COLUMN: March 2, 2011

I’VE been reading a book which I am finding very absorbing, and I am desperate to discover what happens next.

But it is taking me a long time to read it, because I won’t read it on the bus as I am crippled by social embarrassment.

It’s the third book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy. You know the ones – they started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Of course, when the book was written 10 years ago, it was considered very exotic to have a tattoo. These days, it is very difficult to find a girl in her twenties who does not have a tattoo, dragon or otherwise.

En masse, say on a Saturday night in Concert Square, they look like my notebook after a long and boring meeting. They might as well have called it The Girl With The Head.

You see, I was actually what they call in IT circles an early adopter of the first book and bothered a number of people with my insistence that they “really must read this book. It’s not the best written book, but the characters are really compelling and . . . and . . . she’s got this computer, yeah, and, erm . . . It’s Swedish!”

But just as I was about to buy the second part, the whole Larsson phenomenon exploded. Everybody was reading the books, the films were released, IKEA was running tours around the Warrington store – “Look, these are the meatballs Blomkvist ate, and those shelves over there are very like his.”

So when I walked into Waterstone’s to buy book two I saw the huge display of “The Girl . . . ” novels and thought: “I can’t buy this now. I am a serious man who reads the posh newspapers and looks down his nose at Britain’s Got Talent.

“I mean, I did Latin in school. I am basically Michael Gove’s good twin. Buying this book right now will make me look like a chump.” And so I left the shop.

Over the past year or so, as the movie versions have been released, friends and people whose opinions I respect (not necessarily the same thing) have told me, “Oh, you really must see this film. It’s not the best written film, but the characters are really compelling and . . . and . . . she’s got this computer, yeah, and, erm . . . It’s Swedish!”

Of course, I have avoided the films because I wanted to read the books first.

And I haven’t read the books because the films came out. 

I am clearly the victim of bad timing. Obviously not as much as the author, who died before the books were published and made a squillion pounds, but bad timing nonetheless.

But it is a vicious circle of my own making. I have made an apple pie bed and got into it myself.

Thankfully, in the past couple of weeks, I found a loophole. I got somebody to buy the books for me. By this, I mean I was given them as a present. I didn’t loiter by Waterstone’s like a 15-year-old hanging around outside an off-licence. “Hey, mate, can you go in there and get me a Georgette Heyer and a couple of Jeffrey Archers?”

Which brings us back to where we started. Now that I have the books, can I read them in public without looking like the type of person who reads Harry Potter with the “adult” covers?

This sort of consideration did not worry me in the past. I was a comic collector well into my thirties and would think nothing of reading the latest edition of The Adventures Of Superman on the bus. What happened to that devil-may-care larrikin?

So, I have to man up. So what if the people around me think I am uncool? There is nobody more uncool than he who attempts to avoid looking uncool. Apart from he who uses the word “uncool”.

So I will read The Girl Who Flicked V-Signs At Bad Men, or whatever it is called, on the bus, and hang the consequences. And if I lose my nerve, I will simply conceal it behind a copy of The Beano.

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