by: Katie Vota
So, I just moved to Chicago, and I’m now looking for a job in 90+ degree heat. Isn’t that enough of a reason? No?
Seriously though, I’m an avid reader. With this comes a philosophy I’ve had since I was about 6: I don’t re-read books. There are far too many books out there to spend my time re-reading ones I’ve read. How am I ever going to get to all the rest of the books in the whole world if I keep reading the ones I’d finished already?
And yet, every so often, there is a book that digs in its talons and won’t let go. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is another. But outside of those, I’m hard pressed to think of others off the top of my head — except for Steig Larson’s Millennium Trilogy. Ever since I read them last summer, there’s something in them that’s stuck with me. Maybe it’s their hook as a hybrid thriller-murder mystery series? Maybe it’s their dark, twisted beauty? Maybe it’s having first-hand experience with what violence against women can do? Maybe it’s that I believe in the position Larson came from in writing them (that violence against women is a crime against society and should be ended immediately)? Whatever the reason, as soon as I finished them I wanted to start them over again that very second. I almost did, but some force of will/nature stopped me, somehow.
I remember sitting near the fountain in Cusco, Peru, about a week after arriving, reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest while waiting to meet my future housemate/fellow Fulbrighter a,nd a group of teenage Peruvian girls, none of them more than 13 or 14 years old at the oldest, walked up to me and were like “What is that?” They meant my Nook, and I had to explain to them in my broken Spanish that it was an electronic book. They thought that was the coolest thing ever, and then proceeded to educate me on the names of the articles of clothing I was wearing. And then they ran off, just like that. I will always associate that random meeting with this book, as well as the fact that it kept me company on the 21-hour long flight that took me away from everything I knew as familiar. So, maybe it was the associations I drew with the series that kept me coming back?
I don’t know why this series has such a hold over me, but I can tell you, at the peak of my desperation after searching for a job for two weeks in Chicago heat with nothing to show for myself, at a time I irrationally thought I might be pregnant because my period was late (even though I haven’t had sex with a man in over a year), at a time when everything was new and different and scary and amazing and changing, I ran straight back to the “comfort” of an old friend—a series of books that I’ve never quite been able to get out of my head. It’s almost exactly a year ago I started them the first time, and even now, having see all the moves, have read them all and wondered over them and come back to the messages they hold and thought about how fucking sexy Noomi Rapace is in those movies, they still hold the fascination I found the first time read them. I know the end but I still gasp and frown and puzzle quizzically, as if I were ignorant of what came next. I still cheer for the good guys (who aren’t really all that good) and find myself captivated by the people who are cast as “villains” and those who masquerade as something other than they are in the daylight. And really, this is the puzzle of all great novels.
What makes a novel great? What drags people back, over and over, sometimes against their will, to certain books? I mean, Larson’s books have been translated into so many languages, are being read across culture lines, are being devoured on the subways of Chicago in the same way they are all over the world. I can’t tell you how many copies of those books I saw while I was in Peru, in every language imaginable and then a few whose countries I didn’t think allowed “Western” literature…. Just today I saw a girl with one of the books under her arm, looking tired and disheveled on the Diversey bus, sit down and start reading, and it was like everything outside the world contained in its pages vanished. Suddenly it was the middle of winder in Sweeden and a certain Lisbeth Salander is working to change the fate society has tried to hand her. And maybe that, the simplest thing of all, is what keeps up coming back to these books—that they transport us outside ourselves into a world that is not our own, stirring our hearts and imaginations. Or maybe it’s just that they’re on the best-sellers list. Maybe we’ll never know.
Katie Vota is a textile & paper artist, Fulbright Scholar, and short queer person. She has a BFA in Fiber from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and has an installation coming up in August at the Krasl Art Center’s ArtLab space in St. Joseph, MI. Vota is currently a renegade unemployed person in Chicago, who cooks sumptuous food, watches Dr. Who, and writes articles for various small publications. In the daytime she hunts for jobs, and in the night time, well, the only person who gets to know that is her girlfriend.