Although perhaps to follow on from my previous book reviews perhaps I should say: “This month I have mostly been reading Scandinavian…”.
The Scandinavian languages are Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Finnish. I have merely dipped my toes in the freezing Baltic waters but found it very refreshing indeed. NB. I meant to publish this post in winter for best timing, got busy, so slightly out of season now.
In February this year I visited Seaford library with my daughter. I have to admit that part of the attraction for her was hot chocolate and cake at the library café (how Hygge). She selected a sled load of Moomin cartoon books as she is a big fan of Tove Jansson. Her interest in Tove Jansson sparked curiosity in me too so I started reading one of Jansson’s adult collections of stories written when she was in her fifties: Travelling Light (also borrowed from Seaford Library). This is a beautiful collection of short stories, slightly quirky which is how I like it. Gorgeous light prose. I am also looking through a very big Jansson biography which may take me some time to read: Tove Jansson, Life, Art, Words. The authorised Biography by Boel Westin. There’s a lot more to her life than Moomins.
I am developing an idea I had of reading ‘in themes’ as I find total immersion in a subject brings greater depth, (okay, sounds slightly OCD but I don’t care). My winter theme this year was Scandinavian fiction and non-fiction partly driven by and interest in Hygge and the desire for the comfort of a Nordic style wood-burning stove to warm my winter living room (I didn’t get this, the cost of the stove itself was reasonable but the cost of the equipment to ready the chimney was prohibitive: A thousand pounds – it’s not worth it! ). I read ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell; ‘How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living’ by Signe Johansen; The Book of Hygge, the Danish art of living well by Luisa Thomsen Brits; and Tove Jansson’s ‘Travelling Light‘. To make the ‘reading in themes’ concept work well the balance for me has to be:
- something non-fiction – fact based,
- a collection of short-stories,
- something about art/artists/music,
- and a novel.
The first of these ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ by Helen Russell was extremely informative and actually very readable. I was initially irritated by her London-centric successful media life (okay, for ‘irritated’ you could read ‘envious’), but soon became hooked. I admit to knowing very little about Denmark but was intrigued by the concept that they are “the world’s happiest country”*, and by the end of the book I knew a great deal more about Danish taxes, Lego, job security, snegles, the Dannebrog and that pony fountain…
To accompany your reading selection and for full Scandi immersion, you need to watch ‘Modus’ starring Melinda Kinnaman, Henrik Norlén or ‘The Killing’ starring Sofie Gråbøl, Morten Suurballe, Lars Mikkelsen. Or that really good Icelandic thriller with the leading actor who looked like John Grant (beard, woollen hat, troubled, cuddly). Can’t remember the name of this series, featured a limbless torso and a lot of snow. Gruesome but beautifully filmed. My favourite part of these films is the use of the Scandinavian word for thank you: “Takk”, “tak” or “tack”. Love it when they say takk.
For Nordic music you could start with Iceland’s Sigur Rós, or Samaris – who toured in 2014 with John Grant who lives in Iceland so should know (see my post ‘John Grant: GMF-on-Sea’). I would also suggest a previously blogged about band ‘Nordic Giants’ but they’re not technically Nordic – they do have a distinctly Sigur Rós vibe though so worth checking out.
Okay, so put on your Sofie Gråbøl Nordic jumper and curl up in your Arne Jacobsen Egg chair (I wish) with a good Scandi book. Then for a gourmet experience, may I suggest a cup of really good coffee and a Danish pastry…
Feeling very Hygge indeed.
* Think Denmark was pipped at the post of ‘Happiest Country in the World’ in 2017 by Sweden.
Note to self: Maybe should post this again when its actually winter – not spring!