one step behind

… or more accurately, more than a month behind. Things get quite absurdly busy in the first half the semester and between the usual super-charged workload and going to two conferences (one of them Bouchercon) I have had very little time to compose my thoughts. Or read. Eating and sleeping have been a bit hit and miss, too.

However, I am well aware that The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has been getting lots of attention. Today Mack captures his thoughts about the book and links to several good reviews among the best of bloggers, including Maxine’s at Euro Crime, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, and Dorte at her Krimiblog. If I could be so crass as to sum up readers’ responses before having read the book itself, it is that a)it’s a baggy, sometimes over-detailed, and (like the others) incredibly involving novel; b) it has elements of conspiracy, espionage, journalism, and courtroom drama; and c) Salander is less front and center but remains the heart and soul of the story, which has a powerful social conscience. Finally, the bad news is that you really shouldn’t read it until you’ve read the first two books; the good news is that they are all very worth reading.

One thing that strikes me about these immensely popular books is that readers everywhere are willing to forgo cheap thrills and slick writing for a somewhat unpolished but deeply principled narrative that isn’t ashamed to show its political colors. This is a testament to readers’ tastes that I hope publishers will heed. Books that are not James Patterson knock-offs or mass-produced happy meals can be successful. So how about putting your shoulder behind some really good books for a change, hmmm?

Right now, US publishers are all atwitter about the fact that big box stores and Amazon are selling ten of the “big books” being released for the Christmas season at a discount so steep they are actually taking a loss – selling them for less than the wholesale price. It has prompted the American Booksellers Association to file a  predatory pricing complaint with the Justice Department.  If one of the Millennium Trilogy had a November release and landed on the top ten (as they have done) would Wal-Mart and Target be using it away to entice readers into their stores to buy other goods? Or would the “people who liked this book” algorithm finish with “aren’t likely to shop at Wal-Mart”?

Maybe there isn’t any algorithm like that at work. After all, you’d think people who read Barbara Kingsolver would shop local and support independent bookstores, but her new book is one of the ten being dangled like bait by discount stores. Attention, shoppers: social conscience and critique of corporate power on sale in aisle three!

By the way, I was pleased at Bouchercon to see both Stieg Larsson and Arnaldur Indridason get awards. The US cover of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo even won an award (which puzzled me since I didn’t care for it much…) The fact that the Barry Award for “best book published in the UK” went to a Swedish book caused some head-scratching, but it’s a small price to pay for getting these books before we do.

I also donated a selection of Scandinavian crime fiction for the charity auction which reported prompted a fair amount of bidding, though I had to leave before the event and only have that information second-hand.

Celebrity and the Book World

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition traces the route The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo took as it found it’s way (finally) to the US market. Here, authors are part time salesmen (or are they part time writers?) and Knopf had to consider ways to market the book without that star appeal. They first wooed booksellers, hoping for massive orders to send a message. They placed an ad in the New York Times book review promising to give away copies to anyone who asked (which might have dismayed those booksellers who placed orders, but maybe I just don’t understand these things) and they rode the wave of bloggers already talking the book up. Result – even without the celebrity appearances, the book made it to the bestseller list. And this is a book that doesn’t have the page-turning action of most US bestsellers. It’s a rambling, thoughtful, character-driven, complex novel about family dynamics and misogyny.

A lot of books get a big marketing push. It doesn’t guarantee a spot on the charts. Maybe there’s a lesson here – the real star appeal is found in the book itself.

Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.