A Review of “The Girl Who Played With Fire”

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in Larsson’s Millennium Series is just as lengthy as the first, weighing in at over 500 pages, or somewhere around 23 hours if you opt for the unabridged audiobook. You’ll find it is also just as riveting and well-written as the first. This series began as a curiosity for me, and has developed into an addiction as Lisbeth Salander has become one of my favorite characters in contemporary literature. Her character is developed in significantly more depth in this novel as the guardian who so horribly abused her in the first installment of the trilogy returns for vengeance. With each glimpse into her past, we find ourselves agreeing with the justice she delivers to those who wrong her and others, even though we feel as though we shouldn’t. Larsson continues the themes of a scarcity of forgiveness and the nature of justice through this novel. He also continues his perplexing habit of exhaustive descriptions of relatively minor details (when Salander furnishes her new apartment, the reader is walked through a descriptive itemization of each item she purchases and how she transports it back to the apartment) that could perhaps have been excluded in the editing process without loss to the reader or the story (and, I imagine, an abridged audio version would cut exactly these sections).

This novel walks through some events in Salander’s life taking place after the conclusion “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” that ¬†provide insight into her character from the beginning. She is drawn into a murder investigation that again crosses her paths with Blomkvist, and reveals details of her past that leave the reader unable to put the book down. Like any good mystery, the plot involves a substantial number of characters that weave into and out of the narrative in intriguing ways, and more than once left me pausing and thinking, “wait…this guy is who, again?” There is substantially less sexual violence in this novel, which is more focused on dealing with the outcomes of said violence. Aptly so, Salander is described by Blomkvist as the “woman who hates men who hate women.” These, then, are her adventures.

In the same vein as “Dragon Tattoo,” though, this novel is more than just a well-crafted mystery. Larsson also makes bold social commentary, both on the sex trade industry and the reality of an innocent girl who has been, quite literally, raped of her innocence in the name of homeland security.

Read “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” first. Although this novel will stand alone, the background gained from the first novel will be most important to the reader. Then sit back, and try to keep up as the mystery unfolds.

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Robbing the Past

My first reaction was quizzical interest. My second was a forced laugh of disbelief. Ultimately, I ended up mourning how despicable an act this was.

This article tells the story. An Abraham Lincoln researcher admitted to altering a presidential pardon for a Civil War soldier by President Lincoln. The researcher altered the date by making it the same day as Lincoln’s tragic death, so that he could claim to have found one of the final official acts President Lincoln made during his life. The researcher then cited the evidence in a book that he authored.

This is abhorrent.

According to the article, the researcher actually took a pen into the National Archives and physically altered the document. This is the equivalent of painting a mustache on a Van Gogh or a Picasso. Did he do so for fame? Did he do so to contribute to the sales of his book? In any case, the article reports that he confessed. I’m grateful in a way that the statute of limitations has passed on the offense, because there’s no point in his serving a prison sentence for this. Hopefully, his book will lose all credibility, and that will be enough.

The event makes me think of the Roman style of conquest, in which the history of a conquered civilization was re-written in order to include the Roman conquerors. This is the ultimate way to wipe out a society, the cruelest of erasures. When memories and records are robbed, they will eventually cease to exist. This is the most invasive and complete form of what we might today call identity theft. This leads to the massacre of a culture’s psyche and identity.

To think that someone would engage in a version of that action, however small, in order to further their own personal gain, leaves me…sad. I’m sad for this man.

When I was in high school, I fell into the fault of most modern teenagers: I was over committed in academics and extra-curricular activities. One day I had a test that I had either forgotten about or had neglected to study for, I can’t remember which. I tried to get my friend who sat in front of me to pass answers to me. That friend, thankfully, refused.

That was one of those moments that one looks back on with profound regret. Something that I can gladly say that I am horrified that I did and learned a lesson from; something that I would not do now.

My hope is that this researcher feels the same way about this incident, or that he will come to a point at which he does.

In the meantime, perhaps profits from his book could be taken to pay for the restoration of the artifact. That would be justice.

Image Credit: National Archives, Public Domain

Downgrade

Karen and I decided long ago that we always want to live in a college town. There’s a different sort of electricity in college towns…the kind of energy that comes with the pursuit of knowledge and inquiring minds. There’s a willingness to explore, an opportunity to be heard. There’s a plethora of fascinating people from a wide variety of backgrounds, all come together in one city to chase after their futures.

