The books of February, part 1

Before I start, can I just say that I really want to take a nap right now? Really badly? But I know that if I do, I won’t be able to fall asleep tonight. And I just wasted an hour puttering around on the interwebs, so I feel like I should do something of substance now. So, without further ado, the books I’ve read in the last 9 days.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: I wrote about my pathological inability to remember anything about this book earlier, and I have to admit that I because of that mental block, I went into reading this book a little wary. (Was my mind trying to protect me from something? Possibly…) Honestly, I’m not positive how I feel about the book.   The beginning was a little slow going; I read the first 120 pages in two 1/2 hr sittings; but then it ramped up and I hit a binge and finished the rest (500 or so pages) in 3 hours. The characters were quite interesting,  and the mystery at the center of the plot  (there were at least 2 other mysteries going on as well) was compelling.

It’s the story of a disgraced journalist who is hired to investigate 30 year old disappearance of a Swedish businessman’s brother’s granddaughter. (And yes, all of the relationships in the book are that convoluted.) As the story progresses, a mysterious, tormented, brilliant hacker named Lisbeth Salander is pulled into the case, and together she and the journalist uncover all sorts of unsavory information about the history of the family.  Part way through it wanders into serial killer/thriller territory, and while I don’t know what I was expecting, it wasn’t that.

The original title of the book (the Swedish version) was Men Who Hate Women, and while I can see why they changed the title – who would buy that book? – it’s a pretty accurate one. The central theme of the book is violence and oppression perpetrated against women, and while there was some pretty disturbing violence, which I wish I hadn’t read, it wasn’t necessarily gratuitous. It also deals with injustices and abuses of the Swedish court system, which were enlightening, but pretty depressing.

The thing that carried me through to the end was the character of Salander, the girl of the title. I wanted to know more about her, who she was, what made her tick- I just wish there was a way to do that without the rest of the depressingness. Which probably isn’t possible, as it seems that many of her issues stem from those very issues.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll read the next book in the series… we’ll see.

The Wild Things by David Eggers: This is the novelization of the movie-ization of the children’s book by Maurice Sendack (written by the writer of the screenplay for the movie) .  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but oh my goodness did this book kill me. I’ve read many different interpretations of the film, but what stood out to me most here was Max as a symbol for mother. He finds himself on a strange island, suddenly in charge of creatures he doesn’t understand, trying to institute some sort of order for his own safety and theirs, trying to juggle the needs and whims of each while struggling to come to some sort of comprehension of who he’s dealing with, seeing pieces of himself and his own family in them – when he doesn’t even understand himself.  Seriously, so much of this resonated, it really was devastating in a really good way- if that’s possible.  There’s a song from the movie that we hear on the radio, and it almost always makes me cry because it captures something so primal- and that’s what this book does as well. It captures the primal, terrified, struggling part of motherhood, the part that will fight fist and nail- to the death- to defend its children, while being simultaneously certain that those same children will most probably consume it.

Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood by Jamie C. Martin: This is a great little book (what, it’s short!) containing some great ideas about using time in an organized way as a mom. Less about scheduling laundry and such, more about how to work in scheduled play time to blow bubbles and things. I found it really insightful, and will be using a number of ideas from it.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: I read this book a long while ago and really didn’t care for it, (you can read why here, starting in the 4th paragraph ), but it was the book club pick for the month, so I read it again. Going into with less expectation, and more interest in Africa, I appreciated it quite a bit more. It was still  light on character depth and development, and  I’m not going to rush out and pick up the rest in the series (Mr. McCall Smith and I have a complicated relationship), but it was better than last time, and that’s saying a lot.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Prompted by a mention in #1 Ladies Detective Agency, I finally pulled this out and read it. (That description being false- I read it on the haunted Kindle, so I didn’t “pull it out” at all.)  I was supposed to read this a couple of times in college and didn’t, and therefore knew quite a bit about it without really having a sense of it. (This wasn’t one of the books I wrote a paper about without having read it — at least I don’t think it was. Although…. I remember writing a paper about colonization theory for my Gothic Imagination class that I did really poorly on, maybe it was on this book? Goodness, how I hated colonization theory. I wish I could take that class again now that I’m actually interested in it.)  BUT ANYWAY, I was surprised by this book, it wasn’t at all what I expected.  Interesting, compelling, but not half as dramatic as I’d been led to believe. It did have a crazy ramp-up part way through; I’d been reading it before bed and fell asleep, and when I picked it up the next day, all of the sudden I was in the midst of a gun battle and cannibals and fire, and had no idea how the plot had gotten there.  Overall, a good read.

The Humbling by Phillip Roth: This was a total impulse pick at the library, and I took it to the gym with me last night because it was short. It’s the story of an actor who has lost his skills (think writer’s block, but for an actor), had a mental breakdown, fallen for the 20 years younger lesbian daughter of old friends, lost her, contemplated suicide… it’s a concise, tightly written exploration of… something. I’m not quite sure what the ultimate point is; it explores the roles we play, courage, suicide, impersonation, identity, but I’m not sure what it ultimately says about any of it.

Now I’m reading by “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide by Sven Lindqvist, a fascinating exploration of the role of genocide in Europe’s colonization of Africa and how it created the atmosphere in which Hitler raised up the Nazi party. VERY interesting so far.

What are you reading?

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