiting for her release, like salivating dogs ready to pounce.  They intend to bury her alive in a psychiatric institution and thereby bury the Zalachenko secret forever.  Meanwhile, the police are hunting Ronald Niederman who is, unbeknownst to them, Salander’s half-brother.  Add to that Mikhail Blomkvist, who is bent on exposing the extreme injustices committed against Salander by the Swedish government because of the need to protect her father, Sweden’s most explosive secret and security threat.  Blomkvist’s sole aim is to expose and right the corruption and stripping of Salander’s rights.

Despite these many layers in the book, and the episodes of extreme violence suffered by those Salander and Blomkvist care about, the pace in this third novel slows almost to a screeching halt.  Previous posts on this trilogy have included my reactions to the amount and nature of violence described and the intriguing layers that make up Salander’s character.  Larsson definitely kept this going in the final book of the trilogy.  What I didn’t expect was the amount of investigative detective work that would occur in this third book.

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I liked this book.  I didn’t love this book.  And, I don’t think I liked it enough to read it again.  I became weary of the many conversations analysing every new piece of evidence: Blomkvist mentions it to Cortez and Eriksson, and then has to tell Figuerola who then must discuss it with her boss and so on.  Each time a piece of information is revealed it is mulled over, looked at in a different way, from a different angle…I would skip over entire paragraphs and pages because the content did not change and I found myself not really caring about each character’s opinion.

Moreover, Berger’s storyline was completely unnecessary.  However, the comment that all patriarchal institutions have an effect on violence against women was not lost on me.  Berger experiences degrading name-calling and her authority is constantly challenged and questioned.  She experiences horrendous workplace harrassment that ends in a vicious assault.  She is hired to make changes to an archaic newspaper – a sole woman in a sea of men who have never been bossed around by a woman – and, essentially, fails.  One woman cannot do it alone, even someone as strong and intelligent as Erika Berger.  The kind of change that the Millenium Trilogy calls for, true gender equality and respect – requires action and committment from all.

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Nothing in this book is really a mystery – the conclusion is essentially laid out throughout the book.  The trial plays out as expected and the final verdict isn’t a surprise either.  It takes much, much longer than it should, really.  Too many dates and facts about Swedish government and history in politics are noted that ultimately don’t really matter to the plot or character development.  Unless you are Swedish perhaps and it would help to put certain details about Salander’s case into context.

Lisbeth’s final confrontation with Niederman is no surprise either, since he isn’t caught by the authorities (throughout this trilogy one thing is clear – police incompetence).  She finally shows her true abilities as a wasp and as a fighter, someone who simply refuses to allow another to squash her.

I appreciated the final moments of the novel where Mikhail and Lisbeth are reunited in friendship.  Although they are in constant communication throughout the book via computer, they finally come face-to-face.  Mikhail asks for friendship and Lisbeth allows him in, realizing all romantic feelings for him are gone and realizing she is finally linked in true friendship to another person.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trilogy.  The main characters captured my imagination.  Salander is strong, intelligent and unstoppable.  Blomkvist matches her, barely, yet he holds his own…I could’ve done without his whole Rico Suave routine with the ladies, but I guess that’s part of his allure.  This was a smart book; many times I had to suspend reality and allow myself to be led by the narrator, that yes, everything would go as Blomkvist planned.  Nonetheless, an entertaining read that forces one to look at one of the plaguing issues of our time: violence against women.  No one is completely responsible and everyone is accountable.  Great characters, great plot, a fun reading experience awaits.

If I Lived My Life Like Lisbeth Salander

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I have had so much fun reading the first two books of the Millenium Trilogy partly because I love its protagonist.  Lisbeth Salander is one awesome character.  Even though this series is something completely out of my realm of reading, it has definitely captured my attention.  I will read more tech-geek-violent-mystery-anti-government-journalistic novels.  And, that is because of the coolest character I’ve come across in a long time.  The more I think about her, the more I realize that life might be easier to handle if I took a few pages out of her ibook.  (Well, except for her computer hacking skills that is – maybe).

