The Artist’s Lament: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

girlwiththeI first knew The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as the book written by that dead Swedish guy. Which is actually how people have put it at the Bookstore: “I’m looking for that book by the dead Swedish guy.” In fairness, I’m sure there are lots of fine works of fiction or non-fiction by now dead Swedish guys, but honestly? There’s only one dead Swedish author people care about lately: Stieg Larsson.

His death also explains why the author photo on the book is so awful.

Larsson was a left-wing Swedish journalist who began writing mysteries as a hobby. He finished three, and was midway through the fourth (of a projected ten-book cycle) when he died at the age of fifty, in 2004. Titled Män som hatar kvinnor in the original Swedish, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won a prestigious Glass Key Award. It was first published in the UK in January 2008, and in the U.S. that September.

The book follows protagonists Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged disgraced journalist, Lisbeth Salander, a prodigy hacker, through an Agatha Christie style-mystery: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a member of a wealthy industrial family, from an isolated island. In addition, there’s a subplot about how exactly Blomkvist went about becoming disgraced, and Salander’s experiences with the Swedish judicial system.

I was at first more than a little reluctant to pick this book up — although I heard lots of great stuff about it, my last experience with a translated Swedish book, Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, left a sour taste in my mouth (and mind). I eventually caved to pressure, and picked up a paperback copy last weekend. How much did I like it?

The book is 590 pages. I began reading it Monday morning, and I finished it Thursday afternoon, while still working eight hours each day at my Office job, while working three evenings at my part-time job, and while drinking copiously at a farewell party for departing Office mates Tuesday night. On top of all of that, I still managed six hours of sleep a night. I guess what I’m saying is — it’s a real page turner.

Also, I read really fast.

The book is not perfect. There are sections which drag, because Larsson lectures about aspects of Sweden’s guardianship system, and sometimes the translation seems sloppy: for example, a romantic interest refers to Blomkvist as a “toy boy” about a third of the way in (pg. 208, if you must know). However, these faults are easily overlooked — the book is sometimes haunting and spooky, sometimes terrifying, and on occasion, tender and warm hearted. For me, the real satisfaction from the book didn’t come from the resolution of the mystery of Harriet Vanger plot-line, but of Blomkvist’s redemption (which, of course, is tied in with the Vanger plot).

While reading the book, and being more and more aware of the book’s success (the only author to outsell Larsson in 2008? Khaled Hosseini), I feel such an incredible sense of loss for Mr. Larsson. Goodness knows, when I think about “what I want to be when I grow up”, I can remember being in a bookstore as a kid, running my hand along the spines of books, and thinking, “All I want to do is write and publish a book.” I wonder if Mr. Larsson had that same dream? It really is too bad that he died without seeing his works in print, but I guess that’s the artist’s lament, isn’t it? No one knows who you are until you’re dead.

Okay, shake it off. I hope the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, is just as captivating. It was released this past Tuesday, and I picked up a copy. If it’s as good as I hope it is, I won’t wait for the American publication of the third book — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest — I’ll order it from Amazon.uk: it’s being published in England October 1st.

Interestingly, the books have already gotten the movie treatment, and the first was released in Europe this spring. The Swedish trailer is here.

Back to … Back to the Future

So, you’ve seen Back to the Future, right? Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, a flying DeLorean, and some time-traveling conundrums — notably, a third film which could’ve been avoided if Doc Brown wasn’t a total burnout.

What you may — or may not — know is that the role of Jennifer, Fox’s love interest in the film, was re-cast between the first and second films. Claudia Wells was unavailable to film the second and third films (made back-to-back) because her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and Elisabeth Shue was hired for the roll. Because the second film begins with the last few minutes of the first, director Robert Zemeckis refilmed the entire sequence, with Shue, to maintain continuity.

So some dude, brilliantly, put together this little vid (the first film is on top, the second on bottom) to show how old-school movie makers do stuff (today, they’d just’ve used some CGI program to stick Shue’s head on Wells’s body).

