Monday, January 3, 2011

Stieg it

Popular fiction and I are not bedfellows, strange or otherwise. We’ve never slept together, even platonically, not ever, not once, no matter how much Scotch was involved. And if you’ve got photos, let me mention Photoshop. That was not me. Or maybe it was, but I was so very young at the time and I swear I remember nothing, just that my socks were on the living room floor in the morning.

So yes, I finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I blame it on NPR. Some interview said Larsson based his Girl on Pippi Longstocking. So yes, I also blame Pippi Longstocking. And Bob, who recommended this book. And my parents, who gave me my first library card.

I won’t go into how much I dislike this book; literary criticism is not my strong suit. When I like something I turn cartwheels. When I dislike something, I point an index finger to the uvula. Either way, that leaves no more than one hand on the keyboard.

But let me say just this: Don’t ever tell me a character looked quizzical. The next thing you know, he or she will be arching the left eyebrow. And then what's left but something sardonic, twisty-like, making mischief around the corner of the lips.

I don't mind so much all the cliches, and that Larsson felt he could pass along short-hand character descriptions, such as this woman looked like Ingrid Bergman and another like Lauren Bacall.

I do mind that he only broke out the Thesaurus to describe some atrocities in the realm of sexual abuse. Particularly, when, if I’m right about this, he was supposed to be positing something about women and the power of women. Even though his female character was the size of a Wheatland terrier. And this terrier was erotically attractive to the detective we, as the reader, were supposed to trust.

Oh hell, this is another reason I hate to write literary criticism. My lips are going all twisty-like and I think I sprained my left eyebrow.

51 comments:

  1. Dear, dear Karin:
    I thought this was a misogynistic incredibly poorly written piece of tripe. And I LIKE popular fiction.
    Yes, a coupla scotches and we'll be terrific literary critics

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  2. "When I like something I turn cartwheels. When I dislike something, I point an index finger to the uvula.

    When I read this, I turned a cartwheel.

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  3. And nowadays it was so late at night, "I swear I remember nothing."

    I won't go into how much I Like this blog, but letmme say just this: it was worth waiting all year for your very 1st blogpost of 2011!!

    Happy New Yr aka The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

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  4. I don't know about the book, but your review made me turn a cartwheel!

    Take care of that eyebrow...

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  5. I saw the Swedish movie version over Christmas. It was ok-- no "True Grit," which I really liked, if only because no one talks in contractions.

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  6. Haven't read it. Do like popular fiction, at least in principle. Isn't Pippi popular?

    Everyone seems to be reading these books, much like everyone was reading Eat, Pray, Love a couple of years ago and the DaVinci Code a few years before that.

    Thanks for the warning.

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  7. With so many of doing cartwheels, myself included, your blog has become a wind farm. We need to hook it up to the power grid!

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  8. Note to self: Skip those books.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

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  9. Earl, wind farm! Kudos! The guy's on a roll.

    Aren't the experts, scholars, still fighting over SoAndSo's place in the SuchAndSuch Canon? So criticism is full of risk, indeed. The only meaningful question is what will be considered important a hundred years from now.

    I used to pay more attention to the current scene, and I must say it brought some gifts: stories by Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver, and above all, Alice Munro (if Munro doesn't last, throw out the canon). But for every gem, how much tripe did I wade through, even as I heard people raving about the wonderful tripe.

    By the way, early Amy Hempel and Aimee Bender's first two books also struck me as the real deal. But in all of this, I don't even know if I'll agree with myself a year from now. Except for Munro.

    I must say your grounds for criticism sound legit, AH.

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  10. I'm completely baffled by the interest in The Da Vinci Code and constantly disappointed in pop fiction but I listened to the first two of the Larsson books on CD and watched the movies on Netflix. I did like them, not for the writing but for Lisbeth Salander/Noomi Rapace. No one was more surprised than me, I guess it's my visual brain.

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  11. I love fiction, popular and un, though this one is not on my list of to-reads.

    "Eat Pray Love" (nonfiction) was well-written but boring, and "Da Vinci Code" was so poorly written I couldn't finish it.

    Popular fiction can be good. I was enthralled by Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife."

    You sent me on a search through my manuscript for "quizzical." Not there. Whew.

