If you are planning a book discussion of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the Swedish noir, "closed room... or in this case, closed island" mystery by Stiegg Larsson, this blog entry is for you. It will save you hundreds of dollars in book group leader fees (the going rate now in SF for private groups is between $200 and $250) and distills years of my book group leadership experience (priceless).. My previous blog talked about the Menlo Park Public Library book group's critical response to Dragon Tattoo. But now, I am revealing the nuts and bolts mechanics of running the group.
Of course, we start with the snacks.
I got the snacks at Ikea in East Palo Alto--in the separate food section with the separate cash registers, which means you don't have to follow the blue lines through the rest of the store, unless, of course, you want to.
Here's what I got: Swedish crispbread, lingonberry jam spread, and two kinds of Anna's ginger thins cookies. http://www.annasthins.ca/
All of this cost less than $10.00. Again, the enjoyment is priceless.
If you host the program on a cold autumn or winter evening and do it somewhere that you are allowed to serve alchohol(can't do that at the library) you could also serve the Swedish mulled wine known as Glögg--Ikea has the mix that you add to your own wine. Or go crazy and make Swedish meatballs with ketchup and grape jelly, like some of our mothers did in the 1950s.
Okay--now the opening question. The icebreaker (Get it--Sweden--icebreaker?) was, "Has anyone been to Sweden? ...If so, did you find the descriptions accurate? If not, what did you learn about Sweden from reading this book, that you did not know before?"
There were lots of interesting answers here:
Swedes sure drink a lot of coffee.
Are Swedes really having that much casual sex or is that a fictional device?
The Swedish social services/foster care system seems much more patriarchal than ours--at least according to the book.
How do Swedes teach people in other lands how to spell Swedish last names?
The opening visual: FYI--The Swedish tourist board has embraced this book and offers a virtual tour and actual walking tour of Stockholm, featuring locales mentioned in the book. I did not bring a laptop with me to book group, but you can--and can feature this link: http://www.visitsweden.com/sweden/Regions--Cities/Stockholm/Culture/The-Millenium-tour/
Clear blue skies, immaculate streets, inviting coffee houses. Let's go right now!
The opening activity: I handed each member of the group a copy of the 2004 obituary of author Stieg Larsson, written by his colleagues at Searchlight Magazine--the real life counterpart to his fictional muckracking magazine--Millenium.
You can read it, here: http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/index.php?link=template&story=118
We read it out loud.
Larsson died at his writing desk of a heart attack at age 50, after having handed in the manuscripts for Tattoo and two other mysteries--which have come to be known as the Millenium Trilogy. His protagonist Michael Bloomqvist shares many of Larsson's political and professional aspirations.
There are a lot of book group leaders and literature professors and (authors, too)-- who believe that the author's life should have no bearing on discussions of their work. In fact, these leaders don't even include an author biography. Instead, they focus on what they call a text-based analysis..
I believe that the author's life is totally relevant and a lot of fun to discuss--so if you get me as your leader, you get the scoop on the author, too. And sometimes that author even shows up! Take that--text based fans!
The Book Review Handout: I always hand out a book review at book group meetings or send members an online link. This one was by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times (Sept 30, 2008), called "If NIck and Nora Lived in A Darker Landscape." I picked it because it is a mixed review. Kakutani likes the main characters and says, "their peculiar chemistry is what fuels the plot." As for the mystery plot itself, she calls it "messy and increasingly implausible." When explaining the mystery, she says that "Larsson stumbles badly, resorting to every bad cliche from very bad serial-killer movie ever shown on late night TV." Maybe that's why the book has become an international bestseller, second in popularity only to Khaled Hosseini's The Kiterunner.
Lots to discuss here.
The discussion questions: The Menlo Park Library book group has been together a long time and I don't have a set list of discussion questions for them anymore. The discussions grow organically--one question leads to another. In fact, the worst thing that a book group leader (or any interviewer for that matter) can do, is to read down the set question list, even if the answers appear to be going in a different direction. Improvisation is key--although, yes, at times it can be dangerous!
For those who want a set list: there's the Random House Reader's Guide : http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307269751&view=rg&ref=authorsite_larssonrgg
Two questions I remember from last week:
The usual mystery question, "Were you able to solve the mystery in advance, and if so did it change your appreciation of the story?"
Also, "What made our hero Bloomqvist so attractive to women of all ages? Did you find that believable?"
Finally, there's the requisite, if you enjoyed this author, you might want to try...section of book group.
Two authors were mentioned,
One was Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, (1907-2002) whose wholesome Swedish heroine of superhuman strength, Pippi Longstocking was a precursor to Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. In fact, Pippi is referred to in the book. We lucky that Menlo Park Library had a Pippi Longstocking book in its youth services collection--and librarian Jennifer Wilkins showed a copy to the group.
The other author mentioned was Henning Mankell, whose noir detective novels, (One Step Behind, Firewall, featuring Detective Kurt Wallender have been serialized on Masterpiece Theatre. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/wallander/index.html
Hope these tricks of the trade have helped.
If you host a Dragon Tattoo book group, write and let me know how it went!
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