Friday, January 1, 2010

NO, NO, IT'S JUST A CHARACTER I WROTE: I've generally enjoyed both The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, but a query--is it just me or is co-lead Mikael Blomkvist one of the worst cases of Mary Sue-age ever? Like the late author Stieg Larsson, he's a muckracking journalist for a magazine in financial difficulties, who gets portrayed as smarter than basically everyone else in both books (save only Lisbeth Salander, his fellow investigator), irresistible to women of all varieties, and otherwise leading a glamorous and exciting life.

Discussion on this topic, as well as our occasional "what are you reading now?" topic, is in order, including what books were received for holiday reading and what books you've been reading to make the holiday travel season more bearable.


  1. I had an extremely book-ish holiday season, both asking for and receiving many.  Among those I most want to read: 

    Urofsky's Brandeis biography
    Kidder's "Strength in What Remains"
    Eggers's 'Zeitoun" 
    Vandermeer's "City of Saints and Madmen"
    Kessler's "Goat Song"
    Dooling's "Rapture for the Geeks"
    The Annotated Alice
    Small's "Stitches"
    Blount's "Alphabet Juice"

    I just finished reading Tropper's "This is Where I Leave You," which I really liked.  Before that I read Logicomix, which was very cool but (to me) did too much to protect the reader from the underlying concepts.  I also recently -- and finally -- read "Unaccustomed Earth," which was fantastic (natch).  I tried Alice Munro's "Too Much Happiness," but abandoned it a few pages in, for reasons that those who have read the book will probably be able to guess.  Right now I'm mostly reading work-related stuff, though I started "Lords of Finance" a few days ago.   

  2. One more -- a colleague gave me "The Lost City of Z" as part of a secret-Santa gift.  I've read and enjoyed the beginning but haven't yet been completely pulled in.

  3. calliekl10:36 PM

    Since Christmas I have started and finished 3 books:

    - "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane", by Katherine Howe, which I could not put down. It was pretty short, and I guessed some of the twists, but the biggies were pretty well kept until the right moment. I very much recommend this.
    - "Moloka'i", by Alan Brennert, which is a story about a little girl in late 19-th century Hawaii who is diagnosed with leprosy and sent away from her family to Kalaupapa for basically the rest of her life. It was at times very sad, at times very happy, and I enjoyed it immensely. Be careful reading in public, some scenes are enough to make anyone get teary-eyed.
    - "Next" by Michael Crichton, which I found in my parents book pile. Faster moving than the typical MC, but not anything amazing.

    I just started "The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao", which is also good, but written in such a different style than the last couple that I've read that it's taken me a little while to get into it.

    I also got a few others for Christmas that I'm excited to get into, "Hawaii" by James Michener, "Under the Dome" by Stephen King, and "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. Plus a BN gift card, which I want to get the Stieg Larson books with, plus the Hunger Games and the new one from that series. I'm open to other recommendations, too!

  4. Adam C.12:14 AM

    Just finished "Big Man," by Clarence Clemons and Don Reo. At times illuminating, at times entertaining, but mostly in need of a better editor; Reo's flagrant stareffing is a millstone around this book's neck.  About to polish off Hodgman's "Areas of My Expertise," then plan to move on to "No Impact Man" and Sam Walker's "Fantasyland."

  5. Anonymous8:07 AM

    Got these two: Alton Brown's excellent travel book "Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run" and the soon to be well-used Peter Reinhart's "Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day." I was also given a cookbook which claims Texas chili contains kidney beans; this book is going in the trash.

    Plus a B&N gift card with which I'm thinking about getting either Lev Grossman's "The Magicians: A Novel" or the "The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard."

    Favorite book I read in 2009 was "The Sound of Building Coffins" by Louis Maistros.

  6. Guest was me, bill

  7. The Magicians was a terrific read.  Would recommend.

    I read a lot of chick lit. A lot.  If it's got a pink cover with shoes on it, just assume I've either read it or will.

    Finished the first of the Belle du Jour books over Christmas - it's very witty and even more x-rated than the Showtime series based on it.

  8. Tosy and Cosh11:53 AM

    Just finished Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked, which I liked very much and am a quarter through Manhunt, the nonfiction book about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, which is excellent thus far.