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  12. Haven't read it, though I thought I might. Rethinking that. Too many good books to waste time on a bad one. But then... Now I'm curious. Damn

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  13. I did finally make my way through it some time back. I struggled with it. The other two books were on my reading list before I finished the first one, but they aren't on it any more. {I've taken notes, by the way, as I've been contemplating fashioning some fiction inspired by Heidi, and I don't want to give anyone eyebrow dysplasia.}

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  14. Does ice on the twisted eyebrow work like ice on a black eye?

    Thesaurus' are highly ignored. Amazed to realize Larsson used 'em at all.

    Cartwheels to your review! Stieg it, YES!

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  15. "Don’t ever tell me a character looked quizzical." Well put, Karin. For me, the death knell for any piece of popular fiction is when anyone chuckles.

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  16. Dez, sorry for the cut and paste. But you're right, I think we could criticize until the wee hours.

    K, And you kept your legs straight, too.

    CP: Thank you for the loyalty.

    PT: Thank you! (And point your toes.)

    Margaret: Doesn't that drive you around the bend? They're in John Ford westerns.

    Jean: A classic that's popular.

    Earl: And thank you. Good landing.

    Banjo: I think Munro is the first writer we discussed.

    Paula: As you know, I've taken a vow of chastity so I missed the DaVinci Code

    Petrea: I'd have bet good money against you + quizzical.

    Bayside: Aw, so go ahead. No law sez you have to finish it.

    Shell, really?

    Brenda, cuzin.

    And Terry, almost anything other than "said" is a killer.

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  17. Thanks, KB. Btw, someone once said last year I'm nuttin if nut loyal.

    So, must bee a loyal dog is something to be. If you wanna bee loyal well then just follow me.

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  18. Arms akimbo: RIP

    Petrea, I'm glad to hear your assessment of Eat Pray Love. I found it unreadable, my book group adored it.

    wv fablyc

    That fablyc looks fablublous on you.

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  19. Terry B, I just searched for "chuckle" in my book. Not there. Ready to submit!

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  20. Paula, at first I admired her turns of phrase, but I got tired of her subject, which was relentlessly "me me me poor me."

    "Legs Akimbo" is still fresh, I hope. It's a character in my next saga.

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  21. I've avoided this book (and movie), and all subsequent sequels, like the plague. I don't know why other than to say that my instincts have advised me to and I trust my instincts implicitly.

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  22. I didn't read the book, but I saw the movie (thanks, Netflix) recently. I didn't think it was all that wonderful, but that may have been due to the fact that it was a foreign film, and therefore subtitled. And I hate it when a recommended book is such a disappointment. Almost as much as I hate authors using references to some pop-culture thing instead of fully engaging the reader's brain with a real description.

    And I've never been able to turn a cartwheel, so I can't contribute to Mr. Earl's windfarm.

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  23. Petrea, Legs Akimbo, I can't wait.

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  24. Didn't he just write the books to make some cash so he could continue to publish his anti Nazi mag? An admirable reason, I suppose, but the second movie was really bad! Didn't read the book. Please don't you stop Karin! Don't make me come out there....

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  25. I'm going to put this book on my list of things to never read.

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  26. "Arms akimbo." In junior high one of my classmates wrote a story in which a guy fell off of a pier into the water. Tom wrote: "There he was in the water, limp, arms akimbo." Tom was very bright, but he did not understand what arms akimbo meant. The teacher, who was wonderful and made everything fun, never let Tom live "arms akimbo" down. (He also gave me the nickname "Bubbles," which stuck for 2 or 3 years. If you did something memorable, you got a nickname.)

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  27. Delightful review! I'll admit I've been a popular fiction slut in the past (I'll curl up with Carl Hiaasen any day), but I never read these books. I saw all 3 movies though and found them interesting enough. And I don't remember the subtitles being gag-worthy so maybe they were able to get rid of a lot of what you didn't like about the book. Plus I felt like I could speak Swedish by the end! Ok, maybe like the Swedish Chef.

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  28. Alas, I must admit the guilty pleasure I experienced reading the trilogy. Admittedly the writing isn't very good, but I was intrigued by Lisbeth and hooked by the plot twists. The second and third books are far better, which is not to say I recommend you continue reading them!

