Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30 2015. Books that have affected me most over the last decade? In terms of thoroughly entertaining thrillers, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO series by Stieg Larson would top the list. These are thrillers with serious social content. Sadly, he died way too young.




I have got great respect for the Scandinavians (and apologize for lumping some quite distinctive nations all together. It seems to me that they have evolved the best ways of governing themselves that mankind has been able to evolve so far—and that is quite an achievement. And such such political and economic systems deliver a commendably high quality of life—as well as being more socially just than most—and being free-enterprise driven.

They are living proof  that capitalism can work if you adopt the right version of it. When capitalism is good, it is very, very good—but when it’s bad it’s awful.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they are satisfied—or that the end results are perfect. They are merely better that the others—quite a bit better, in my opinion.

The current American Business Model, on the other hand, is decidedly problematic. Any system which primarily benefits only a small elite, crushes the Middle Class, and leads to an ever expanding and largely ignored underclass—has to be regarded with the greatest concern.

I am far from sure that Americans have reached that view yet—despite the evidence of their own eyes and wallets.

Though I have visited Denmark many times, I have only been to Sweden once—where it was so cold the sea was frozen into weird and wonderful shapes. It is the only time in my life I have seen that—and I was deeply impressed. I was equally impressed by the build quality of the house I was staying in. It was so well insulated that despite the subzero temperatures outside, it was warm and cozy inside on the back of a minimal amount of energy. In contrast, my tiny thatched cottage in Ireland was so energy inefficient, I had to keep my Jotul wood-burning stove going virtually year around to avoid hypothermia. .

Why don’t we build this way in Ireland, I wondered. I still do.

Mind you, I loved my cottage with a passion—and the day we left it was one of the worst of my life. But love was never rational.

I still don’t understand why we are so slow to learn from each other. On the one hand, we are supposed to have a globalized world and virtually instant communication, yet somehow we haven’t yet worked out how to apply best practices everywhere—or even what those best practices are.

Why not?

Let me theorize.

  • We’re not very good at framing the question—and you need to start off with a question to find an answer. Being able to come up with the right question is, almost certainly, one of the secrets of life. I say that because I have come to the conclusion that answers are almost always out there. Truly intractable problems do exist—but they are very much in the minority. Strangely enough, my daily research—contrary to what one might expect since I trawl through some pretty grim stuff—seems to be making me into something of an optimist.
  • Many of us are still surprisingly insular. Europeans—most of whom are multi-lingual—tend  tend to have to be  outward-looking because of sheer geography and because they rely on other countries so much. Also, the downside of being excessively nationalistic is now a cultural norm given the horrors of two world wars. Americans tend not to be because of the sheer scale of the Nation and because American Exceptionalism is so much part of the fabric.
  • A disturbing number of people can’t seem to grasp things outside their own immediate experience—particularly if they don’t read. Reading isn’t direct experience, but second-hand experience is still valuable and helps with understanding.
  • Most of us resist anything that removes us from our comfort zone. I hate leaving mine—though love new adventures more—so  emerge from it with considerable frequency. You would think I would know better at my age.
  • Language difficulties hinder communication. It is relatively easy to understand the principles of how others do things so much better—but effective implementation normally involves grasping the details as well—and that is where you really need to speak the language concerned.
  • The status quo is fiercely and ruthlessly defended everywhere. People have a stake in what is—and are somewhat fearful of what might be.
  • We iconoclasts—makers of change—aren’t doing our jobs well enough. I suspect we are better at coming up with ideas than communicating them effectively. To the iconoclast, the merits of an idea tend to be self-evident, but that may well not be the case as far as others are concerned. Perhaps a little less creative arrogance is called for.

Hmm! I didn’t really expect that the logic of my argument would lead to my criticizing myself—but writing leads where it leads.

Let me conclude by saying that this series of books is not only original, and remarkably entertaining, but a thoroughly enjoyable way of gaining an insight into the Swedish way of life.

It is not quite what you would expect.

Sweden prepares for ‘new Millennium’

Published August 21, 2015. By Lasse Winkler

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The sequel to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books, The Girl In The Spider’s Web, is the biggest book release in Sweden this year and probably one of the most elaborate book launches in this country in modern times.

There is the literary challenge to consider. And the ethical aspect of producing a “sequel” to the late author’s trilogy, of course. But, unlike other markets where the book is launched this autumn, it’s the aspect of history you have to consider in Sweden.

It’s more than 10 years since Stieg Larsson passed away and the subsequent inheritance dispute exploded into public view. But in our country it’s still as if it happened yesterday. As one of the editors involved put it: “The inheritance dispute is still an open wound in the family. The conflict between Stieg Larsson’s life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family of birth has always remained in people’s minds. It means that many people take positions. Without that we would have had a completely different situation.”

This fact has strongly affected the marketing strategy, both in the way the publisher Norstedts and the Larsson family have prepared for and approached the debate over the book so far, and the launch plans.   This July, before the campaign started, the father and the brother of Stieg Larsson issued an open letter that explained their reasons for agreeing to a sequel from David Lagercrantz, saying they saw an opportunity with “to let the characters and the milieu live on with respect and quality”.  They also wrote that all the income they would receive from the book would be donated to the anti-Nazi organization Expo, the organization Larsson worked for. Not long before Larsson died, he wrote a short note to himself saying that he wanted to give all the income from a fourth book he planned to Expo.
In the last two weeks,
the debate over the book has exploded in the Swedish media, led by some old friends of Larsson’s, and, to a lesser degree, by his life companion Eva Gabrielsson. They accused the family and the publisher of violating Stieg Larsson’s copyright and of being greedy, and criticised the choice of David Lagercrantz as the author, saying his upper class background is at odds with Larsson’s left-wing principles. The question: “What would Stieg Larsson say?” has made its round in many papers.

Norstedts has engaged with the debate on TV sofas and in the big daily newspapers in a low-key but effective manner. No one has ducked the tricky questions, which is a new standard in Sweden.
It is against this background one must understand the sharp boundary that is being made in the Swedish market between Stieg Larsson and the new book. It is NOT a new Stieg Larsson book. It’s a David Lagercrantz book, built by him on Larsson’s world of ideas and characters.

That message is reinforced in interviews and press releases, and in the way Norstedts has marketed David Lagercrantz so far. The cover of the English edition of the novel, with its clear reference to Stieg Larsson, would not be accepted in Sweden.

The marketing link in Sweden is the use of the Millennium logo, the same logo that dominates the covers of the three Swedish editions of Larsson’s earlier books. It’s also considered a better connection to Swedish readers who, the publisher believes, are more interested in the political aspect of the work of Mikael Blomkvist than your average international reader.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. All retailers have put in large orders and believe that they have a bestseller on their hands. Almost no retailer thinks that book buyers will be affected by the debate: they think that sales will be driven from curiosity. People will want to know if David Lagercrantz succeeds.

But there are some voices that differ within the trade. To quote one of a few critical booksellers, who remains concerned by the ethics of publishing a sequel to Larsson’s work: “The sad thing in all this is that the morality of the entire project will be determined by how good the book is [and its success as a bestseller]. It is a strange morality.”

Lasse Winkler is a former editor of Sweden’s book trade publication Svensk Bokhandel

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