HT: Topless Robot.

Oh, wanna see another cool Back to the Future video? This one is an alternate ending: Right here.

Forget More To Love for a moment — what about Dov Charney?

I noticed some mutterings on Twitter today and found a Gawker article about the behavior of American Apparel’s CEO Dov Charney, who is allegedly demanding that store managers send in photos of store employees so that he can determine who among them are unattractive … and other them fired. Apparently, instead of blaming, I don’t know, the shitty economy for plummeting sales, Charney is blaming ugly or so-so employees.

Yeah, he’s not just a beauty himself, he’s a thinker, too:

Summer is supposed to be a great sales season for AA. Needless to say, with the state of the economy, sales haven’t been going so well. Dov usually gets on the conference calls and talks to people, but one week, he went on a huge tirade and made stores that weren’t doing well send in group photos. Why, you ask? He made store managers across the country take group photos of their employees so that he could personally judge people based on looks. He is tightening the AA ‘aesthetic,’ and anyone that he deems not good-looking enough to work there, is encouraged to be fired. This is blatant discrimination based on looks.

I guess what most bothers me about this, is that a hard working, but unattractive employee, can be dismissed by corporate decree, whereas, y’know, the beauty queen who texts at the register and throws a fit when she has to clean up her area, gets to stay working. And this for two reasons:

1. I don’t buy into the “hard work equals success” myth. I do believe that success is usually earned by hard work, but I don’t believe that just by being hard working one can find success — there are so many other factors that go into it. However, I do believe, especially in a retail environment, that barring some company wide closure (think: Circuit City), hard work will earn you the right to keep your job: now, I guarantee you, that even in the biggest retail stores (like Target, or Walmart), management knows exactly who their best workers are — you can flirt and preen all you want, but when you’re calling out twice a week, and when you’re lazying around forcing other people to pick up your slack, management notices. And when corporate says, “Hey, fire five staff.” You can bet they’re not going to fire the people picking up the lazy person’s slack — because brown nosing only goes so far in retail. And yet, here are these folks, at risk of losing their jobs over their appearance, not their work ethic. That’s some BS.

2. I do not consider myself attractive. I’m pretty plain, actually, and, when I’m not shaving my head bald, I’ve got male pattern baldness. Also, y’know the joke about how people’s bodies are six packs or keggers? I’m totally the latter. Hey, there’s more of me to love, but I hide my pain behind a smile. Oh, also, I wear glasses that are eight years old and are far too large. The point being: I’m so very glad the Bookstore isn’t American Apparel, and that Dov Charney is not our CEO. If it was, I would probably get called into the GM’s office one day, “Hey, I’ve got to let you go.”

I wouldn’t need to ask, but I probably would: “Am I a bad employee?” I like to think I’m not: I rarely call out (I called out Monday last week because of tremendous foot pain, and that was probably the first time I’d called out since October). I’m at work on time, with a smile on my face, and I try to engage as many customers as I can during the time I’m working. I’m often willing to clock in early, or come in on my days off to cover holes in the shift. I hate working the register, though.

Anyway, I’m writing too much: I’m just going to sum up with a quote from the letter sent to Gawker:

He’s asking for a class-action lawsuit and i hope that when it rains, it rains hard.

As it happens, it’s pouring right now. Outside. Real rain, I mean, not lawsuit rain.

WTF Roseanne?

I am so stunned by this, I have no idea if I should be offended or not. So I’ll just say, let there be no doubt: Roseanne Barr has the biggest balls on the planet:

She nails the Fuehrer’s facial expressions with twisted glee, and as she takes the burnt gingerbread “Jew Cookies” out of the oven it occurs to me that Barr may be the last celebrity utterly incapable of giving a fuck—a quality theoretically easy to embody until it’s time to face the practical repercussions. “Franklin Ajae, Paul Mooney, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory’s passings will tear my kishkas out,” Barr laments. “They gave everything they had to just tell the truth, and they couldn’t make a decent living because of the choice they made—not selling out to Hollywood.”