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  29. Oh Susan, now I'm looking at you all quizzical like.

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  30. Oh, I'm so glad to have a reason not to read those books.

    Count me in the cartwheel set on this one, Karin.

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  31. My uvula did cartwheels after "Reading Lolita in Tyrone"

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  32. btw: if you should ever desire to experience the full horror of the DaVinci Code, listen to it on tape.

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  33. I LOVE this. I had problems with Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, too. Last time you should trust NPR.

    And I think you get extra points for working 'uvula' into your post.

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  34. I feel like I've come out as the most lowbrow member of the Hiker community.

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  35. Oh Susan, you can't steal my title.

    PA, now I know how Bayside felt. Full horror -- I'm intrigued.

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  36. Me too, PA. Voice acting is my business. Who did the read?

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  37. Which leads to another thought: You can make an ordinary or poorly written book -- "The Shining" for example -- into a great (ok, maybe just really good) movie. But I don't think you can turn a great book into anything but a disappointing movie. Too much is lost in translation.

    But great books can be read aloud, greatly. Prunella Scales and Emma, for example.

    Petrea, I know I've asked this before, but do you have anything out there? I'd love to hear it.

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  38. AH, I found 2 books which were much better in movie form. The book GIANT was dull and meandering; the movie was great. (Most of the plot points of the movie were not in the book at all, as I recall). I know there was a second book/movie that affected me this way, but it was a long time ago, so I can't remember which one it was.

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  39. I don't have any audio books. I'd love to do one! Or several. I have a couple of radio plays: "Ole Doc Methuselah" by L. Ron Hubbard and "'Repent, Harlequin,' Said the Ticktock Man" by Harlan Ellison (with Ellison and Robin Williams--an experience I'll never forget). Both were part of a series called 2000X that can be found on Audible.com, and also, I think, Amazon.

    Thank you for asking.

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  41. no no no Susan, I'm the lowbrow, me! me! pick me!

    I defend screamy one note feminist art. I'm not fit for the cannon

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  42. Speaking of voices - here's an interesting article and video:

    VOICE

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  43. I'm with Susan - now you're going to look at me all quizzical as well, oh dear. I liked the books, though in the first one the author seems to be learning how to write and I can't believe the Swedes can drink coffee at midnight and still get to sleep. In books 2 and 3 he gets much better, and moves away from the Nazi incest thing. I blame the translator for making the first book sound so clunky, and was dismayed to find he also translated the other two. I even looked to see if the UK version had used someone else, but no luck. He does get better in the next 2 books.

    Translators can often make or break a foreign book. Anna Karenina and War and Peace have been translated again recently and are now very different stories.

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  44. While we're all in Karin's book club together, has anyone read "Helen of Pasadena" yet? I want to discuss it with someone as I have good and bad things to say about it. Karin, much of it is set at the Huntington Library - do the visiting professors really get little cottages set in the grounds in which to do their research?

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  45. Miss J had not one, but TWO friends telling her she MUST read this tome. Her own eyebrow is arched, suspiciously.

    BTW, loved the greyhound story on Patch...

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  46. Bellis, I read Brothers K and C&P in two different translations -- one by Sonia somethingorother which was not nearly so good as the other guy. But while a translation may not do a book justice, I don't think you can kill a great book, if the translation is legit.

    I haven't read the Pasadena book you mention. I also haven't heard of cottages on the grounds for visiting scholars, although maybe there's something on the adjoining property.

    Thanks Janey. The little research I did on greyhounds broke my heart.

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  47. Haven't read 'em and don't plan on it; your critique is the best thing I've read that includes the phrase "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

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  48. (And Margaret--I noticed that about True Grit too. No contractions! Hearing all that lack of contractions made me speak strangely for a week afterward.)

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  49. lol...I think I sprained a rib muscle laughing so hard! One thing most know about me is that I can raise an eyebrow, or both, or wiggle them. For most, it is entertaining---whether looking quizzical like or not!

    thank you for a good giggle this morning!

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  50. These books were passed along to me over Christmas break, and I haven't managed to break past 100 pages on Dragon Tattoo. Glad to know it's not just me. Now maybe I can find someone else who found Avatar painfully predictable.

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  51. Damn!!! Wish I'd seen this before I bought the darned book!!!

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