December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011

Farewell 2011

And thus we come to the final day of 2011, the last full year before the end of the world.

It's okay. We had a good run.

I'd like to take a minute to thank each of you, the handful of faithful readers who amuse me by tolerating my rants on hand soap, books, commuting, and the other 598 things I've complained about this year. Also, my love of food, film, and Britannia.

So to M, N, W, R, J, S, A, P, and the rest: you guys rock. Don't go too crazy tonight. I need you to make it to the apocalypse, so I can sell you to the robots for wifi and peanut butter.

Wait, what?

December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011


Though I prefer my home environment as close to silent as is possible when living in a big city, I like a little background music at work. The 800ish songs on my non-iPod Creative Zen Stone Plus (no longer in production) usually do the trick. I try not to sing along to them since my co-workers at Cabinet Department That Shall Not Be Named do not yet love me unconditionally. Just wait until they hear me doing the harmony on “Monday, Monday,” amiright? Delightful.

Now that I listen to music via earbuds rather than through speakers (again with the whole “not wanting to disturb co-workers” thing), I’ve realized that I can crank it up as much as I want. Which in turn means I can listen to podcasts. Which in turn in turn means three letters: NPR.

I never miss a “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” It’s a weekly trivia show based on the news. The most recent episode was a year-end summary that focused on British topics. In my world, that’s a win-win. People can call in as contestants on the show, but I’d be way too nervous for that. Gotta follow my cardinal rule: admire from afar. If only “Wait Wait” weren’t taped on Wednesday nights in Chicago. I could handle being in the studio audience. Sigh.

I keep an eye on “This American Life,” which has the apparent mission to simultaneously inform and horrify. Nothing against Ira Glass, though I personally find him pretty soporific. It’s more the structure of alternating touching stories with tragic ones that throws em. You could have a show about…birds, for example. Act one: Big Bird. Act two: the bird that ate its young at the Cincinnati Zoo. Act three: Lawn flamingos. You just never know where TAL is going to go with something, which is why I only listen to the shows on topics I’m passionate about (mostly food).

If “The Delicious Dish” were a real program, I would mention it here, with a special shoutout to those shows featuring Pete Schweddy.

(I listen to non-NPR podcasts, too, but that’s not really the gist of this entry, is it?)

Any other NPR fans out there? What programs do you recommend?

December 28, 2011

December 28, 2011

Similarities Between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings

As I have stated elsewhere, I am an avid reader. The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books bring me profound joy. (Sad, maybe, but true.) As such, I have read both series numerous times and have noticed that striking similarities exist between them. I here list what I have noted so far. Please note that these similarities apply to the books, not the movies.

This list originally appeared on my GeoCities website, back when GeoCities existed. I recently realized that should re-post it on a domain that actually exists, so as to assist literature students henceforth.

If you are a student who will be using this list in a paper or project, please email for further information for your bibliography. (Are those still a thing?)

Harry Potter

The Lord of the Rings

Dark Lord Fearfully Named and Attempting a Return to Power, Who Placed Part of His Soul in a Ring



Concept the Dark Lord Cannot Comprehend, Ultimately Used Against Him


destruction of the One Ring

A Birthday Sets Events in Motion

Harry's 11th

Bilbo's 111th and Frodo's 33rd

Wizened Old Wizard



Strong Non-Parental Connection

Sirius Black, godfather

Bilbo Baggins, "uncle"

Annoying Relatives



Scar That Won't Heal

Harry's forehead, given by Voldemort

Frodo's shoulder, given by the Witch King

Inherited Invisibility Device



Eerie Prison Controlled by Dark Forces


Dol Guldur

Treasure-Hoarding Goblins

work at Gringotts

one of the evil races of Middle Earth

Long-Distance Communication Method

Floo Network


A Dog Named Fang

owned by Rubeus Hagrid

owned by Farmer Maggot

Mischievous Pair

Fred & George Weasley

Merry & Pippin

Liquid-Filled Basin of Seeing


Mirror of Galadriel


attacks Hermione in a girl's bathroom

attacks the Fellowship in Moria

Dendrophobia Causer

Forbidden Forest on the edge of Hogwarts

Old Forest on the edge of the Shire

Feisty Tree

Whomping Willow

Old Man Willow

Underground Meeting with a Foe

in the Chamber of Secrets

in Moria

Hidden Cave Door

In the horcrux cave

In Moria

Intense Wizard Conflict

Dumbledore vs. Voldemort

Gandalf vs. Saruman


house-elves do chores

eldest speaking race of Middle Earth


The Leaky Cauldron

The Prancing Pony

Friendly Barkeeper

Madam Rosmerta

Barliman Butterbur

Great Hall

in Hogwarts

in Edoras


a wizarding family

a type of pipe-weed

Possesses a Scar on His Forehead



Seer of That Which Is Beyond

Sybill P. Trelawney

Malbeth the Seer

Worm-y Bad Guy

Peter Pettigrew (Wormtail)