    For Christmas, received Stephen King's Under the Dome (very excited to read, as I've heard good things), John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River, and the newest edition of The Best Magazine Writing of the Year (an annual staple, and always just awesome).

    On the Wish List but not given, and therefore onto the library list, are The Simpsons Unauthorizd Oral History, Pops (a Life of Louis Armstrong), Eating the Dinosaur (Chuck Klsterman essays), What the Dog Saw (Gladwell essays), Zeitoun (Eggers), The Year of the Flood (Atwood), and Nocturne (Kazuo Ishiguro short stories).

  9. MidwestAndrew12:59 PM

    I may be the least lawyer-y person here, but I love the Supreme Court. I find it fascinating. Under that guise, my wife bought my The Nine by Toobin. I'm 100 pages in so far. It's very interesting, because it does reveal some intimate details of a very private group, but I think too often Toobin falls into telling something rather than showing it.

  10. Already finished Malcolm Gladwell's "What the Dog Saw" (good, but no "Tipping Point"), and am currently immersed in Bill Simmons' basketball book.  I'm not even a huge basketball fan, but damn, that guy's an entertaining read.

  11. Girl Detective1:36 PM

    I got Damn Good Food by Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer, a cookbook/memoir by a local restauranteur. I made the lemon-ricotta hotcakes just now. Big hit with the family.

    I didn't get any other books, but bought my husband Logicomix, Mieville's The City The City and Lethem's Chronic City. Got my 6yo son Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, and the 3yo got the Mo Willems pop up Big Frog Can't Fit In.

    Reading Girl Who Played with Fire. Am I the only one who wants to call it Girl with her Hair on Fire, because of cover art? Chock full o' coincidences, yet I put it down grudgingly, and can't wait to finish.

  12. The meaning of the title of Girl Who Played With Fire becomes apparent in the final 100 pages.  There's also a lot of stuff in the book that seems to have little or nothing to do with anything--long digressions about how Blomkvist's Millennium partner/lover is leaving for another newspaper.

  13. Jennifer J.4:03 PM

    I didn't get any books as presents this year. Too long a story. However, I plan on reading a lot of classic literature in 2010. I really want to read some Dickens; some more of the Russians; all of Jane Austen's novels, in order; Animal Farm; some Poe, etc. I also want to try to read a few books I was assigned in school but never read. I was a bad, bad girl. Two novels by favorite authors from 2009 that are a must are: John Irving's "Last Night in Twisted River" (I'd also like to read a few of his novels I've never read) and Jhumpa Lahiri's "Unaccustomed Earth." I've loved the Stieg Larrson novels so I'm looking forward to the 3rd one this year. I also want to read "Dorritt" which I believe came out last year. Plus, a book was published about the history of Second City that I'd like to read. Has anyone read that or heard anything one way or another?

    Oh, and finally, as the biggest part of his Christmas present, I promised my husband that I would start reading his favorite literary loves, "The Hobbitt"/"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I don't know if I'll finish it all in one year with my other goals, but I promised to start. :)

    Finally, I'd like to keep up with my measly 2 magazine subscriptions on a more regular basis. ;)

  14. Emily7:35 PM

    <span style="">
    <p><span style="">I'm reading for my oral exams (in March!), so no fun books for me these days. And I'm guessing you don't want to hear my thoughts on </span><span style="">Three Women of Liege</span><span style=""> or </span><span style="">Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t</span><span style="">. *sigh* I'll check back in a few months.</span><span style=""></span>

  15. I didn't really mind Blomqvist's character, at least much less than some brilliant and sexy protagonists I can think of.   He's no Christmas Jones, nuclear physicist.

    I am polishing off The Age of Wonder, which I loved so much that my plan is to return it to the library and then go out and buy it in hardback for myself, as well as about five other people.  (Note to Pathetic Earthling: This book is a must for the Aubrey-Maturin fan, just FYI).  Next on the pile is Wolf Hall.

    Liked The Magicians a lot, although I think it shares a flaw with Grossman's brother Austin's first novel (Soon I Will Be Invincible) in that both books set up wonderful, convincing worlds and fascinating characters and then fail to deliver on that promise via the actual plot.  

