Guilty pleasure reads always summon to mind books with raised shining letters and possibly swooning babes in the arms of perma-tanned hunks on the cover. Since I never read these books and often inwardly feel a little ill when I happen to accidentally stray into the aisle that houses them (did you know Romance and Mystery at my library are back to back?), I found this post to be a particular puzzle. Plus, when I do read things that I would consider brain candy (see my last WIRTW post) or fluff stuff, I don't actually experience any guilt. It's usually read alongside something rather heavy or just depressing that I am reading and sometimes a girl just needs a break. So, I decided to go with a book (well, series) that I have been in a moral quandary over ever since I read the first one.
There is no end to the amount of emphasis I want to give to this point: I am not endorsing this series and I am not suggesting anyone read it. In fact, I absolutely forbid it. So, if you go and read it and blame me, I will point back to this paragraph and say, I forbade you to read those books! What were you thinking?! So, there is my caveat.
The books make up The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson (not Steve Martin as I originally thought). I was sent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (book number one) by my grandmother. I'd heard a lot about it because back when I had a functioning iPod I listened to The New York Times Bestsellers Podcast which was often quite fascinating, sometimes gave me insights into new authors I appreciated, and sometimes led me to authors that made me sad for the rest of my country. I believe there is much controversy surrounding Mr. Larsson regarding who gets the money for The Millennium Series, which was published posthumously, and whether or not his death was a result of natural causes, but none of these things are what I want to talk about.
The books themselves are wildly popular, which is weird to be honest because they come to us from Sweden, and can you think of any other Swedish crime thrillers who have rocketed to the top of the best sellers list? Yeah, I can't either. I needed (yes needed) to know what was up with these books.
The first book was thrilling, absolutely thrilling. I mean, crime thriller was in no way a misnomer. Mr. Larsson tells a great story. The tale grips you right away and drags you all the way through to the end, with sweaty palms and increased heartbeat. Please note that I am not giving away the plot. This is on purpose, because again, I do not want you to read this. If you choose to do it it's on your own hands because this is the other side of it.
The antagonist in the book (if you can pin down just one antagonist) is evil. Not only is he evil, he comes from a family of evil. The evil is both sexual and violent and often comes across graphically. Since this is set apart as "evil" I may have been able to overlook it, except that the protagonists are also a little hard to embrace. Mr. Larsson has some vague idea of wrong. Rape is wrong. Fornication is normal and encouraged. Adultery is ok as long as both parties are fine with it. Obviously, I don't expect a strictly Christian sense of right and wrong from a postmodern author, but it was sometimes a little hard for me to get a sense of whether or not he actually believed there even WERE concepts like "right" and "wrong." For him it seemed to come down to, if it harms others, it's wrong.
So, I got the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I recycled it. Why? Well, first off because I'm a good citizen who recycles, but more importantly because: I don't want anyone else to read it. Have I said this enough? I just don't want to take any blame for this. It was absolutely one of the most exciting crime novels I've ever read. And I do read crime and political thrillers. Usually they aren't so graphic, and usually if they are I tend to put them down. (Also, I put them down if they go on for over half a page about a gun. I do have my limits, as a woman, to what I can take and that just bores me, but that's another topic...) This one, I couldn't put down, there were parts I purposefully skipped over, but even when doing that, there were things I read that probably didn't enrich my life, and may have diminished it.
I decided I wouldn't go on with the series. This was a very hard decision. When I start something I have a hard time not finishing. In fact, I can remember the exact book I was in the midst of slogging through when I had a moment of mental break through. I. Didn't. Have. To. Finish. It was like the sun came out in my life. That was actually a very short time ago (less than five years) and "not finishing" a bad or just a poor book/series, has been a long process of reformation for me. But after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I knew that if I found the second one it would be too much of a temptation to read it. So, I purposefully didn't look for it at the library. And one year went by.
Recently I was browsing shelves at the library (because I don't have enough books at home ha.ha.ha.) and I was in the fiction section looking for a book by Nevil Shute. Shute....starts with an "S". Pretty far from "L" one would think. Yet some person with a grim sense of destiny had set The Girl Who Played with Fire on top of the Nevil Shute books. I'm a Calvinist. This was clearly predestined. I picked it up and read the inside cover. Alas! It looked more exciting than the first, but the bad guys were involved in sex trafficking, so it had the potential to be more explicit than the first. I walked away. But then I walked back. And then I walked away again. And then I checked it out.
Since a year has gone by, I'm actually not sure I could compare the two as far as explicitness. I do know the second one definitely had more questionable "casual" relationships than the first, but I also know that there was one point where I was holding up the book and saying out loud, "go go!! GO!" to the main character and I couldn't read fast enough because I was worried about her fate. I do get rather emotionally involved in my books, but even I was surprised how into the story I got. It was a really intense and absolutely thrilling story.
I am ignoring the fact that there is a third book. I really am torn because as far as just action and exciting story, they are hands down the best books I've ever read. But there are things in the book I am about...85% sure I should not have in my head (And I think the other 15% is denying reality). I know we have freedom in Christ, so all things are lawful (like reading these books) but not all things are helpful (like reading these books). I really really really want to read the third in the series. Partially because I cannot let things go, but mainly because the second book kiiiinda ended as a cliff hanger and I know the third one is going to be dreadfully exciting. Yet at the same time, I'm unsure about the wisdom in doing so.
I think my weird love/hate relationship with the books, is mirrored in my love/hate relationship with the main character. Her name is Lisbeth Salander and she is a pierced and tattooed 4'11" computer hacker with an attitude and a photographic memory. She's a genius and she's antisocial and she is not someone I would ever ever ever ever EVER want to befriend because she seems rather terrifying actually. She's also a character that the literary world has never seen before. She's just a new type of character. In fact, when I originally heard of the series, someone pointed out that she might be the reason the books are selling so well. People are just curious about this tiny, misunderstood misfit who takes justice into her own hands. In the books she's described as "moral." I think as far as Mr. Larsson's morality goes, she does indeed fit the bill. Personally I don't find her particularly moral, but I'm attracted to the ways she gets the job done.
She's also described as someone who "hates men who hate women." As stated before the books often revolve around crimes of a sexual nature. These are the type of crimes that often go unreported, still more often are ignored by the authorities, and are a repulsion to the image of God in every human being. As a woman, I'm aware of the dangers associated with crimes like these and as a Christian I hate them too. What is so fascinating about Ms. Salander is that she goes out directly and puts to right the wrongs that she sees. I can't help but cheer her on.
Another caveat, I do not advocate vigilante justice. I sometimes think the justice system is slow and frustrating, but ours is a lot better than what others have. I can't speak to the situation in Sweden, but as a Christian I do not endorse taking the law into your own hands. But it is very hard to not sympathize with the urge to do so. Perhaps this explains the popularity of western movies as well. We want to see justice performed. We acknowledge that we are living in a sin-filled world and long to see the wrongs put to right. This will never fully be done until Christ returns, but I think this explains our cheering on the "good guy" even when he (or she) is taking a controversial route. Plus, to be honest, there is a part of my brain that finds poetic justice in the fact that a woman is doling out justice to men who take advantage of other women. Yes, I do admit I get a little "girl power!" over these books.
So, there is my long post trying to justify/explain/confess my relationship with The Millennium Series. And really as far as guilty pleasure, that is as close as I could get. I won't induce you to share your guilty pleasure, but if you'd like to make me feel better about myself you certainly are welcome to do so.