Last night my flatmates and I decided to watch the Swedish language film of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, entitled “Man Som Hatar Kvinnor.” It’s really interesting that the Swedish title translates to “Men Who Hate Women”, a much more accurate way of summarizing the book – Lisbeth’s dragon tattoo barely figures into the plot of the first book.

In any case, we all really enjoyed the movie. It paid remarkable attention to detail and stayed true to the book’s crucial themes. My flatmate E, who hails from Singapore, found some of the scenes shocking and hard to watch, but liked the movie overall. My other flatmate R is a dramatic writing major, and truly appreciated the cinematography and art direction that the movie offered. I think we all took different things from it.

Today I finished “The Girl who Played with Fire” at long last. I’ve been working at it, piecemeal, for a month. I liked it better than the first book, mostly because I felt more comfortable with the characters and setting. Lisbeth and Mikael are old friends now.

I think this book lacks some of the shock value of the first, but it still packs a punch. It’s main draw is that the reader gets to learn more about Lisbeth’s background, which has been obscured from the very beginning of TGWTDT. I was gratified to find that her past was fittingly disturbing to match her character.

For a list of books, past and present:

http://www.shelfari.com/concretefields/shelf

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This month, I picked up a number of books that I didn’t like much and had to put down: Ayaan Firsi Ali’s Nomad (too polemical), Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (too religious), and Robert Ludlum’s Sigma Protocol (too brainless), among others. My greatest flaw as a reader is my limited attention span.

But I forced myself to finish this one. Everywhere I turn these days, I see a new reference to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I finally succumbed to popular pressure and spent $7 on the small paperback version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The cover is striking. It’s a ubiquitous and hard-to-miss presence on all the NYC subways, with its bright yellow, lime green, and electric orange elements. I hear it’s in the running for a number of cover design awards, which doesn’t surprise me. I haven’t seen such a, well, radioactive looking novel in a long time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

I was slightly underwhelmed by this book at first. I wasn’t expecting a literary tour de force, of course; popular bestsellers rarely are. But I was expecting, at the very least, something superficially gripping along the lines of the DaVinci Code. I’m going to read the rest of this series (The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) solely because I liked the two main characters,  not out of any special regard for the author’s mystery-writing skills.

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are wonderfully contrived protaganists that encouraged me to finish this book despite its lackluster first half. Blomkvist is a journalist fallen from grace by an unfortunate libel scandel. He is kind and humble, not to mention a little sexually promiscuous. But his escapades don’t hold a candle to Lisbeth’s. She’s a punk rebel, a computer hacker, and a man eater (almost literally – she swings a baseball bat at one, and forcibly tattoos another). At first I was afraid she’d be the typical quirky, offbeat computer geek, but she proved quite mysterious and I’m interested to read the next novel in the series if only to learn more about her past and her future.

Yo-Landi Vi$er, a musician whom the American "Dragon Tattoo" director wants for the part of Lisbeth Salander. Vi$er is reportedly not interested.

After Blomkvist’s libel trial, he is hired by a corporate giant, Henrik Vanger, to investigate the case of his missing niece, Harriet. Set in rural Sweden, the story revolves around the harsh climates (freezing winds, fierce snows) and hearty foods (moose steak, anyone?) of Larsson’s homeland. I enjoyed learning about this faraway hinterland, and it seemed a fitting place for a bone-chilling murder mystery.

Yet Larsson failed to capture my imagination with his writing. His style was very journalistic, and the first half of the book was a chore to get through. However, the second half was much more rewarding, which leads me to believe that perhaps he was just setting up background for the rest of the series with those miserable two hundred pages.

For now, I am going to have faith in the popular vote and wait to get my hands on a copy of The Girl who Played with Fire, the next book in the trilogy. I’m also really pumped for the American movie version of this book, which is starring the attractive Daniel Craig (read: James Bond) as Mikael Blomkvist.

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Name a book or author that you truly wanted to love but left you disappointed. (And, of course, explain why.)

This would absolutely have to be Charles Dickens. Try as I might to appreciate his books, I can’t help falling asleep after a couple of pages. The heavily annotated version of Great Expectations was among my worst reading experiences in high school. I hear that Dickens is gifted at characterization, setting, and plot. I would agree with the first two, but not with the last – I find his stories incredibly dull and slower than molasses. My English teacher recommended Bleak House to me in high school, but to no avail. Dickens isn’t in the cards for me.

