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Larsson's 'Hornet Girl' Stirs Summer Book Buzz

Friday, July 2, 2010

Female writers from Isabel Allende to Laura Bush offer every type of book for every type of summer reading list. Meanwhile a man--Steig Larsson--has produced the most talked-about female character in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

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Female writers from Isabel Allende to Laura Bush offer every type of book for every type of summer reading list. Meanwhile a man--Steig Larsson--has produced the most talked-about female character in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

summer reading(WOMENSENEWS)--Female authors this year have produced something for every type of summer reading, from light, fluffy and popular to feminist tracts and epic literary explorations.

Perhaps the most popular literary woman this summer is not a writer, however, but a character: Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's bestselling "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its sequels, the third of which, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," was released this year. Larson died in 2004 but his successful trilogy has been published posthumously.

The 2005-released "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and its first sequel currently both sit atop of the New York Times mass-market paperback and trade paperback bestseller lists, while "Hornet's Nest" rules the hardcover list. The release of the third novel and a new film adaptation of the first novel have kept the series in demand.

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Salander--the beloved eccentric, counter-cultural figure who teams up with the series' protagonist to solve mysteries and enact revenge on violent men--is dividing opinion among book critics and feminist writers. They are torn over whether Salander is a feminist foot soldier or if the violence she endures, and her romantic interest in the novel's protagonist, reflects misogynist tendencies.

The debate rages on. "Feminist, or not?" asks a headline in The Guardian. "She [Lisbeth] has so much power" marvels Courtney Martin at Feministing.com. "I have a hard time reconciling his ostensibly feminist agenda with all the male fantasy coursing through the books," writes Entertainment Weekly's Missy Schwartz.

Beach-Read Authors Back

Several perennial female beach-read authors are back this summer. "Twilight" series author Stephenie Meyer has published a novella, "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner." It is told from the perspective of a confused young female vampire who feels no moral compunction about devouring humans.

Another author who tangles with the undead, Charlaine Harris, returned in May for her latest installment featuring Southern waitress heroine Sookie Stackhouse, who contends with various supernatural dynasties in "Dead in the Family." This successful series, which fuses elements of paranormal, chick-lit and mystery, has been the inspiration for HBO's smash series "True Blood."

Another installment in a popular series comes from Candace Bushnell, widely hailed for inventing chick-lit with her series of fictional essays, later anthologized, about the life of "Sex and the City" heroine Carrie Bradshaw. Of course, this series spawned the hit TV and film franchise. "The Carrie Diaries" is a new young adult novel from Bushnell, which takes place back when the stiletto-loving sex columnist was a high school girl.

Chilean-American novelist Isabel Allende has returned with "Island Beneath the Sea," a historical epic about slavery, revolt and escape set in Haiti and New Orleans in the early 19th century.

Another historical novel comes from Jane Smiley, "Private Life." It concerns the inner thoughts and dreams of a woman in the 1880s who leaves her small town for life with her scientist husband.

Anne Lamott's newest novel, "Imperfect Birds," describes one seemingly pulled-together family's struggle with substance abuse, while Anna Quindlen's latest fictional work, "Every Last One," also looks at family dynamics.

Young blogger and writer Emily Gould has released a collection of essays, "And the Heart Says Whatever," about coming-of-age in New York City in a privacy-free era where life is explicitly detailed on the Internet.

Fame-Drenched Memoirs

This spring saw the publication of a number of high-profile women's memoirs. Perhaps the most anticipated of these was from Laura Bush, the former first lady, whose "Spoken From the Heart" details secretive parts of her life withheld during her years in the White House. She writes about the agony she felt after causing a fatal car crash in high school and her own personal views on abortion and gay marriage, which are different from her conservative husband's--she believes both should not be used as "wedge issues" to divide the public and seems to suggest that both should be legal.

Two other celebrity memoirs come from pioneering women in rock. Pat Benatar, who dominated the top-hit charts in the 1980s offers "Between a Heart and a Rock Place." Cherie Currie of the all-girl rock band "The Runaways" brings us "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway."

Comediennes also produced memoirs this spring. Sarah Silverman, the raw and bawdy stand-up comedian and actress, published a humorous but heartfelt memoir of her childhood and career, "The Bedwetter." "I Know I Am, But What Are You?" is a similar offering from Samantha Bee, the deadpan correspondent for "The Daily Show" who writes about growing up in Canada in tragicomic circumstances.

Literary Lives

"Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature" by Emma Donoghue is a work of literary criticism that explores same-sex friendship, reliance and romance throughout literary history.

"Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds," by Lyndall Gordon, is a new biographical look at the life of the secluded New England poet. Gordon explores a number of feuds and love interests that infuse the poet's life with scandal and seduction. Jerome Charyn has also focused on Dickinson but in a fictional way in "The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson," published in February.

Another book inspired by a U.S. female literary giant comes from Kelly O'Connor McNees. "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott" imagines an entirely fictional love affair for the flinty radical who gave the world "Little Women."

A less bosom-heaving look at an author's life and work, "The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker," is an anthology of conversations and interviews between Walker and, among others, Gloria Steinem, Paula Giddings, Howard Zinn and journalist Amy Goodman. The pieces span her career and development as a thinker and author.

Feminism and Activism

"Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists" is an anthology of essays edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. It describes young women's journeys into identifying with the F-word, or variants thereof, such as "womanism."

Amanda Marcotte's new book, "Get Opinionated: A Progressive's Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action)" is a witty series of tips and musings to help readers spread their beliefs and sail through touchy arguments and topics. Susan J. Douglas' "Enlightened Sexism" describes the way modern-day cultural misogyny cloaks itself in the language of feminism. Deborah Rhode's new book, "The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law," decries the way women's appearances still count against them in society.

A particularly famous feminist got a new translation this year--the first new edition of Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" was printed in English since its original, abridged translation.

Heidi Schnakenberg, an occasional commentator for Women's eNews, comes out with "Kid Carolina: R.J. Reynolds Jr., A Tobacco Fortune, and the Mysterious Death of a Southern Icon," an investigative biography with a touch of Southern gothic, exploring the life and death of a tobacco heir.

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Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer in New York City. Her work is available at www.sarahmseltzer.com.