  16. Maggie8:54 PM

    I received several cookbooks (original Barefoot Contessa - best onion dip ever), the unintentionally hilarious Food Substitution Bible (if you don't have doughnuts, substitute zeppolli or funnel cake, if you don't have goetta, substitute scrapple), and Knives at Dawn (about the Bocuse D'or).  

    I finally read Moneyball over the holidays and have Wolf Hall, Fool's Gold, Too Big to Fail, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Pictures at the Revolution, Rome 1960, Nixonland, Scramble for Africa and Ghost Wars on my reading list for 2010.  I read about 15 non-work related books in 2009, which was double the number I read in 2009, and hope to do the same this year.  I love this occasional feature here - it helps give me ideas of what to read next (and keeps me motivated to read more).

  17. Maggie8:59 PM

    Obvs meant double that of 2008...

  18. calliekl10:47 PM

    For cookbook fans I would totally recommend the Pioneer Woman cookbook, as well as her website, She does all her own food photography, and her husband took her picture on the cover. It's all fairly adorable, and the food is comfort food fantastic. I both gave it to ,my mom and received it from my sister-in-law.

  19. Heather k10:48 PM

    I read the latest Dan brown which gave me none of the pleasure the other two langdon books gave, and managed to consist solely of the parts that made me roll my eyes in the other two.

    However I higly recommend Elna Baker's The New York Regional Morman Singles Halloween Dance which is hilarious memoir of being young and Mormon and a stand up comedian in NYC. Taking in the mishaps of dating in NYC when you don't put out and those of being Mormon and pursuing a life of stand up comedy while still being a good Mormon, and the crises you have about religion and your path in life in your early 20's. Elna has had her work on This American Life and The Moth Podcast and is really really funny. This book made me laugh outloud and want to read every passage in it to my fiancée and anyone else within earshot.

  20. Andrew11:28 PM

    In the midst of reading Big Man (I agree with Adam C's take) and I've been carrying around The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for a month or two now. Also on the shelf of books to start reading, I have American Prometheus. 

  21. calliekl: Have you read Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life? The book is a combination of her blog, Orangette, and her Bon Appetit columns. It was a quick read and comes with recipes. It reminded me of Laurie Colwin, but with longer chapters. I think it's coming out in paperback soon.

  22. Benner5:21 PM

    Read and liked most recently "To Big To Fail."  I agree with all of the points of praise and criticism of it -- it's very detailed and novelistic, but it skimps on policy, by design.  

    Am in the middle of a biography of Thelonious Monk by Robin D.G. Kelly.  It's dense, but enjoyable.  I don't know many of the jazz people other than the very well known ones (Dizzy Gillespie, Bird Parker, Miles, Sonny Rollins), so it's hard to keep up context.  You either need to know who people like Oscar Pettiford or Kenny Clarke are, or else have a decent background in music theory to follow the analysis of Monk's music, which I have, but without both it wouldn't be enjoyable.  After that, I have a bio of Rostropovich, a book about Delta Blues by Ted Gioia (Stanford music prof), and "The Savage Detectives" by Bolano.  

  23. slowlylu7:08 PM

    Only two books (I don't count recipe books) this year. THe new Audrey Niffengger and Nixonland which I bought on recommendation from this blog. The Niffengger is being saved for convalescence post-wisdom tooth removal and so I am distracted at the moment by Robin Hobb's Assassin's Quest.

    As for Blomvist - well he is an acquired taste as a protagonist I liked him in the first two novels but found him almost unbearable in the third.

    In 2010 I am hoping Amitav Ghosh will complete the second novel in his Sea of Poppies triology as I was left hanging on that ending.

  24. Christy in Philly8:44 PM

    I read the Stieg Larsson books this summer. I was on vacation in Curacao and it seemed like everyone on the beach was reading them-- in lots of different languages. I thought it was awesome but then I realized that no one knew I was reading it because I was on my Kindle. Kind of a bummer because I felt like I was having this big common experience. I didn't have any feelings about Blomkvist one way or the other but I found Lisbeth fascinating!

    My favorite book of the year was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I listened to the audiobook twice in the past six months and just finished reading the hardback today. I absolutely loved the characters and the narration of the audiobook was just WONDERFUL!

    I got the new John Irving and the first four volumes of the Betsy-Tacy series (I love YA lit) for Christmas.

    I am currently reading Infinite Jest, Come Be My Light (the book of Mother Teresa's writings published in 2007), and Let the Great World Spin. I am loving all three.