Gríma (Wormtongue)

In Charge of Keys

Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys

Húrin, Warden of the Keys

Pitiable Creature, Speaks in Third Person



Giant Spider



Life-Saving Swords

Godric Gryffindor's sword

Andúril, Sting, Glamdring

Flying Creatures that Come in the Nick of Time

Fawkes, a phoenix

Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles

Winged Escape from a High Place

Sirius, on Buckbeak, from Hogwarts

Gandalf, on Gwaihir, from Orthanc

Creepy Hooded Figures That Cause Chills



Do Not Disturb the Water Because of...

giant squid in the lake

Watcher in the Water
outside Moria

...Loses a Hand

Peter Wormtail


Scruffy Bad Guy Who Turns out to Be a Good Guy

Sirius Black


Humans Who Transform Into Animals



Burning Drink That Clears the Head

Pepperup Potion

given by orcs

Group of Wizards That Fights Evil

Order of the Phoenix

Order of the Phoenix

Tree Guardians



Producer(s) of Wondrous Fireworks

Fred and George Weasley



work at St. Mungo's

work at Minas Tirith's Houses of Healing

Dark, Winged Steeds


fell beasts of the Nazgûl

Draining Heirloom, Worn Around the Neck



Item Specifically Noted as Not Able to Be Made from Nothing



A Woman Both "Beautiful" and "Terrible"




I mean in no way to suggest, intend, or imply that J.K. Rowling has in any way taken ideas or material from J.R.R. Tolkien. I respect both of these authors immensely and post this list solely for the pleasure of those who love these great books.

Unfamiliar terms should be checked in the
Encyclopedia of Arda or the Harry Potter Lexicon. I'm not just making this stuff up.

December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011

The Neverending Story

The saga of the bathroom continues.

Non-industrial soap has once again made its appearance. I now know that it’s only temporary, but I’ll take it. Every day of hands that smell like apple or lemon is a day closer to retirement, I say.

For some reason, I recently ended up using the bathroom on another floor. As Chris Traeger would say, it was literally a world of difference. There were Bath and Body Works products. Scents. And lotions. It was as if the three wise men had left but moments before. Did I try some of the shimmer hand lotion? Yes. Did it make my hands look like the tin man? Also yes. But still!

I have so far ventured to the bathrooms on the floor directly above and below my own. I of course want to try every single bathroom, because I bet one of them is hiding something even better, like a portal to Narnia or the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But do I really want to be the girl who takes the elevator down 8 floors just to use the bathroom? This sounds more like a plotline from 30 Rock than an actual life goal. Maybe the key is to make your life goals more like sitcom storylines. Keep that in mind for New Year’s.

December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011

Why Such Angry Birds?

So it turns out that a side effect of getting a Kindle Fire is a complete addiction to Angry Birds. I dream about it, I want to play it all the time, and I get judgmental when I think other people are better at it than I am. Rovio, what have you done to me?

Once again, I know I’m late to the party. I don’t have a smartphone; I had to wait until I got a tablet to discover the joys of hurling tiny birds into pigs. (Why? I don’t know. Is there a big Angry Birds backstory that I missed, or are we all just pissed at pork in general?)

Then there’s the merchandise. Angry Birds stuffed animals, and lunchboxes, and clothing. People have constructed life-sized versions of the game. Christmas light odes to it. I am not alone!

[In the movie version of my life, I want the me character to celebrate her 30th birthday by renting out her high school gym and turning it into a life-sized Angry Birds game. I also want to do that in real life, but it seems like so much work.]

I’ve started playing Words with Friends, too, but it’s not as addicting. I have a handful of games going with Facebook friends, and I’m almost positive they’re cheating. These people are playing words I’ve never even heard of, and I know they aren’t THAT smart. Some random internet person? Maybe. But I went to college with these people, and you know who was valedictorian of our class? Me. ME. If I don’t know the word, you did not come across it via legitimate means, and should not be allowed to use it in a game. I believe they call that a syllogism, which just goes to show how broad my vocabulary really is.

