Rereading the Millennium series

I’m prepping today for next Wednesday’s Great Books event at MSOE.  This event is like a nice evening at book club, except no one has to clean their house or make dinner, and the primary conversation is actually about . . . the book!

The Great Books Dinner and Discussion series has been running for sixteen years now.  We have a number of “regulars” who attend multiple evenings every year, and even a few people who come every month.  Several book clubs come to Great Books once or twice a year in place of their usual monthly meetings; some clubs even make the drive to Milwaukee from other southeastern Wisconsin cities.

Although most people come with a friend their first time, it is not uncommon for people to come solo.  Dinner provides a chance to interact with other participants, and after someone has attended a couple of events, they begin to recognize other “regulars” and sit with them.  I have watched friendships develop over the years from acquaintanceships formed solely through attendance at Great Books.

I usually facilitate one Great Books session per year, in early June.  And even though I work hard to prepare for each event – and technically still am working while leading the discussion (which, believe me, is harder than it appears) – once the evening is off and running, I get so caught up in the conversation that it hardly feels like “work” at all.

Next Wednesday we’re talking about Stieg Larsson’s three-book Millennium series.  I’ve been rereading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo steadily, bit by bit, over the last couple weeks of the academic year, but now that I’ve finished with exams and turned in my grades, I’m stepping up my reading pace to work through the rest of the series this weekend.

When I bought Dragon Tattoo two years ago, it was because it was summer and I needed something new to read and the book was already a bestseller that everyone else seemed to be reading.  My rereading now has reminded me of something: how amazed I was my initial time through the book that it actually managed to get published in the first place, much less go on to become a bestseller.  The first hundred pages are SO BORING.

The only thing that kept pulling me through the story was the occasional glimpse of this really unusual character, Lisbeth Salander.

My first time reading The Lord of the Rings was similar.  Once Frodo and Sam got separated from the rest of the group, theirs was the only story I cared about; Aragorn and all the various soldiers and battles both overwhelmed and bored me.  Likewise, the first time I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I kept flipping through all the boring philosophy stuff to get to the dad and his son.  (When I reread that book a few years ago, I found myself skipping the motorcycle trip in order to get to the philosophical discussions of rhetoric and “quality.”  Funny how reading the same book can be such a completely different experience when you’re older.)

Here is my personal Millennium-series “journey” (to employ a word rendered ridiculous via its appropriation bu and overuse in reality television).  I bought the mass-market paperback and liked it.  Liked it to the point of feeling agitated about not having the next installment, like a junkie needing a fix.  Passing a small bookstore on the way to a restaurant one night, I stopped in and bought both the second book in trade paperback edition (which was the only version the bookstore had) and the hardcover edition of the third book.  My reading would not be interrupted any longer than the interval it would take to close Book 2 and pick up Book 3.

Apparently many American readers who discovered the series long before I did had experiences similar to mine.  After finishing the second novel, they were so anxious to read the third that they ordered The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest from England rather than await its publication in America months later.  (Interesting side note: the third book is titled “Hornets’ Nest,” plural, in England and “Hornet’s Nest,” singular, in its American and Canadian editions.)  The reason for this frantic need to get their hands on the third book?

In my opinion, Lisbeth Salander.

Yes, the puzzle aspect of the books’ plot structure is quite good, but I get impatient with Blomkvist’s plodding investigation.  It’s Salander, with her quick mind and unpredictable behavior, who keeps me hooked.  She’s even more fascinating to me in this second go-through, and I’m trying to figure out what makes her “tick” as a character.  I’ll organize my thoughts about her and share some ideas next week.

Oh, one final thing before closing out this post.  Possibly due to the Y2K hysteria a decade ago, I vaguely assumed that the “Millennium” series reference was some kind of metaphor.  Women have been abused for millennia, but now we are entering a new millennium, etc.  But in rereading the books, it occurs to me that because Millennium is the name of the publication Blomkvist works for and partly owns, the novel series is almost certainly named for it.

What an odd organizing theme that is, at least for me.  Having a newspaper/magazine be the “center” of these novels just seems really foreign to me.  I would never describe them as stories about a magazine, and I don’t think I’ve seen that discussion elsewhere.

Yet the ideal of publication-as-change-agent may be an accurate reflection of Stieg Larsson’s own mindset and life experiences as a crusading journalist.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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