I’ve been busy reading this summer. That might not seem remarkable, as I am an English teacher and an avid reader and writer. What is unusual is that I’ve actually learned to read for pleasure again, not read because I’m boning up for a class, or reading for a book club, or reading because someone has really pushed me to read this or that.
I spoke about this a bit in this post, but today I wanted to chat about my three favorite books of the summer – two that are probably very familiar, and one that I’m pretty sure isn’t.
The first, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, has become a huge international sensation, so much so that the beautifully imagined Swedish films are in the works to become Hollywood knock-offs. (Which is likely to be a disaster, but that’s for another post). I hadn’t read this book earlier because my husband thought that it would be too “raw” and violent for my tastes. I appreciated his care and concern. I am a wimp when it comes to violence, but I think that pertains to visual violence rather than something that I read. I’ll admit that there are certain scenes that are indelibly printed in my brain – the bathtub scene from The Shining, along with several scenes in the early Kathy Reichs’ books, but I can handle most things as long as they are in print.
I’m a complete sucker, though, for fabulous characters, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has them in spades. I do think that the primary protagonist in this first book, Mikael Blomkvist is a bit self-congratulatory, and I very much doubt his extraordinary magnetism to women. My guess is that this was Larsson’s view of himself – and aggrandized. The other supporting characters were strong, the layers underneath them were strong, and needless to say, Lisbeth Salander has won hearts the world over.
I’d recommend this book for anyone with a tolerance for sadism and darkness, but who love unraveling characters along with a mystery. This is not a book lacking in surprises – always a good thing. I’ve heard that the second, and especially the third books are even stronger, but I’m saving them for future vacations/breaks.
The second book on my list is by another international success, Tana French. French’s In the Woods probably won every award and accolade possible, and if it’s anything like Faithful Place, it certainly deserves the prodigious praise. I read Faithful Place again thanks to my husband, who read it over a weekend away and absolutely was enthralled with the dysfunctional Mackey family and the patterns of devastation that they had created over a span of twenty-five years. The details of working-class Dublin were extraordinary; Dublin becomes a “character” in this book as London does in Oliver Twist. Faithful Place is another story within a story, much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I enjoyed it even more because there was a layer of hope at the end, which was not really the case with Girl.
I must have really been in the mood for dark, international tomes of dysfunction, because the third book fits this same category. I’m not finished with this one yet, but I’m really drawn in so far. This one, Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi, was wildly popular in Sweden when it was published in 2002 and has gained quite a bit of popularity in England, as well, but I haven’t seen it take flight here in this U.S. It was given to me upon my 50th birthday, as the protagonist and I were born one month apart and the person who gave it to me (my Swedish “daughter”) thought I’d enjoy the Swedish perspective of coming of age during the same era. For various reasons, I didn’t get to the book until over a year later, and I was very uncertain when I started it. This review speaks of the book as being both puerile and survivalist, which I thought was extremely insightful and accurate, and it was the puerile aspects of the book that initially turned me off. I’m glad I persevered, however, as I’ve become completely engrossed with Matti, his odd Ladstaedian friend Niila and there adventures in Pajala – think Lake Woebegone set off the arctic circle. The book has little of the harsh reality of the first two books – this is generally light and whimsical and very much an “in the mind’s eye” type of fictional memoir – fantasy takes place as effortlessly as reality, and while there are some harsh and dark moments (this IS a northern Scandinavian tale, after all) the overall tone is childlike and filled with the wonder of growing up.
So, readers, what have you read this summer that’s been particularly intriguing?