Best to stick to the simple elegance of Angry Birds.

December 24, 2011

December 23, 2011

December 23, 2011

Extreme Couponing

It seems as if there’s a reality show for every slice of life these days, doesn’t it? Whether you collect things, sell things, restore things, bake cakes, eat cakes, or train seeing eye dogs, you can find a channel all about it. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I believe ‘twas the Romans who demanded bread, circuses, and the Dog Whisperer.

The best reality shows appeal not just to the people in “the community,” so to speak, but to the rest of us. I’ve never used a pawn shop, but I love Pawn Stars. I’m a renter who isn’t allowed to make home improvements, but I could watch HGTV from dawn to dusk. (While staring at my cream walls, as per the aforementioned ban on painting. Hmphf.)

Then I come upon the show Extreme Couponing, and I wonder why the robots haven’t already taken over and put an end to this nonsense.

Prima facie, Extreme Couponing has all the elements I love. Cheapness. Organization. Food. One could naturally assume that I’d find these extreme couponers delightful, as they buy $1200 of groceries for less than a dollar over the course of four hours. DELIGHTFUL!

Or not. Yes, I enjoy using coupons. Yes, I enjoy keeping my canned goods neat. Yes, I enjoy eating. But somehow, people like those on this program have made these behaviors grotesque.

Extreme couponers often buy a store’s entire supply of something when there’s a good deal. Maybe it’s buy-one-get-one-free on mouthwash. I go into Safeway, 50-cents-off coupon in hand, hoping to get two bottles. As I approach the aisle, I’m passed by a woman with two shopping carts containing a total of 96 bottles of mouthwash.

Look, lady. No one in their entire lifetime will use 96 bottles of mouthwash. Not even OCD tooth models. And now you have successfully screwed me over.

Extreme couponers often keep their purchases in meticulously organized shelving/storage, often referred to as a “stockpile.” Sometimes they’ll have store-like racks and hooks to display the merchandise. Especially useful when their friends and family members come over to “shop.” Despite this generosity, though, the stockpiles are usually quiet large.

If only there were a word for enjoying the misfortune of others, because that’s what I will feel when one of these stockpiles a) rots, b) expires, c) falls victim to flooding or other natural disaster, or d) is incinerated when the robots take over. Keep what you will use in the next 3 months, and donate the rest to charity. Our national debt could probably be erased if the value of our nation’s stockpiles were put back into circulation.

But my most intense disapproval is focused like a laser beam of judgment on extreme couponers at the checkout. Because they will readily admit that the checkout process takes hours. Plural. Just at the register. Often, the cashier will run out of receipt paper, or have to start a new transaction, or need a manager’s assistance.

I’m not annoyed for me, the girl who’s buying a bottle of salad dressing and a loaf of bread. I’m annoyed for the cashier who’s at her wits’ end trying to deduct your 800th coupon. I’m annoyed that they had to open a special register just for you. I’m annoyed that you thought shopping in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, would somehow make any of this more bearable.

So I guess it’s not so much the Extreme Couponing program itself I take issue with (though the manufactured drama is a bit much). It’s the behavior documented therein. Other countries teach their children physics. We teach them how to triple coupon.

December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011

Hell is other bidders.

In the spirit of Donna Meagle's “Treat yo’self,” I have been perusing eBay for another travel mug. Like any other purchase, this one has very stringent requirements. My morning coffee has to survive for 60-90 minutes, on a bus and a train, in cold and hot temperatures, and possibly periods of zero gravity. Basically, it needs to seal tighter than the space shuttle.

Why eBay, you ask? For one, it strikes me as a gigantic virtual thrift store, and I love few things more than a thrift store. But mostly, because Starbucks has discontinued the style of tumbler I require in all continents except Asia.

Unfortunately, the Asians know what they have. So do experienced eBay users. That’s where the title of this blog entry comes in.

Just when I’ve navigated through dozens of listings for $80 tumblers (not happening, Asia), I find a “Lot of Starbucks tumblers” for $10. Perfect! Four tumblers in the style I want, shipping from nearby Quantico, Virginia! As extra insurance, I set up an Auction Sniper (sort of an automated bidding program) to bid at the last minute up to my (what I thought very generous) maximum.

Since I’m such a control freak, I logged into the auction as it was closing to watch the carnage live. And was astonished to see myself outbid by a***9 who was also using an automated program. (They keep the identities of other bidders secret; I assume so that the losers can’t hunt that person down in cases like this, because WHERE IS MY PITCHFORK?)