Unfortunately, at no point in the article could I actually figure out why she was dressing up as Adolf Hitler, except, possibly, to offend everyone who reads Heeb.

Keyboard? How Quaint!

Star Trek is said to have predicted lots of things we take for granted — Kirk’s communicator “predicted” the cell phone, and those big brightly colored squares they used to pass around on the original series inspired floppy disks. (Truthfully, I think “predicted” is used where “inspired” might work better, and also, I’m fairly certain some things would’ve come around regardless of whether Star Trek had been around or not. Like, when we really build interstellar spaceships? Let’s buck Star Trek‘s trend and actually put some seatbelts on the motherfucker.)

Anyway, in Star Trek IV, the Enterprise crew travels to 1986 San Francisco to whalenap some humpbacks (humpback whales, not humpbacked people). Trying to figure out how to rig their stolen Klingon ship to hold water, McCoy and Mr. Scott decide to provide the formula to transparent aluminum to a glass manufacturer so their mission can be successful (as Scott rationalizes, “How can we know he didn’t invent it to begin with?”)

Flash forward twenty-three years, and guess what?

In this week’s Nature Physics an international team, led by Oxford University scientists, report that a short pulse from the FLASH laser ‘knocked out’ a core electron from every aluminium atom in a sample without disrupting the metal’s crystalline structure. This turned the aluminium nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation.

”What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,’ said Professor Justin Wark of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Transparent aluminium is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of ‘miniature stars’ created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth.’

The Oxford team, along with their international colleagues, focused all this power down into a spot with a diameter less than a twentieth of the width of a human hair. At such high intensities the aluminium turned transparent.

Whilst the invisible effect lasted for only an extremely brief period – an estimated 40 femtoseconds – it demonstrates that such an exotic state of matter can be created using very high power X-ray sources.

Neat-o!

HT: @mmmknowledge

Some people buy GRE books, and I just want to tell them, “Based on what I’ve observed of your behavior today, you are clearly intelligence fail and should just save your fifty bucks, please and thank you.”

GRE

I don’t actually know what the GRE is. Okay, I know very basically that it is a test that you have to take that in some way affects your ability to get into a master’s program. I don’t know if you need to take it to get into any master’s programs, or just some, or possibly only some universities require it, or what the fuck ever, the point is: I know it’s kind of challenging, because a lot of folks who appear of above average intelligence (and I know “appear” is a loaded word) come into the Bookstore a lot and drop ridiculous amounts of cash on big test prep books.

And then there’s this guy.

And he comes in, and he walks up to the registers, and he wants to know where our test books are.

Okay, fine: this actually happens a lot. Our register bank is the first staffed position you see when you come into the store, and our information desk is kind of tucked away a bit further back on the main level.

So the guy heads downstairs, walking past both our upper level, and lower level information desks, to reach our test books. And then he couldn’t find the one he was looking for. So, pop quiz, blog readers:

1. Did he ask for help at the lower level information desk?
2. Did he ask for help at the upper level information desk?
3. Did he walk past both to return to the registers to ask for help?

The correct answer is 3!

And I promptly referred him to the main information desk, explaining that, gosh, there was a line of people I was checking out, and besides, I can’t search the store’s inventory from the register computer, which is, in fact, a lie: I can, but it’s a total time consuming pain in the ass to get into the system, and since there’s a line of people waiting to check out, and I’m the only person at the registers, I wouldn’t be able to help him since I can’t leave the registers. And did I mention the line?

So he walks over to the information desk, and presumably, he walks downstairs again, and finds the book he’s looking for. I don’t actually know, because I had a lot of people to help.

Flash forward a few minutes, and he’s back, “I have a question.”

By this point, we’ve begun making the closing announcements. Everyone who is buying stuff is in line — probably a dozen people. “Go over to the information desk,” I tell him.

