A large portion of my work in the MFA consists of reading extensively and studying the works of authors across a range of cultures, genres, and styles. Last month I began a monthly series documenting the books I’m reading. Here’s a look at February’s reading, beginning with a handful of Scandinavian books. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite here!
Books by Scandinavian authors, in translation
by Fredrik Backman
The first in a series of novels set in the fictional town of Beartown, this novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman explores the ties that knit a small town together over a dream of ice hockey nationals and what happens when an act of violence creates shock waves throughout the town. As in the author’s other books including A Man Called Ove and Anxious People, Bearrtown features his distinct voice that captures the humanity of each character, even while holding them accountable for their actions.
The Morning Star
by Karl Ove Knausgård
Karl Ove Knausgaard is known largely for My Struggle, the epic six volumes of autofiction that made him an international name. Yet these lengthy and detailed accounts of the quotidian and often mundane are only a slice of the oeuvre he’s produced thus far, consisting of novels, numerous essays and articles. His most recent novel published in English, The Morning Star—while fiction—reflects Knausgaard’s comfort with a range spanning fiction and nonfiction forms as well as an ability to capture the way others perceive and engage in the world around them.
The Reindeer Hunters
by Lars Mytting
After reading The Bell in the Lake and finding much to love about author Lars Mytting’s world building of the Norwegian village of Butangen with its superstitions, mythology, and legends (see my essay here), I promptly began reading the second book in the trilogy, The Reindeer Hunters. This latest book in the Sister Bells trilogy—released in English last fall—continues the story of the Hekne family through the next generation—that of Astrid’s twin boys. While reading these two books, I was struck by the “Norwegianness” of them. The author’s level of detail while worldbuilding contributes to a rich experience of being rooted in a time and place.
A Norwegian Immigrant Story
Kristine, Finding Home by: Norway to America
by Aleta Chossek
Kristine Kristiansen is a young woman deeply engaged with her family in Førde, in western Norway, before she immigrates to America in 1925 to join her husband, Fredrik, who had settled there in advance for business. She created a home in Illinois with Fredrik and their children, always with the expectation of returning to Norway someday. Kristine’s granddaughter retells this family story through oral history, college reports, and letters sent between one country and another. I also come from a Norwegian family, and I’ll always wish I knew more about my family’s story. I used to daydream that I would happen upon a treasure trove of correspondence that would reveal what I missed. I am grateful, however, for writers such as Chossek who have the gift of such materials and the generosity to share them with the world.
Additional February Reading
by Leila Chatti
I first discovered Chatti during the January residency for my MFA, in her craft talk called “Praise in Hard Times.” I could relate to much of what she said about emotional suffering and the ways that we can cope with it from a place of praise and gratitude. In Deluge, she confronts chronic medical suffering and the idea of it being punishment, addressing religion and desire and evoking ancient women from sacred texts whose lives, though millennia before our own, still offer us the gift of a known experience.
Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative
by Melissa Febos
This collection of essays reads like a combination of memoir, writing masterclass, and fellow trauma survivor providing companionship on the road to healing. From writing about how she wrote her memoir of spending four years as an addict and professional dominatrix to describing the way that writing personal narrative is like a spiritual act of confession that helps to heal trauma, Febos shares with authenticity what it is to be a person for whom writing is as essential as breathing.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Until Norse Mythology back in 2018, I hadn’t read anything by this widely-respected fantasy writer, and I’m glad I dove back in this month with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This brief novel evokes how it feels to be a lonely child in a big world where the grownups neither truly see nor acknowledge your pain. When the protagonist, then, meets the Hempstock women at the farm down the lane—where the little girl calls the duck pond and ocean and the grandmother remembers when the moon was made—he experiences shelter, even if for only a night, from the monstrous unknown.
Lessons in Chemistry
by Bonnie Garmus
Elizabeth Zott just wants to be taken seriously as a scientist. The problem is, it’s the 1960s and she’s a woman. And a single mom. And was in a relationship with another renowned chemist she must have ridden the coattails of. And they weren’t even married! Of course the reader in 2023 knows that Elizabeth is a legitimate scientist whose struggle is being a woman in a field dominated by men. Even when she reluctantly ends up pivoting to teaching housewives the science of the kitchen in her unexpected TV cooking show, it’s clear she’s won’t be beaten down. Garmus writes with a distinctive voice that’s engaging and witty, making this book a delight to read.
Winter Recipes from the Collective
by Louise Glück
My first encounter with a book of Glück’s poetry, this collection struck me with its restraint and quiet wisdom, reflective of both mortality and of the solace—and even joy—to be found even in the winter of one’s life. After finishing the book, I learned that Glück suffered from anorexia in her youth and forewent a traditional undergrad education in favor of psychoanalysis. This piqued my interest, having experienced anorexia myself, and took me down the road of reading more about Glück as a poet. I look forward to exploring more of her poetry.
The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
In this post-war British novel, Stevens, an aging butler at Darlington Hall, takes a trip to see a former housekeeper, then Miss Kenton, under the guise of hiring her back. The journey proves contemplative as he reflects on his reserved encounters with Miss Kenton; his service to the estate’s former master, a Nazi sympathizer; the duty of butlers; and on what all this has meant for his life.
Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing
by Luci Shaw
I’ve experienced great personal benefits from journaling yet maintain a practice that ebbs as much as it flows, and therefore appreciate hearing the ways that other writers approach it. Shaw is a poet in the Pacific Northwest with a similar religious tradition as mine. Since I have been in a lengthy process of deconstructing, I found much of the book too religiously simplistic, but the gems in the book are attainable nonetheless, and I will keep this book nearby as a reference and source for a great many journaling prompts suited to deep reflection and insight.
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2 thoughts on “A Handful of Scandinavian Books (and Other Titles I Finished in February 2023)”
I’m a big fan of Lars Mytting! I’m eagerly awaiting the third in the trilogy, but I haven’t even seen news of its publication in Norwegian. I highly recommend The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by him.
Delighted to find my book reviewed and linked to my website. I so appreciate the recognition of how I draw from the various primary resources available. Thanks so much for your thoughtful summary. The author, Kristine Finding Home.