Literature Festival and Book Shopping

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So I went to a small, local literature festival a couple of weeks ago. There were several interesting talks with and between authors, literary researchers and other fancy people. I couldn’t go to as much of it as I had wanted because of work (always getting in the way of stuff). But I did manage to catch a couple of Danish heavy-weights talking about differences in their works. That was great. There was a kind of silly literature quiz between two teams of beforementioned fancy people – I think I could probably have won it. That was alright too. And I heard three young(-ish) Danish writers talk about climate change and ecoliterature. Very interesting! One of them (Charlotte Weitze) had been to a convention on climate change, where a scientist had resignedly told her, they hoped artists could help people to realize the severity of the climate situation, since the scientists seemed to be coming up short. A kind of depressing topic, but I like it when artists try and use their influence and persuasion for good. A young poet on the panel, Rasmus Nikolajsen, said that maybe the world needs a good purge. I liked him. I don’t like poetry very much, though, so I didn’t buy his book.

I did buy a book by the third author, Dennis Gade Kofod, because it’s set on Bornholm and I love me some provincial literature. As you can tell from the picture, that’s not all I bought. There were booksellers as the festival, of course, but I may also have gone a bit nuts in my favorite bookstore. I chalk it up to that festival spirit.

Here we go!

Garth Risk Hallberg – City on Fire
Because I’ve been wanting to read it and it’s so so pretty!

Iben Mondrup – Godhavn
Because Kim Leine has inspired me to read more Greenland-based literature.

Wolfgang Büscher – Berlin-Moskva
Because who wouldn’t want to just walk for an entire summer?

Thomas Espedal – Gå (English: Tramp)
Hah, well, because… walking. Also, I think Norwegian literature may be the second best in the world.

Per Petterson – Ud og stjæle heste (English: Out Stealing Horses)
Because the Norwegian landscape is the best literary setting.

Svend Åge Madsen – Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden
Because he is perhaps the biggest contemporary Danish writer and I haven’t read him! Also, it’s set in Aarhus.

Stig Sæterbakken – Gennem natten
Because it was cheap and Norwegian and supposedly dark. My three favorite things (not really).

Dennis Gade Kofod – Nancy
Because… I already told you. I’ve finished this and will review it in a moment.

Kim Leine – De Søvnløse
Because it’s Greenland and Kim Leine!

Manhattan bookstores

As you may have noticed (but probably not), I’ve been gone for a while. Not really gone, just too busy reading to bother writing. But I’m here now and I’ll get you up to speed.

I’ve been on a short trip to New York. While it’s not a holiday destination I’d necessarily recommend, I will tell you a bit about the bookstores I visited.

Whenever I go on vacation, the first thing I do is scout out the best bookstores to hit. My current obsession with Scandinavian literature (which I read in Danish) made me a little less excited about the Manhattan bookstores than I would normally have been. But I did go to a few, and of course I bought a little.

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The first place I went to was the huge Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue. Sure, it’s big and has several floors and all that, but the measly selection of books is infuriating. They have more crappy pencil cases and overpriced stationery than they do books. I was so annoyed that I refused to buy the one book, I might have wanted to buy (The Long Walk by King/Bachman). I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The big chains back home stock mostly paper stuff, cookbooks, crime fiction bestsellers and a handful of classics. Sad times.

Next stop was The Strand – a huge and very famous bookstore in the East Village. No one could complain about the selection here! For an independent bookstore, it was absolutely massive. Rows and rows of books, and tables piled high with books divided into genres or categories. The tables were pretty useful if you want to find something new in classics, award-winners, books with female protagonists or something like that. If you know what books you want beforehand, the employees are very helpful (or you can try and find it yourself, if you’re not too claustrophobic, or have poor sense of direction). If you just want to browse… well, you’d better have plenty of time and you should probably avoid carrying a lot of other shopping with you, as it will make your arms tired, and make it harder to move around in the narrow paths between the huge bookcases. I had two books I really wanted to get, but I only found one (Between Here and the Yellow Sea), and sadly I had to settle for a larger edition of The Long Walk than the one I refused to buy at B&N. That’s what I get for punishing them, I suppose. I also got a really cool Edgar Allan Poe mug, a nice The Strang bookmark, and a few other books. Oh, and they have so much store merchandise, it’s nuts. But the place stressed me out a bit. It was just too big and too confusing. It made my head spin. Still worth a visit, though.