(Am I secretly pretending the “a***” stands for “asshole”? You betcha.)

Turns out that a***9 has bid on 90 items over the past 30 days. And the 579 feedback score after her name means (I assume) she has participated in that many eBay transactions. You know what my feedback score is? 9. Single digits, because I obviously am not doing enough treating of m’self.

Look, I just want this one thing. And because the universe decided to screw with me a little, this one thing has to be purchased over the internet from someone in or around Hong Kong.

Sit this one out, internet? Let me have a win?

December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011

In My Opinion: Tower Heist

Man, everyone really hates the 1%, don’t they? The bad guy du jour is a corrupt financier (is there any other kind?) who takes pleasure in sticking it to the little guy. The little guy who, of course, is blameless. The little guy is in debt because he’s feeding his family on meager wages! Not because he frittered away his money on fancy clothes, electronic gadgets, and a house he knew he couldn’t afford!

Obviously, the struggles of the 99% are Not Their Fault. Obviously.

But let’s not get political. Let’s just accept the trend of framing anyone who does anything in finance as Evil with a capital EVIL.

Like the bad guy in Tower Heist. A thinly-veiled version of Donald Trump played with great relish by Alan Alda. The man lives in a lower-Manhattan penthouse. Swims in a rooftop pool. Has Steve McQueen’s car in his living room. Drinks fancy wine and cheese.

*cue booing from the huddled masses*

Yet the employees of Trump Tower The Tower love him, because you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, especially when you aren’t allowed to take tips.

Until they find out that he swindled their pension money.


So a motley crew, led by former building manager Ben Stiller, decides to break into Alda’s apartment to get $20 million they believe is hidden there. The complications? It’s near impossible to get into the apartment. Nor are they professional thieves. It’s sort of Ocean’s Eleven performed by the staff of a Hilton.

They’re smart, though, these Tower employees. They use the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as cover (Snoopy!). They know how to work an elevator. And the entire building. As one character points out, they’ve been unintentionally casing out the building every day they’ve worked there. They know everything about every apartment and resident.

[Side note: Is the level of service at an exclusive residence/hotel really that face-meltingly awesome? I want to live in a building with an elevator operator and a cheery doorman and staff who get me my favorite treat on my birthday! At my current rate, it will only take me another 80 years to achieve that income level!]

Understand, though, that this movie has a very slow build. The crew must assemble. They must train. They must overcome doubts about each other. By the time they finally make it into the apartment to discover (spoiler alert) that the $20 million is not in the safe as expected, you’re ready to get 4 million of your closest friends to each chip in five bucks to get it over with already.

Does Alan Alda get his comeuppance? Of course he does. Our nation’s Occupying zeitgeist wouldn’t have it otherwise. But at least we get to meet some fun characters (Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni) along the way.

December 20, 2011

Stamped Out

Whatever happened to savings bonds? And ration coupons? And Subway stamps?

Call me old-fashioned, but I long for a time when anything worth doing was worth doing well, and involved saving and pasting little bits of paper inside a folded piece of flimsy cardboard. Those were the days.

There’s just something about the collecting/saving/redeeming process that appeals to the human spirit in all of us (me especially, hello). Look at the Extreme Couponers, with their massive binders. While I disapprove of them on many levels, those people certainly do know how to work a system.

History lessons about company towns (mining, manufacturing, etc.) often cite the use of scrip (company-issued currency redeemable only at the company store) as a factor in the eventual fiery crash and burn of the hamlet. I, on the other hand, am enamored of the scrip concept. It’s like Monopoly money BUT IN REAL LIFE. The fact that I can only use it in one place just makes it that much easier for me to shop. Also, if everyone pays with scrip, the chance that I’ll get stuck behind an old woman paying with a check goes way down.


Everything is electronic these days. Gift cards, and reward cards, and interfaces that beam directly into your brain through your retina. When I was your age, my aunt got me a gift certificate for the local mall that was an actual certificate on an actual piece of paper. No plastic involved.

(Don’t even get me started on the new version of Monopoly that uses debit cards, because IT WILL GET REAL.)

Please tell me that stocks are still issued on certificates. Please tell me that if I someday buy 500 shares of stock in Google, I will get a ream of stock certificates from Google Inc., 123 Google Drive, Google, CA (exact address may vary, phone number is probably 1-800-GOOGLE). I don’t want to live in a world where my future Google stock is shot via laser into my eyeball. I really don’t.