  1. Don’t get mad, get even: she never, ever forgets her wrong-doers and returns every offence ten-fold.  Too many times we allow others to walk all over us, so if I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander I would always stand up for myself…maybe without the can of mace.
  2. Remember everything: she might have a photographic memory on her side, but for those of us who have trouble remembering our pin numbers, passwords and what that last thing on the grocery list that we forgot at home was – we must remember that multi-tasking decreases focus.  A true warrior is one that remains focused, in the moment, on the task at hand (my husband read that somewhere and I just love its message).  So if I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander I would cease all multi-tasking and pay attention to what I’m doing!  (As I write this, my blackberry is within reach, a stack of essays is staring at me making me feel guilty for not marking and the next book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 is on my lap.)
  3. Never feel guilty:  Salander always knows why she takes a course of action and does not feel guilt about any of it.  Why should I feel guilty about not marking essays?  If I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander, I would never feel guilty about not marking (I highly doubt my students think about me the moment they are outside of my class room)…in fact I would never feel guilty about anything again – except when I haven’t spent enough time with my son, or my husband, or wasn’t able to make it to the gym or coffee with my friends…
  4. Reason and logic over emotion:  sometimes thinking through something and not feeling through it makes sense.  (I feel like going on a tour of Europe this summer, I think I cannot afford it).  If I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander I would be logical and be able to do math.  Since I suck at math and can never aspire to Salander’s mathematical genius – I can aspire to be more logical and use a calculator for math.
  5. Complete confidence:  knowing that what I feel, what I want, what I need is valid.  Period.  If I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander I wouldn’t care about what I could learn from a fictional character.
  6. Always have a plan:  Lisbeth goes into every situation after having assessed the risk and consequences involved – with measures to take in the event of something going wrong.  She is always in control because she is proactive and anticipates situations.  In my career as a teacher – it is critical to stay one step ahead of my students…it is a cornerstone of classroom management.  So, in the classroom I am like Lisbeth Salander – except, that is a rather frightening thought.
  7. Allow others to help (if they must): that’s a tough one for someone who is a bit of a control-freak (did I just admit that?)  Life is easier when you can utter the word h-e-l-p. If I lived my life like Lisbeth Salander I would find myself in life-threatening situations where a fearless journalist comes to my rescue…or vice-versa…I just need to meet a fearless journalist bent on exposing corporate and governmental corruption…and become the object of a major government conspiracy.

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Even though Salander is mentally unstable she is one cool woman with attitude.  She can teach us regular women who are not fighting criminals or hacking into computer systems across the country, and instead are trying to cook healthy dinners, play cars/dolls with our children, stay in shape for ourselves, remain somewhat visible in our careers and be awesome in the eyes of our husbands, that kicking ass is all about the attitude.  And that is something I think we can all have plenty of.

The Problem with Watching the Movie First

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson has yet to really hook me.  I am ten chapters in and I keep waiting for something to happen.  I like the straightforward, simple writing (keeping in mind that this is a translation).  I haven’t read any Nordic writers – with the exception of Henrik Ibsen, whose plays also demonstrate a simple, direct writing style that exposes social ironies.  I wouldn’t call Larson’s use of voice ironic; he is straightfoward – a journalist just like Mikael Blomkvist.  The story reads in a journalistic fashion.  A bunch of really interesting facts about the Vangers, about Salander, about Swedish bureaucracy that I read and read and read to get to the end so I can start reading book two of the series The Girl Who Played with Fire which is the story I am actually interested in.

I am diligently reading because I enjoyed the movie so much that I am itching to know what happens next in Lisbeth Salander’s life.  But, since I am a true book nerd, I am compelled to read the books, in order, instead of waiting for the next movie.

I convince myself that it’s really neat to come across moments in the novel that didn’t make it to the screen and ponder directorial choices.  I tell myself that it’s great to know more about the characters and see them become three-dimensional in the novel.  It doesn’t work.  I’ve got the movie moving through my head as I read – I can’t make up my own Sweden because my imagination is saturated with Fincher’s vision of the novel.  Oh well, fortunately, I don’t mind Fincher’s vision – certain shots showed off winter’s beauty and actually made it look appealing.  This is from someone who unabashedly hibernates through the cold Canadian winter – winter activities? Only if sitting by the fireplace with a glass of wine counts!

So, my main problem isn’t the book at all.  It’s that I watched the movie first.  It is an age-old argument: do you read the book first, or watch the movie.  I’ve done both, and in either order, the book always ends up being better.  However, in the past when I watched the movie first (say, Harry Potter), reading the book was enriched by the film.

In this case, I can’t seem to get through all the set up in the earlier chapters to get to the good stuff later on.  I’m hesitant to say, that maybe, for the first time ever, I enjoyed the movie more than the book.  I can’t be completely certain of this until I finish it – but, right now, it seems to be the case.

I hope I change my mind by the end of the novel.