“But I have a question!”

Gosh, brilliant person! Do you perhaps think your question might possibly be better directed at the information desk? The whole point of having an information desk, of course, being that customers can ask questions of employees there? No, by all means, come to the registers, and bug the guy who is checking people out as quickly as possible. Also, I dislike people who cut in line “with a question”, so I tell the dude if he has a question, by all means, get in line, and I’ll try to answer it for him when it’s his turn. He just sort of scowled at me, but I think he got the message and went over to the information desk.

But, of course, he came back (waited in line, this time): this time to buy whichever GRE book he’d picked out. I kind of wanted to tell him, “Dude, I think you might be wasting money on this book.”

Because if you have trouble with such a basic concept as “Ask questions at the information desk”, I don’t think a master’s program is the answer to your problems.

Why can’t all Metro train cars be pretty?

A Metro train was pulling into the station as I got onto the platform this morning, but because it was headed in the opposite direction, I didn’t really pay much attention to it — until I saw a flash of orange and fumbled for the camera feature on my Jesus phone. I’ve never before seen a Metro decorated in such a fashion*:

5933_1205315535754_1314602267_576065_62510_n

Y’know — the Metro can be sort of a dreary place, and I’m not just talking about all the delays and troubles the old system has (let’s hear it for dedicated funding, Congress!). But between the concrete walls, and the dull red floors, and the gray trains, the system could use some color. Why not paint all of the Metro cars in bright colors? I mean, they don’t have to be obnoxious — but why can’t they be pretty?

*Apparently, there are several Metro cars on the Red Line with this decoration, but this is the first I’ve seen.

Those Crazy Librarians/V-Cart Wars

This reminds me of a funny story I’m going to call “V-Cart Wars.”

Because there are lots of types of bookcarts — in the Bookstore, we have at least five: giant ten-shelved carts on wheels which are heavy and want to tip, big eight-shelved carts which are also heavy and want to tip, large three shelved carts where the shelves only open on one side, and little hand carts on two wheels, which are either a “V” or a “W” cart depending on their capacity (a “W” cart is essentially a double “V” cart).

A few months ago, we were rushing around to get the Bookstore in tip-top shape for a visit by the company’s top bookseller: the CEO. What this meant was that one night, instead of leaving after the last customers were shooed out at closing, everyone was frantically running around reshelving everything from the recovery cart, as well as any piles of magazines and books the customers left scattered around the store. For some reason, the people who tend to leave our stuff all over? Usually never seem to buy anything. Fuckers.

We had a woman (New Girl) who’d just started that day (college student looking for extra income over summer) and even though the closing manager had told her she could clock out and leave if she wanted, she decided to stay and help us shelve. About an hour after we’d closed, we were finally finished and were heading into the back room to grab our stuff, clock out, and hit the road. I was rolling a v-cart, and so was New Girl. I rammed my v-cart into hers and joked, “V-cart wars!”

“You want to play this game?” she said, a weird smile on her face.

And I was pretty sure this was the first time she’d ever worked in a bookstore (because she’d said, “OMG! I’m so excited to work in a bookstore!”), so I was kind of confused how she could know about v-cart wars, which is only in a very fragile sense a “game” because it has no real rules or objective other than to, y’know, ram a cart into another cart*. So I pointed to the cart and said, “This is a v-cart!” in a “wtf are you talking about?” kind of tone.

And the encounter just ended sort of awkwardly.

I related this story to Urban Bohemian a week or two later at Mackey’s, and the bar tender overheard and explained that “v-card wars” is something high school girls do, and that the “v” stands for “virginity.” Sadly, Googling turned up no information (although, I both feel skeevy now for Googling it, and I felt skeevy at the bar when I realized what this much younger woman thought I was inquiring about**). I guess the whole point of the story is that New Girl would probably love to participate in the Librarian Book Cart Championships.

librarian_540

Five teams of librarians — dressed in costumes ranging from Vikings to Elvis Presley — competed for the coveted gold book cart. They marched in drill-team formation, equipped with metal book carts.

