Well! February already! It feels like this year has been going on for at least five months already, but somehow I found myself surprised when the calendar ticked over to February – surely that can’t be right? But far be it from me to question the men and women in charge of time and keeping everything ticking along. As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I was struggling a little for something to write about this month. I was eventually struck with a brief flash of inspiration, but I also received something of a request. I mulled them both over, and in the end, decided to try and clumsily slam them together in the hopes that it can be both entertaining and maybe even useful!
I studied English Literature at university, and I’ve always loved reading. But I haven’t found the time to settle down with a good book anywhere near as often as I’d like. So it’s been something of a mission over the past couple of years to force myself to take time off from all of my other projects and actually sit down to read. I’ve had varying levels of success with this. But there’s one area in which I’m sorely lacking – and that’s reading books in languages other than English. I’ve done it in the past, but not nearly as much as I’d like.
The request I had was one for resources for learning Swedish, and my initial thought was that I don’t know any. Because of the way I learned Swedish (a beginner’s course at the University of Stockholm followed by years of use with friends), I reached quite a high level of competency in the language without using any traditional resources – except for a battered copy of Teach Yourself Swedish that travelled to and from Stockholm with me without me ever finishing it. However! The best way I’ve found to jump from an intermediate to an advanced speaker of a language is to read books, or listen to audiobooks, or even watch television. So these are some of the resources I figured I’d talk about today! I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t really read many of the Swedish classics – I’ve never read any Astrid Lindgren (even in English), and the only Tove Jansson book I own is in Finnish! Nevertheless, here are some bits of Swedish media I’ve enjoyed.
Do you like YA fiction? Do you like witchcraft? Do you like queer things? Then I guarantee you’ll love the Engelsfors trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, starting with Cirkeln (The Circle). I actually wrote about these books before, in Swedish, which you can find here (but beware of spoilers if you’re planning on reading it). On its most base level, it’s your classic ‘high school girls receive magical powers, shenanigans ensue’ – but it’s so much more than that. It’s a female-led story of literal empowerment, which still manages to be representative and diverse while having a compelling story that will keep you turning pages until they eventually run out, three books later. There was also a film made (in Swedish), but sadly it doesn’t seem to have been commercially popular enough to recreate the second and third books, which is a real shame – despite most of the actors being relatively unknown, they all bring the characters to life faithfully on the screen, and the gorgeous soundtrack was even written by Benny Andersson, of ABBA fame. This is definitely a good place to start if you’re looking to read more Swedish fiction.
Maybe queer witches aren’t your thing. That’s fine, let’s turn to the bloodier side of things. It’s no secret that Nordic Noir has undergone something of a renaissance in the past decade or so, and of course there are the Jo Nesbøs and Stieg Larssons of the world who have become well-known all over the world, but one who seems to have remained somewhat unknown outside Scandinavia (despite writing hit after hit) is Camilla Läckberg. Her Fjällbacka series, starting with Isprinsessan (The Ice Princess) is so named because it follows the life of Erica Falck, a journalist who returns from the big city to her childhood home of Fjällbacka – a tiny town with about 900 inhabitants in Sweden’s westernmost province, Bohuslän, and is immediately inexplicably surrounded by grizzly murders for the duration of ten books (and counting). It’s a bit like Midsomer Murders, at some point you start thinking, surely there’s nobody left in Midsomer to be murdered?! I’ll admit it’s probably not the most sophisticated read, but the story is gripping and who doesn’t love a bit of blood and guts? It’s coming up to Easter after all! (I should explain for the uninitiated that the idea of reading about horrific crimes is something of a tradition in Scandinavia, and you’ll find a lot of crime novels coming out in the run-up to Easter to capitalise on the påskkrim (or Easter crime) rush!
I’ve prattled on for longer than I intended to, so I’m going to stop my list of recommendations at two. But there is one more topic I’d like to get into before I wrap this up. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but here in the UK it’s quite difficult to get hold of books in Swedish – even on Kindle and other e-readers. So I recently discovered that a website called Bokus (bokus.com) sells books, audiobooks and e-books in Swedish that can be delivered to (I think) 35 different countries. Books obviously are subject to delivery charges (which I would assume could be quite high) but audiobooks and e-books are delivered by email and are relatively cheap!
Another fun thing they offer (I promise they haven’t paid me to say any of this – can you imagine?) is something called a lättläst (easy to read) edition. This means that a different author takes a popular book and then rewrites it into easier Swedish, so if you’re worried about not being able to understand a novel, maybe take a look at these editions, which I’m sure would be much better if you’re at around an A2-B1 level. I think I’m going to be putting in an order myself this month, so maybe I’ll do another one of these with some more recommendations for you – or maybe some book reviews in Swedish, if that would be something you guys might be interested in?
In any case, I wish you luck on your journey into the world of Swedish fiction – if anyone does start reading any of the books I’ve mentioned in this post, please let me know what you thought of them! You can get in touch with me either here in the comments, on Twitter and Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both), and I’ll see you all next month. As always, thanks for reading.