When I was your age, my parents were pretty poor. (Thus began my love affair with thrift stores.) I remember the day they decided to sell a savings bond my grandpa had left them when he died. I got to actually look at it for once, since it was usually stored away from the kid who kept spilling and/or coloring on everything (a.k.a. me). I believe my actual quote was, “It’s so fancy!”

And I totally miss the Subway sub club, not least because it rewarded me with free food. Sure, I had to figure out how to affix tiny pieces of impossibly-thin paper to a holder the size of a business card, but that was all part of the challenge. They say that only the strong survive, but I’d add that only the smart get that free sandwich after 8 stamps (double stamps on Wednesdays).

December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011

Quick Hits

My winter coat is filled with down. Down is great at keeping you warm, which is the main thing I look for in a winter coat. Down is also great at pushing through the outer layer of my jacket and sticking to my shirt. Add my new chenille gloves (super soft but super prone to shedding), and I’m basically walking around the office covered in feathers and black fuzz. Tres charmant!

I recently read books by Sarah Silverman and Adam Carolla. Apparently, my reading choices are linked by six degrees of Jimmy Kimmel. Reading either of these books before bed was a bad idea—they made me laugh so much I was too keyed up to sleep. Plus, weird dreams.

Let’s be honest: you’re going to get some terrible presents. But maybe you’ll get a gem. Of the many Christmas gifts I’ve gotten over the years, one I still use weekly is a coffee mug from an old Milwaukee Fire Department co-worker. It’s pink, the capacity and handle feel are just right, and it gives no sign of being an Avon product other than the “Avon” stamped on the bottom. Best regift that woman ever made (I’m assuming).

Had a woman sit down next to me on the train the other day, pull out a bag of peanuts, and start eating. She must have noticed my dirty sidelong glances, but completely misinterpreted them, for she turned to me and said, “Isn’t it terrible when lunch is a handful of nuts at 4:30?” Now, you KNOW I’m devastated by the very idea that someone would miss a meal. But even I, me, your humble blogger right here, would never (NEVER) eat on a train. It’s against the rules, it disturbs other passengers, and the sanitary conditions are akin to a bathroom stall.

My mom survived recent wilderness survival training. After hearing her descriptions of it, I certainly wouldn’t make it past the first day. I’d always assumed wilderness training was like that episode of The Office when Michael wanders out into the woods and Dwight hides nearby to make sure he’s okay. Then my mom used phrases like “our water bottles were frozen solid” and “they gave us a bag for our poop.” If you and I are ever trapped in the wilderness, please kill me right away and use me as food and fuel.

December 16, 2011

December 16, 2011

Speak to Me

Found myself researching languages for a work project recently. I was shocked (shocked, I tell you) to realize just how many languages are out there. Without getting into dialects and all that, you’re talking hundreds of languages. Lingua franca though it may be, English has a lot of company.

One of my high school math teachers had a big diagram of the Indo-European family of languages on her classroom wall. (If you’re wondering why a math teacher had English-themed room décor…me too.) The language names were written on little pieces of paper, connected by strings that all eventually led back to a little box labeled “Indo-European.” While waiting for my classmates to finish their algebra problems, I puzzled over this diagram, intrigued by its apparent lack of tape (how was it sticking to the wall) and its neat classification of ideas.*

1. Whatever happened to the continent of Indo?
2. Isn’t Manx a disease?
3. Why does Albanian get its own branch? It’s such a tiny country.
4. What are the odds that Saxon makes a comeback?

And so on.

It’s a funny business, language. I mean, we’ve been around for somewhere between six thousand and a quadrillion years, yet we still have more languages than flavors of Diet Coke. Shouldn’t we all speak the same thing by now? Are we waiting until technological advances make speech obsolete? (I would ask similar questions about the continued existence of blondes and people with blue eyes, but those characteristics are shrouded in genetic mystery and Punnett squares.) You can’t pick your kid’s hair color, but you certainly can choose to teach him Mandarin. GET ON IT, PARENTS. (I own several sets of Korean flashcards, if you’re interested.)

While we’re talking about kids and languages, I’d also recommend teaching them how to read music and program in C#. You’re spending a lot of money on your child. Maximize the investment. Increase future earnings viability. We’ll all thank you later from our climate-controlled brain jars.

But anyway, more power to the people who not only knew about the whole Indo-European thing (minus one if that’s only because you went to high school with me) and mucho bonus points to people who speak multiple languages. I hope [country of your second language] comes out on top after the apocalypse. I took French in high school, so it’s not looking good for me.