Also, there’s more coffee shops in college towns. But that’s not the primary contributing factor. Really. I promise.

Among the various private institutions located in and around the area in which we currently live, there’s also a community college. Karen is an adjunct faculty member there, teaching at various campuses. She also teaches dual enrollment…high school students that are taking college courses early. I lament sometimes that she has the perfect job. I also have several friends that are students at the community college. I saw one of them “check in” at one of the campuses on Foursquare today, and something about it brought back all sorts of memories.

The school at which I completed my undergrad also had community college and technical college ¬†divisions. As it was a huge commuter campus, almost all of us drove and competed for parking spaces. There was such a great mix of students in any given building at any given time: students training to be electricians sharing the hallways with theatre and visual art students. Architecture students and engineering students mingling with English majors. I loved it. Boundaries were broken down, and everyone accepted everyone for who they were. We were all there exploring. Not just our academic areas of inquiry, but we were exploring life, too. I learned about cars and communication theory, girls and technical theatre, literature and personal finances…all in the same four years. I went through my share of garbage, and I certainly made my share of mistakes…and I don’t just mean academic ones. But, as someone once said, most of the lessons you learn in college you don’t learn in the classroom. I learned time management the hard way. I became exposed to coffee. I became exposed to life, and I loved the adventure.

Life is still an adventure, don’t get me wrong. I just found myself missing those undergrad days today. Grad school was great, but not the same. It’s more…professional. You know, like we’re all supposed to be now that we’ve finished college. Professional. Sanitized. Confined to a 9-to-5. Chasing a dream doesn’t look the same now. There are responsibilities other than learning great new things. We’ve traded inquiring minds for the lives of responsible adults.

In order to have money.

I suppose that was part of what we after all along. Now that we’ve gotten there, I’m not convinced that it’s such a great destination, after all, because on days like today, I really, really wish I could experience the journey again.

A Review of “House and Philosophy: Everybody Lies”

House and Philosophy: Everybody LiesHouse and Philosophy: Everybody Lies by William Irwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently, I was asked by a friend to list fifteen of the most influential fictional characters in my life…characters that would always stick with me. Since the list didn’t specify between literary and television/film characters, I had difficulty, at least in retrospect, leaving Gregory House off of that list. House is a character that has always resonated with me. On my, how should I say, less than optimistic days, I’ve been told that I have everything in common with him except walking with a cane. There’s something about being so good at what you do that you can get by with saying whatever you think that is alluring to me…though perhaps it shouldn’t be. That, though, is exactly the appeal.

This book was loaned to me by a friend. I haven’t explored philosophy in popular culture titles much as of yet, but have been interested in doing so, and this was as good a place as any to begin. The book is a collection of essays from philosophy professors at various American universities, and the content varies from literary analysis to arguments presenting which philosophical perspectives the character of House espouses. With respect to the individual scholars, the quality of the content of these essays varies dramatically from the thought provoking to the unbelievable. One essay discusses in depth the inspiration of the character of House by the character of Sherlock Holmes, and points out fascinating correlations between House’s television program and the literary world of Doyle. One essay discusses House’s presentation of Sarte’s philosophy (“Hell is other people”), and an entire section of the book discusses the ethics of the physicians in the show as they correspond to accepted medical ethics in the “real world.” Other essays leave you flipping pages quickly to reach the end of the them because they lack all credibility from their premise ¬†forward (House as Zen Bhuddist rhetorician? Really?).

What fascinates me most about the book, however, is that it speaks to the quality of the character of Gregory House as he has been conceived by the screenwriters and brought to life by Hugh Laurie. There is something about this character, as much as he alternately repulses and attracts us, that makes us unable to look away, almost as though we’ve driven by a car accident. Whether it is disgust or admiration that motivates the viewer, almost everyone I know that watches this show has something constructive and insightful to say about House. The character is simply that powerful.

The academic ventures of recent years to discuss the rhetoric, philosophy, and theology of popular culture is an important pursuit to our society, and this book is evidence of that. The philosophy isn’t presented at a deep academic level, but rather in a well-balanced style that meets both the philosophical novice and the student who has studied philosophy at some depth in the middle. The language is accessible, and overall the book goes by very quickly once you begin. All in all, If you’re a fan of the show, this is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason than the fact that you will be able to discuss the next episode with much more insight and depth.

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