  25. calliekl8:53 PM

    Christy- I heard that the The Help audiobook was an amazing experience, and I'm looking forward to grabbing it now that the holidays are over.

  26. Watts9:32 PM

    I've heard good things about The Help and hearing that the audiobook is a good reading of it seals it - that's what I'm picking up for my 12 hour round trip drive on MLK weekend.

  27. I finished "Played With Fire" this afternoon, and while there's a lot of good stuff in it, it reads as a first draft--an edit would have told him to cut down some of the first third of the book, before the murders that are the core of the plot happen, and give the ending a little breathing room (though my complaints about the ending could be remedied by the final book).  Now on to Edward Rutherford's "New York: The Novel."

    And my complaints about Blomkvist are in no small part because Salander is so fascinating and complex a character.  She does some immensely nasty things (particularly in the second book), but is ultimately the heroine.

  28. Read "The Help" over the holidays and couldn't put it down - I absolutely loved it.

    I also received Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir "Fun Home," which I'm in the middle of.  It's a bit all over the place, but enjoyable.

  29. I just finished reading Jasper Fforde's "The Big Over Easy" which was entertaining but, for me, not as enjoyable as the Thursday Next series.  Coming up on my to read list are the above-mentioned "The Magicians," Tana French's "In the Woods," and "Drood."

    Oh, and before the Fforde book, I read "Let the Great World Spin" which I absolutely loved.  Beautiful book, and then after reading it I watched "Man on Wire" since LtGWS was inspired by the Twin Towers wire walker.  The ovie was wonderful, too.  It's hard not to love audacity like that.

  30. bella wilfer1:12 PM

    Loved loved LOVED The Magicians.  2/3 of the way through Under the Dome now and loving it.  Agree with the love for The Help on audiobook.  (Fellow audiobook lovers - any suggestions for what I should do next?)

  31. calliekl2:09 PM

    For the people reading Under the Dome... is it a slow book? My problem with Stephen King is that his work can drag a bit, and at what, 1200+ pages, UtD can't really afford to drag. I'm very curious to hear your opinions!

  32. Marsha3:13 PM

    Just finished Under the Dome last week. It doesn't drag, but it's a lot preachier than his past books. That said, what I ask for with a King book is a story that moves and  characters I can enjoy spending that much time with. This book delivered on both counts. King took a fascinating situation - what happens when you take an entire small town and completely cut it off from the world with no notice and no explanation? And what if that town is filled with the kinds of people that always populate the towns in Stephen King's Maine? Will be curious, BTW, to discuss the ending with people here eventually.)

    Also, read it on a Kindle. Damned thing weighs a ton. And I don't think I've ever seen a book before where the dust jacket has absolutely NO text on it at all - there's no blurb, no info about the book. How many authors have that kind of pull over an audience?

    I'm in the middle of "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon, which I know throwing wife recently read and loved. Very good so far. THe Help was probably the best thing I read last year.

  33. Tosy and Cosh3:44 PM

    A little over a hundred pages into Under the Dome. Loving how patiently and methodicaly he sets up the situation.

  34. I am loving Wolf Hall.  I am recommending it to everyone, which takes some work to convince people that a book about Cromwell and Henry VIII is so much more than just an historical novel about Anne Boleyn.  It's about the law, and fundamental changes in society and religion, and power, and death, and I think it's fabulous.

    I liked both Dragon Tattoo and Played with Fire, but I agree about Blomkvist.  I don't mind for two reasons--they are well plotted, and Blomkvist ends up being the only -male- character who doesn't somehow hate women.  Well, him and Det. Bubble. 

    I've recently read The Great Man, which I also very much enjoyed.

    You've all convinced me to add The Help to my amazon cart.  Plus, it's on the Tournament of Books long list (thanks, Girl Detective!), which I'm slowly reading through.

  35. Adam C.4:46 PM

    My problem with King, dating back as far as The Tommyknockers, but consistently from Insomnia through Bag of Bones, has been that he hooks me in (just like his earlier works, pre-1988) and then the story completely falls apart well before the end, so that finishing becomes an unwelcome chore (unlike his earlier works).  It's why I completely stopped buying his novels after BoB.  Without spoilers, can Marsha or anyone else volunteer whether you found the payoff at the end of UtD to be worth it?