* You know I love me some classification. I did so well in biology because it’s the Container Store of sciences). Kingdom, phylum, class, shelf, and shoebox.

December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011

Deck the Halls with Shrimp and Meatballs

‘Tis the season for holiday parties. I know this because The Office aired its annual Christmas party episode (which, by the way, AMAZING), and because I’ve already attended one myself. With two to go. You know it’s gotten out of hand when even someone like me is invited to multiple events. I understand when YOU are invited to Christmas parties, but I go out of my way to avoid socializing with other human beings in unstructured environments. (Where is the Christmas party with an agenda, I ask you?)

The best events, of course, have incredible mounds of expensive food. TheBoy’s work party was such an occasion. He’s employed by Defense Contractor That Shall Not Be Named, and they have a little something I like to call “private sector money.” This allowed them to rent out a DC landmark (I can’t say which one, but it’s one of the ones that holds priceless national treasures), and fill it to the brim with a DJ, multiple open bars, and (the part I was most concerned with) SO MANY FOOD TABLES.

I had boneless beef ribs, curry chicken, three types of mac and cheese, pita chips with hummus, and baked chicken. One my first plate. Of, like, four. Because there was also a milkshake station, a sushi bar, multiple carveries, dessert tables, and did I mention the milkshake station?

What hath the military industrial complex wrought? Verily, it is beautiful.

[This is an actual picture from the party, though not taken by me. I was told that cameras were not allowed, so I didn’t even try to sneak one in. I was carrying one of those almost-useless tiny party purses, and I wanted to leave as much room for leftover shrimp as possible.]

Towards the end of the evening, I had to pass up shrimp. I HAD TO PASS UP SHRIMP.

In government, you get a potluck and a gift exchange with a $10 limit. And since they passed that law banning federal swag earlier this year, don’t expect a coffee mug or pen with the agency’s logo on it.

Whereas the private sector has, y’know, enough shrimp to make me full.

Remind me again why I chose government work?

December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011

Things I’ve Read: The Millennium Trilogy

Now that trailers have started popping up for the American movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, those people who hadn’t read the book are starting to have some awareness of it. There’s a scary-looking girl, with dark hair and facial piercings. There’s an old guy. There’s James Bond Daniel Craig. The sets appear furnished by Ikea.

Not too far off, really.

The scary-looking girl is Lisbeth Salander, who is as talented at computer hacking as she is lacking of social comportment.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a sort of sexpot journalist. The old guy (played in the movie by Christopher Plummer) turns out to have a mystery that he wants Blomkvist to investigate. Salander gets involved. Hijinks ensue.

Oh, and the Ikea vibe? The thing is set in Sweden.

The subsequent books, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire, follow Salander and Blomkvist as they work with, against, and around each other, uncovering grotesque acts of violence against women.

Because, rest assured, there is a lot of grotesque, a lot of violence, and a lot of women. I think the bleak Nordic setting really sets the mood here. You can understand how men (and women) could be driven to do horrible things. If an Ikea couch is slashed to pieces in the woods, does it make a sound? Though I could have done with fewer graphic rape scenes. I read that the author, Stieg Larsson, saw a woman get gang raped when he was young, and that started him on a crusade. A worthy cause, certainly, and one backed with shocking statistics. I’m proud to be an American, our lack of Ikeas aside.

I had a little trouble following the characters, for they are many. And they make cultural references I don’t always understand. And they have names with entirely more vowels than I am used to. Seriously, my last name as a “czk” in it, and I was completely befuddled by some of these surnames. Need to buy a vowel? ASK A SWEDE. Kidding aside, reading something that wasn’t written in English, nor for Americans, was refreshing. It reminds me that the rest of the world has more to offer than Hello Kitty.

[But then there’s this.]

Like many people, I found the books compelling and read them as quickly as I could. The mysteries themselves became less of a concern (not that I don’t enjoy watching someone taking down a corrupt financier or solving a murder mystery, but I got Nancy Drew for that) as I found myself drawn to Lisbeth. Would she avenge those who’d wronged her? Would she reconcile with Mikael, or Mimmi, or Camilla? Lisbeth’s existence seems impossible; she’s such a contradiction of features, skills, and appearances. Yet there she is. I believed in her, I rooted for her, I wanted her to stop sunning herself in Gibraltar and GET ON WITH THE WHOOPASS ALREADY.

I’m not particularly interested in seeing the film(s), since I assume the grisly scenes with be even grislier in a dark theater full of strangers. But the books? Those I’ll read again someday.