Monday, January 3, 2011

An interesting look at the Larsson phenomena

I enjoyed this examination of the popularity of Stieg Larsson's novels by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker. I enjoyed it not only because Acocella shares my assessment of the books, but more because I love this kind of behind the scenes journalism. Most stories cover the books as publishing phenomena and personal tragedy -- Larsson died at 50 of a heart attack, before the books were published. But that's about all you really learn. Acocella gives us much more background about Larsson and the books, including the name of his real-life magazine, the publisher he first sent the manuscript to who never read it, his brother and father who inherited what became his massive estate and who may or may not have been estranged from the author, his longtime companion who did not inherit anything and who may or may not have been the books' co-author and an interesting anecdote about Larsson's preoccupation with violence against women. I'm not sure she ever really answers what the article's deck head asks: Why do people love Stieg Larsson's novels? She concludes he could spin a good yarn, his books fall into the popular "revenge tale" genre and the book's sexual violence appeals to both people who condemn such acts and those who fantasize about them. I would add that sometimes books and movies take on a life of their own and people buy and/or read or see them because everyone else is buying/reading/seeing them. I'm curious about the moment the books took off. Was Larsson already well-known as a journalist in Sweden and people flocked to read the books, especially in light of his untimely death? Or did the first book get a stellar review somewhere? Or was it a word-of-mouth success? 

I'm reading Private Patient by P.D. James. It's been on my bookshelf for awhile now, and I wanted something familiar during the holidays, like comfort food. So far so good, although I am sort of analyzing it as I read to see what makes her a good writer. For one, she gives every character a real story of their own. She also recounts the same scene from different points of view, which makes it seem more real. Nothing is ever as a single character (or person) sees it.

Happy New Year!

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