What I’m Reading

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, by Stieg Larrson, is a mystery novel set in Sweden.  Mystery novels are not my usual reading fare but occasionally I pick one up when I hear enough praise.  In this case I am glad I did.  I enjoyed the book very much and in spite of its gloomy settings and, lets face it, gruesome themes, I didn’t have any trouble staying with it.  The characters were interesting and the Swedish place names and cultural references gave it, for me anyway, a curious authenticity that it wouldn’t have had if it had been set in the States.  At times the plot shifts seemed a bit clumsy but, in most cases, the overall story managed to stay on track.The story manages to cram in high-tech cyberpunk hijinks, high-rolling big business maneuverings and the seamy side of 20th Century Swedish history into a modern story involving some of the odder, and in some cases down right creepy, characters of Swedish society.  Many of the best character relationships and plot twists take awhile to develop but it is definitely worth the wait.I liked the young, female, computer hacking character Salander. Apparently she will continue to play a big part in two follow-up novels (all three published posthumously by the way, which is an dramatic tale of it’s own) and I am looking forward to watching her character develop.  A movie of the book, in Swedish with subtitles, is now running in the art houses around town.  I think I am going to try to see it.

UPDATE (4/17):  I saw the movie today and it was a winner.  It stayed close to the storyline and the result was a knockout thriller with just enough gritty detail to lend a sense of authenticity to it all.  I loved the scenery and the mood perfectly matched my feeling from the book.  "The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" was in Swedish w/subtitles but it didn’t detract much, if at all, from the storytelling.  Go see it and read the book first if you can. 

UPDATE 2 (4/20): In a fit of Stieg Larrson fever, I have now read the second book in the series, “The Girl Who Played with Fire.”  If anything it was better than the first book although it was a bit more chaotic and sometimes a little difficult to follow early on.  The character of Lizbeth Salander was more completely fleshed out and her heroic nature was solidified.  I can’t wait for the final book or, for that matter, the second movie. 

 

What I’m Reading

The Lost City of Z: An amazing book.  A true story of Loyal British subject Percy Fawcett, an explorer’s explorer in the early 20th Century, pursuing his vision of finding the remains of an advanced society in the heart of the Amazon jungle.  To no avail.   Late in life, scoffed at by his peers and with his eldest son in tow, he makes one last thrust into the interior of the Amazon forest, alas, never to be seen again.  But the story does not end.   Eighty five years later author David Grann follows in Fawcett’s footsteps and learns that Fawcett may have been right all along.  Good stuff, this.

I read that this book is being developed into a movie starring Brad Pitt.  I can’t wait.  As a true life Indiana Jones film I doubt if it will be used to enlighten the world on the latest findings in ancient South American archeology but you can never tell.  Either way it should be a fabulous romp in the forest. It would be nice to see Fawcett’s name restored to a higher level of respectability.

What I’m Reading

Half Moon:  Henry Hudson and the Voyage That Redrew the Map of the New World,”  by Douglas Hunter.   This was one of those books that expanded what had been, for me, a tiny footnote in Early American History into a full blown tale of intrigue and adventure.   It is really difficult to  ignore Henry Hudson’s contributions towards the  Discovery of the New World.   His name, after all, is featured as one of North America’s most famous rivers (The Hudson River) and as one of its biggest nautical features (Canada’s Hudson Bay).  But, other than those names and a faint memory of his crew’s mutiny, with him being set adrift and lost, I didn’t really have a very good notion of what he actually did as an explorer.  Thanks to Mr. Hunter, I now know more than I probably ever wanted to about his voyages of discovery and their political setting. The author made great use of his nautical knowledge to supplement an amazing amount of research in original documents and maps. If there was a problem it was the author’s, maybe excessive, enthusiasm regarding the supporting data to the extent that I found myself occasionally struggling to keep all of the events/references straight.