The last bookstore was McNally Jackson Books. Hands down the best independent bookstore I’ve never visited. The place isn’t huge but the selection is choice! You won’t find shelves and shelves of bestselling fiction or YA fantasy crap here. The decor was so nice and it was just such a relaxting and cool place. I asked about the one book I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. They didn’t have it either, but the helpful guy at the info desk seemed genuinely sorry they couldn’t help me. He offered to order it for me, of course, but that wouldn’t work. So I found something else. If only I had gone here first, I could have spent ages browsing the place.

So if you do have to go to New York, go to McNally Jackson Books. If you want books, I mean.

Scandi-lit, who needs it, right?

 

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Scandinavian literature is my new obsession. Surprising, isn’t it? For years and years I mostly… no, only read American and British literature. Ok, so I may have thrown in the odd PoCo novel here and there. But if it hadn’t originally been written in English, chances were I’d scoff and turn up my nose at it. There was no use in trying to convince me that any Danish writers were worth spending time on. Maybe I would have conceded that H.C. Andersen is alright, but I wouldn’t have bothered actually reading anything by him voluntarily.

Then something happened. I was given Eksil (Exile) by Jakob Ejersbo for my birthday a couple of years ago. I read it, thought it was ok, but I wasn’t head over heels about it. Still, I like to finish what I start (unless we’re talking about that time when I tried reading the first Twilight book), so I went and got Evolution and Liberty, the two other parts of Ejersbo’s Africa trilogy. And something just clicked. The genius I hadn’t spotted in Eksil suddenly became apparent and I fell completely in love. I was, of course, heart-broken that Ejersbo had passed away (years before) and concluded that Denmark had lost its best author and the only one who had the potential to put Denmark on the literary map… again. Sure, I could have concluded this on my own without reading any other new authors, but a friend agreed with me, so it was pretty much settled.

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I returned quickly to my old ways and another year passed. Then something else happened, would you believe it?! Of course, I had heard about Knausgård and his Min Kamp (My Struggle). Several of my friends and co-workers had been reading it and it was all over the bookstores. But I was convinced Knausgård was old and boring, so I scoffed and… well, you get the idea. But once again I had a birthday and I got Min Kamp volume 1. And this time I was hooked from page 1. I’ll review the whole thing soon, but I can tell you now that Knausgård is now one of my all-time favorite writers.

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He became a kind of gateway author, introducing me to other Norwegian writers, which in turn put me onto other Scandinavian literature. Jon Fosse is worth mentioning as he writes like no other I’ve encountered and I am continously astounded that he isn’t as big as Knausgård or other great current writers. I’ve done a few laps with Kim Leine too and have found him fascinating and kind of disgusting at the same time. He sure loves bodily functions. Jón Kalman Stefánsson also deserves a nod, even though I’ve only read one book by him so far. His portrayal of life in Iceland around 1900 is beautiful, and even with the deadly sea and harsh winters I feel drawn to that time and place. I’ll have to go to Iceland some day!

I’m reading as many of these Scandinavian books as I can. Some are amazing, some are ok, none are terrible (yet). That could be because I’ve steered clear of crime fiction (looking at you, Jussi!) and have stuck to books with great reviews and/or awards. It could also be because this new Scandinavian literature just appeals to me. The books are short, but manage to say a lot about life all the same. And Norwegian nature is just the perfect setting for… pretty much anything. The style is often simple and even terse, but it’s almost musical. I’ve always thought English was way superior when it came to musicality, flow, expressiveness and beauty, but I must say, Danish isn’t half bad. Just read Kongens Fald (The Fall of the King), which I didn’t read until this Christmas break. The Danish language in that is probably as amazing as it gets. I read the whole thing aloud and loved every minute, even if I did get a bit hoarse.

So I’ve seen the error of my ways and have come to acknowledge that there is a lot of amazing literature coming out of Scandinavia right now. I honestly can’t recommend these books enough.

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