I just finished reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It’s been on the best sellers’ list for a long, long time. Have you read it? It’s HUGE. My paperback edition is 644 pages long.
It’s not an easy read, especially in the beginning. The setting contains Swedish place names. The story follows a lengthy Swedish family tree. The plot offers in-depth reporting of fictitious Swedish financial markets. The subplots are two, maybe three different novellas in themselves.
Why is this book popular?
Scenes of brutality, actions of suspense and titillation, whodunit mysteries, alternative-looking characters aside, what American reader has the attention span to get from Prologue to page 644 (page 650 if you read the prologue and first three pages of S. Larsson’s next novel in the series as a teaser at the end).
This isn’t a movie or a video game. No one’s giving away reward points or rebates for reading it. You have to sit with it, for hours and hours to finish it.
There’s a growing popularity in e-books. Such tech tools may replace hard copy books, they say. Quantity, thus quality, is being dumbed-down. Agents are telling authors to reduce narratives to less than 100,000 words. (Moby Dick-211,000 words; Gone With the Wind-420,787; War and Peace-590,233; Animal Farm-30,000). American readers want simple plot, quick to read books. They say.
Think back on recent hot, hot literary hits. Can you imagine the word-length of the complete Harry Potter series? Twilight series? I’ve talked with ten-year olds who have read both. Whether or not the content is suitable for the age group is not at debate here. My point is the avid readership for these incredibly long, detailed, sub-plotted books.
I was riveted by S. Larsson’s story. In my head, I made up my own pronunciation of the odd sounding and unusual spelling of foreign names. An illustration of a family tree opens the book, but I didn’t refer back to it after the story started. I sort of understood the financial picture, but only enough to appreciate the plot line.
I struggled in lots of places and I’m a good reader. Certainly, not everyone of the thousands of readers who sent this text to the top of the best sellers’ chart is as good at reading as I am.
So what does the popularity of a book like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have to say about American readers?
Give us a good story. No, give us an excellent story. The longer the better. And we will find our way from the beginning to the ending of it.
And we will ask for more.
We’re not dumb. We just like the best.