  36. Maret5:07 PM

    I also loved THE MAGICIANS. And my best book of 2009 is, hands down, Dave Cullen's COLUMBINE, which I've mentioned here before. It is so phenomenal, and everyone scared they'll be completely shattered by it should read it anyways -- the writing style is far more IN COLD BLOOD/true crime so that while of course, it's terrbly sad, it is compelling and readable without being devestating, if that makes sense.

    Just got PLAYED WITH FIRE, which I'm hoping I'll like more than DRAGON TATTOO. Currently reading T.C. Boyle's TALK TALK (my first book by him) and finished an advanced copy of Robin Benway's (AUDREY, WAIT!) next YA book, The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June which is great (but not out till August.) I also read Joan Wickersham's THE SUICIDE INDEX over the break (cheerful holiday reading, I know) which is a wonderful memoir.

  37. Marsha6:10 PM

    Adam C, Under the Dome is really two stories - the story of what happens to these people put in this situation, and what the heck the dome is all about (why it's there, who put it there, etc). The story about the people consumes the vast majority of the book, so much so that the fact that the ending is about what the dome is all about feels kind of tacked on and really only a way to bring the story to an end. So yes, I found the resolution to the dome part of it contrived, silly, and kind of annoying, but it really only made up a small part of the book. And the rest of it is really quite good and interesting.

    I haven't liked most of King's recent stuff (and those who know me know that I've been an obsessive fan of his since I read Carrie at age 8). I kind of liked Lisey's Story, and though The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was pretty good, but Tommyknockers, Dreamcatcher, and some of the others (as Adam C. note, post-1988 or so) were just wretched.

  38. bella wilfer7:16 PM

    Pretty much everyone I've talked to about Dome has disliked the ending to varying degrees.  However (having not yet finished it), I agree with Marsha that it's about the people, not the "reveal" of what the heck the Dome is.  There's no way the answer to that could be as compelling as the journey King takes you on with such an immense cast of characters.  Though perhaps I'll have more to say once I'm actually done. 

    Am I the only one who disliked Await Your Reply?  I found it extremely unsatisfying. 

  39. Adam C.7:25 PM

    Thanks, Marsha.  Our King-fandom appears to be nearly identical in initial timing and obsessiveness, so the fact that you liked the book and didn't hate the ending speaks volumes to me. 

  40. calliekl7:28 PM

    The last King book I read was From a Buick 8.. and it was painful. Dome HAS to be better than that, I hope...

  41. Adam C.8:13 PM

    Thanks bella too!  Basically, what you and Marsha are both describing is how I imagine many people will be feeling at the end of the Lost finale later this year:  even if whatever "explanation" we have been given doesn't meet expectations, the story about the characters will have resonated so strongly that it won't matter so much.

  42. bella wilfer9:34 PM

    Adam C - you put it perfectly with the comparison to Lost.  There's NO way the "answers" are going to live up to everyone's expectations. 

    Re: your Bag of Bones comment upthread, I remember feeling similarly with that book - I loved it and was completely, absurdly sucked in (the way I am with UtD now), then a bit "eh" about the ending.  However, I still remember it fondly as a whole. 

    Calliekl - I promise UtD is better than Buick 8.  That one was a mess.

  43. I am nearly finished with Michael Perry's most recent memoir, Coop. Funny, thoughtful and heartfelt. I really love his work (he also wrote Population:485 and Truck: A Love Story). I've been working on The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie for weeks, can't believe it is taking me this long, but at this point I plan on finishing it. Also got Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure for xmas ... just a personal obsession, really.

  44. Jennifer J.4:16 PM

    I hope you enjoy the Tana French. :)

  45. Jennifer J.4:18 PM

    Marsha: I like Stephen King's stuff overall, but inevitably find something to be anticlimactic (though not always.) I read the complete, uncut version of The Stand last year. I think it broke my wrist for one! I liked a great deal about it, but wasn't fully satisfied. Have you read this complete version? If so, how doe sit compare to UtD for you? Thanks. :)

  46. Jennifer J.4:19 PM

    I will be patiently awaiting an answer to this as well.

  47. Jennifer J.4:20 PM

    Marsha, what did you think of The Stand? Did you read the abridged version or complete?