Heading to New York for the weekend and desperate for something trashy to take on the bus, I came across a stack of books sitting on the windowsill of my old room. Not too long ago I went through a phase related to the person I was dating at the time in which I felt the need to purge my shelves of books that were in some way “bad” for me. This included anything that made me feel even slightly guilty- too much violence, sex scenes, irredeemable characters, swearing, anti-Christian messages, etc. etc. etc. Naturally 80% of the books I like contain at least one of the above, so this phase died relatively quickly. Not before I did some sorting, though. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Self-censorship isn’t a bad thing. We know what we can handle, and we should protect ourselves. Extreme self-censorship, on the other hand, turns into OCD rather than thoughtful filtering. So, where do we draw the line?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a perfect example of my conundrum. It definitely contains all of the above and so earned its place on The Windowsill of Shame (well hidden behind The Curtain of Forgetfulness). I don’t like mysteries, but my mother does and I needed something for her namesday. On a friend’s recommendation I bought it for her without reading it first. If you haven’t been to America in the last two years and don’t know, the story focuses on Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist at a financial magazine who’s just been convicted of libel. He’s offered a unique assignment while on the punitive equivalent of a sabbatical, and meets a very unusual girl along the way. Beautifully paced and plotted, fresh characters, completely repulsive subject matter- but SO well written.
The murder mystery at the heart of the plot will suck you in, but, not unlike certain cop shows, the violence is what keeps you pinned. Swedish culture appears to have a higher tolerance for cruelty in their literature and film (watch Let the Right One In if you don’t believe me. On second thought, don’t.). So while you can’t help being fascinated by title character Lisbeth Salander, her bloodthirsty acts of feminist vigilante justice end up chilling more than empowering. How exactly is that good for my soul- or even peace of mind? Why did I read it again? At least twice? I tried to pay more attention as I went through it this time. The allure of the forbidden, of the dark have a very strong pull.
I compromised. The first one- despite everything- is just a really good book. The sequels aren’t nearly as well edited or thought out. More importantly, they lose the ethical tensions of the first and demystify the protagonist. Back on the shelf they go. Conscience appeased.
What won’t you read? Why?