This week I was reading Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s newest novel. At first I was skeptical because the book involves ghosts and paranormal activity, but after the first 100 pages I found myself becoming more absorbed. The characters that Niffenegger created were wonderfully eccentric and believable despite the supernatural twist. The book centers on 20-year-old twins from Chicago, Julia and Valentina, who abruptly inherit their Aunt Elspeth’s flat in London after she dies from leukemia. The flat overlooks the historic Highgate Cemetery. The twins go to live in the flat for a year, where they encounter two very quirky neighbors. One is Robert Fanshaw, Elspeth’s former lover and Highgate tour guide, who is incredibly distraught by her death. The other is Martin, who is obsessive compulsive and unable to leave his flat, and whose wife Marijke has left him due to his illness.

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger.

Upon arriving in London, the twins, who were previously inseparable, begin to drift apart after discovering their Aunt Elspeth’s ghost co-inhabiting the flat; Valentina befriends Elspeth while Julia has little patience for her. Valentina, who was always the more submissive twin, begins to have her own dreams and aspirations that do not coincide with Julia’s. The tension between them culminates at the conclusion of the book. This novel touches on the themes of sisterhood, family, and broken relationships. It celebrates imperfections and individuality; my favorite character is Martin, whose intelligence, sense of humor, and love for his wife shine through his debilitating disease.

While reading this book over the weekend, I suddenly craved something sweet. I had picked up some deliciously sweet blueberries from the farmers market, so I decided to make blueberry muffins before they went bad. These weren’t just any blueberry muffins – they were vegan, with no milk or eggs. And honestly, I didn’t miss the animal products at all. They were a snap to make and simply delicious.

Right out of the oven.

VEGAN BLUEBERRY MUFFINS (adapted from RecipeZaar.com)

1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk (soy milk or rice milk works as well)
1 box fresh blueberries (around 1 and 1/2 cups), or 2 cups frozen blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line muffin tray with liners or spray.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. If using fresh blueberries, dust with 2 tbsp. of flour before adding them to the mixture to prevent them from sinking into the batter.
  4. Spoon mixture into cups and bake for 35 minutes.
  5. Cool for 10-15 minutes.

Mmm… these didn’t last too long after I made them. (:

Puerto Rico is such an idyllic vacation spot – if it doesn’t torrentially pour, that is. The week before my mom and I were scheduled to go, the weather forecast predicted four straight days of thunderstorms. I was prepared to enjoy myself no matter what, but my mom was in the doldrums.

Not so bad after all.

As you can see from my photo, it wasn’t really so bad after all. Turns out in Puerto Rico they always predict rain because its more likely than not, but no one really knows for sure. Our hotel was located on the fringe of the El Yunque rain forest, in a small city called Fajardo. It’s about an hour from San Juan. The biodiversity there is mind-blowing  – I was lucky enough to see iguanas, pelicans, and tropical fish. I spotted several starfish, conch shells, and purple crabs while snorkling. I even saw baby sharks swimming around my legs as I swam on the beach! (I was glad to discover that the mother shark wasn’t anywhere in sight, and that apparently they’re harmless.)

I had a wonderful time relaxing with my mom and reconnecting with nature. I spent a large part of my vacation in the water because I love to swim, especially in the ocean. The hotel had its own private island, Palomino Island, that was different from any other place I’ve visited in the Caribbean in terms of flora and fauna. Opposite Palomino is a smaller island named Palominito (“Little Palomino” in Spanish). The distance is swimmable, but I decided against trying because of motorboats and possible water currents.

On Palomino Island, a private island.

When I wasn’t in the water, I was in one of these amazing beach chairs reading. The sun was so strong – Puerto Rico has one of the highest UV indices in the world – that I had to read with sunglasses on to make it bearable. I managed to finish a heavy book that wasn’t very good for the beach, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. I don’t know what my problem is exactly, but I find it difficult to finish a French classic, and this was no exception. This book is a bildungsroman focusing on a young, liberal male who secretly idolizes Napoleon while he advances himself by working for wealthy families. Julien Sorel’s character irritated me with his sensitivity and erratic behavior. I appreciated the book’s ironice hypocrisy in the vein of Voltaire, but Stendhal didn’t pull it off nearly as well.

Le Rouge et le Noir, by Stendhal. (English: The Red and the Black.)

On the third day, I was sad when I had to swim back to shore for the last time. It was a bittersweet parting, and I realized that I’d like to live close to the ocean when I finally have a place. When I got home, I researched Stendhal and discovered that, upon his travels to Florence, he was so overwhelmed by its beauty that he was dizzy and nauseous and faint. The doctors coined this Stendhal syndrome (look this up on Wikipedia if you want!). I wasn’t quite as taken by Puerto Rico as Stendhal was by Florence, but I was certainly enamored by its charms and would love to return again.

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