What I am Reading

I don’t quite know how to categorize this little book by Christina Thompson.  The title, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat you All:  A New Zealand Story,  certainly doesn’t help.  It is partly a memoir of an American woman whose own life becomes intertwined with the culture of the South Pacific, specifically the Maori culture of New Zealand, when she meets and marries a man from that culture.  It is also partly a history of the Maori people themselves and their dismal lot in the age of Western Colonization.  In trying to tell both of these stories, however, the book jumps around a lot and in the end struggles to tie all of the colonial history of Western Europe together, for good or bad, to her own family story.  On the whole, though, this touching reflection had enough interesting history and was written well enough that I must say I enjoyed reading it.  

The Road

image

Just got back from the movies.  I saw The Road, based on a book of the same name by Cormac McCarthy.  I liked the movie but I will have a hard time recommending it to anyone.  Especially if the viewer hasn’t had the psychological preparation of having read and come to terms with the book.  If you are sympathetic with one or more of the current apocalyptic theories making the rounds today it would help too.    I mean this movie is bleak. 

I must admit that, even though I can logically accept the possibility of human catastrophe and even the collapse of civilization, I have a hard time accepting the full implications of these ideas.  I expect most of us fall into that category.  The Road forces you to face those ultimate negative outcomes, however, by unflinchingly serving up the worst case scenario as the theme of the movie.  The glimmer of optimism at the end of book is preserved in the movie but it isn’t enough to keep your jaw off the floor as you are exiting the theatre.  See this movie during the day.  You will need to see the blue skies when you are done.

What I’m reading.

Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry is a spy novel that manages to also be a historical thriller.   The hero of this story is an experienced U. S. undercover agent named Paul Christopher who finds himself caught up in the circumstances surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   The story follows his attempts to convince his superiors of his take on the situation leading up to the assassination and obtain the evidence to support his ideas.  It is an exciting, quick paced and believable read.  The book is well written, well researched, and in the end may have you second guessing your personal beliefs regarding the Kennedy assassination.

This is one of several Paul Christopher books by the author but the first that I have read.  The book was good enough that, even though I am not normally a spy novel devote, I would be tempted to read another in the series.

What I am reading

Just finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. It was an interesting idea for a book and generally interesting to read but it seemed a little unorganized to me. The author was trying to imagine the world without people and he approached that question by looking at what people have done to their world and what will become of all of that stuff if they were suddenly gone. I will have to admit that he dug up some pretty amazing examples of human impact, some of which I had never heard of before. He seemed to jump around, however, and didn’t seem to build a general case for his point of view.

I was also hoping to get some sense of why he thought the question itself was a relevant one. Is there some reason to believe that humankind will be moving out of the picture at some point? He hinted at that reasoning but never actually dealt with it, even though there are many signs on the horizon that humanity may be pushing the boundaries on several different fronts.

I think it is worth a read but it was a little less enlightening than I had hoped.

What I am reading

Just finished reading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, and have to say I was completely blown away. I have had this book on my “to be read” list for a long time and I am glad I finally picked it up. The book was originally published in 1949 and I must admit I was expecting a dated science fiction story with little connection to my experience or todays realities. I was so wrong. Not only is the book still relevant it almost seemed to speak directly to our times.

In writing this book, the author stripped away the meaningless detail that we all use to define our lives and instead told his story at the basic level at which all people actually live their lives, no matter the time and place. The result was a story that was just as fresh as if it had been written last year. If you want to really understand what civilization is all about, and how it relates to humankind and to our world, read this book. You will not regret it.

What I am reading?

Just read Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazel, and liked it?  That question mark is not an error because I don’t really understand why I liked it.  It was a rough book.  Rough language, gratuitous violence and sexual references were liberally applied throughout the book.  Indeed the whole premise was kind of rough.  The hero was a twenty something Mafia hitman who becomes a doctor through the witness protection system, and is working in a chaotic urban hospital.  When the two parts of his life come in contact the story goes into “rough” overdrive.  The structure of the book is strange and shifts between being a crime/mystery thriller and a medical journal but it manages to work somehow.  Like I said, hard to tell why, but I liked it.

HistoryLink.org

I normally won’t be using this blog for link suggestions but one of my favorite sites needs to be mentioned. I live in the Seattle area and HistoryLink.org is probably the best site for Seattle and Washington State History. It claims to be a free encyclopedia of Local History. With its huge collections of personal contributions and archival material along with their own research, it more than lives up to that claim.

HistoryLink.org – Seattle History