September 28, 2011


Alan Sillitoe wrote touchingly about a boy sent to a British reform school in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” The director of the reformatory discovers this borstal boy is a talented runner and makes his charge an offer. If the boy wins an upcoming race against a prestigious public school, he’d also win early release. The boy agrees and outdistances his nearest competitors by several lengths. As he is about to cross the finish line, however, he stops. To the astonishment of those watching, he chooses to lose the race and his chance to be set free. Why?  Because he wants his keepers to know he has his standards and cannot be bought.

The story came to mind the other day after I’d had a late afternoon coffee with a friend.  We hadn’t been discussing Sillitoe’s work, but that of Steig Larsson who wrote “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. My friend recently read the complete works and was impressed — an opinion which led me to break into a reprise of my blog posts on his writing (5/27 & 9/9/2010). She listened to my objections, unconvinced, and so we went on to other topics. A few days later, imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from her saying she’d looked up my Larsson blogs and had read them with care. “I can definitely see your point,” she wrote. The concession was unnecessary but generous, as is her habit.

A few days later still, she wrote again.  This time she thanked me for having broadened her perspective. 

(Yahoo Images)

Frankly, I consider myself to be one of Emily Dickenson’s frogs croaking for the sake of hearing myself croak (poem: “I’m a Nobody”). It’s humbling to be taken seriously by someone with a generous spirit and an open mind. It should be a lesson to me.

So, am I ready to rethink Steig Larsson’s work? Like the borstal boy in the Sillitoe story, I have my standards. The answer is NOPE.