Gretchen Roltgen, a 62-year-old librarian with neon blue hair, says it’s a long way from Baraboo, Wis., to “the big dance.”

“Our carts at home don’t do wheelies as well as the models we use here. These are full-competition models,” she says. “Absolutely, they’re built for this type of rigorous competition.”

In many ways, I feel that being a bookseller is just a step away from a librarian. Except, those poor bastards and bastardistas have to learn the Dewey Decimal System. Suckers. Oh, and also? When we want to let our hair down at the Bookstore (proverbially — I’m bald), we just go over to Mackey’s and throw back some brewskis. Librarians, apparently, dress up as vikings and do crazy stuff with book carts!

*There’s a variation: “Book cart murder.” This is when you build up acceleration and release a book cart which has been stacked high with magazines or books. This makes the cart very heavy, and difficult to stop. The objective is to see if your coworker/victim is spry enough to leap out of the way, or if he will be crushed to death.

**And then as I was writing this I thought, “Wait, this could’ve ended with me having the sex with her back in a remote section of the store!” and now I feel skeevy again.

an idiom idiot

On Saturday afternoon, I was helping several different customers all at once on the lower level, when a guy asked for directions to the dictionaries. I pointed him back to a distant corner of the store, and went back to having my attention pulled three different ways by people looking for a blue book, a political book, and a restroom unpopulated by naked homeless people.

With those situations resolved, I made my way back to check on the customer who was looking for dictionaries. “I need an idiom dictionary,” he said in a thick accent. “I need to know what this means.” He handed me a slip of paper with ‘beating around the bush’ written on it.

Although we didn’t stock any idiom dictionaries (I’m not even sure if they exist), I did not fret — “I can explain this!” I volunteered.

And really, I should have just kept my mouth shut, said, “Oh, I’m sorry, let me check the computer and see if we have an idiom dictionary at another store.” Or, y’know, “Let me check the computer and see if a idiom dictionary exists.” But I didn’t. Because I figured, I can totally explain what ‘beating around the bush’ means, because I’m smart!

Here’s a hint: if someone isn’t a native English speaker? And you are not a native speaker of their language? Don’t ever try explaining an idiom.

“So, it’s like what you say when you’re telling someone they’re avoiding getting to the point.”

“Ahh … huh?”

“Like, if you think your mechanic cheated you on a repair, and you …”

“Mechanic?”

“Well, and instead of saying, ‘Hey, you cheated me’, you say, ‘Hey, how’s the weather?'”

“Ahh … huh?”

“Because you’re not getting to the point.”

“Huh?”

“Because, like, instead of just chopping the bush down? You’re trimming the bush.”

“…?”

“Or beating it. Beating around the bush. Instead of chopping it down.”

“What does mechanic have to do with chopping down a bush?”

“Forget the mechanic. It’s … beating around the bush is like what I’m trying to do with this conversation — I’m wishing I’d avoided it!”

E. Lynn Harris

Back when I first started working in this area (and was driving from Timonium to Bethesda), part of the marketing push for E. Lynn Harris’s newest book featured this image prominently on a Metro ad:

E_Lynn_Harris

And it freaked me out, man. Also, the eyes tended to track you wherever you were in the train.

Anyway, for those who don’t know, Harris is an author of genre fiction usually described as “Urban” or “African-American.” (I have my own feelings on how the Bookstore organizes this category, but I’ll save that for another post.) Mr. Harris died this morning during a publicity tour on the west coast.

I haven’t read any of his books, but he’s one of the more popular authors from that section. This actually surprised me, because of all the news lately about feelings in the African-American community regarding homosexuality: his books deal with “black, gay culture.”

As you might imagine, after reading the article, I immediately called over to the Bookstore to let them know. Unfortunately, there’s nothing like a death to inspire people to pick up an author’s works.