January 2020 Books
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Seldom does a character created with ink and paper seem as complexly real as flesh and blood as does Kristin Lavransdatter, the character in Sigrid Undset’s trilogy of novels that now, as a collection, bears that name. Kristin Lavransdatter was the last of the books I finished reading in January 2020 and is the first I’ll list here, as it has now earned a place in my top five books of all time.

Books I read in January 2020

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – As I wrapped up listening to the 45-hour audiobook of this phenomenal work set in Medieval Norway, I was struck by Undset’s carefully crafted world–her depiction of a place and era hundreds of years before her own time. Unset received the Nobel Prize for literature, and rightfully so. I have wondered how I–as the daughter of a Norwegian-born father–remained unaware of this treasure of a novel until my 30s. I have since discovered, however, that Undset was largely forgotten outside of Scandinavia, something that is more recently changing (see here). I certainly hope that more people will discover this fantastic author. And although I feel a bit of shame for not knowing about her in my younger years, I do think I happened upon this classic at the right time. For Kristin Lavransdatter is a mother. Though she lived (fictionally, of course) about 700 years before me, there is still so much about her life that I can appreciate, so much understanding of her complexity that I would have lacked before becoming a mother myself. Kristin is by no means a perfect heroine. But I admire much about her and the way she growns throughout the book. I have the feeling I’ll be reading this book again in the next few years.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – One of my favorite ways to grow my to-be-read (TBR) list is through online book clubs such as the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club run by Anne Bogel. I’ve read several titles recommended by Anne this past year (including Harry’s Trees and Meet Me at the Museum, as I mentioned in this post), and her literary sensibilities tend to pair well with mine. Thanks, Anne, for helping me to discover The Stationery Shop. Wow. This love story set in 1950s Iran and present-day America is one to not miss.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes – Having visited Kentucky a few years ago, I loved envisioning the landscape as it must have appeared in the 1930s when the characters of this book were women running the traveling packhorse library that provided books to rural residents. I initially encountered Moyes–a New York Times bestselling author–when I read Me Before You several years ago and was delightfully surprised by how different this book is from that title. While I enjoyed both books, I appreciate the author’s versatility. Me Before You is a stay-up-all-night tear-jerker, while The Giver of Stars invites the reader to savor the setting and the characters, and root for the goodness and strength of a group of women who strive to make their own little corner of the world a better place, even while they’re enduring personal heartaches and challenges.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher – My children and I savored this audiobook this winter. A 1917 title that I had heard a number of homeschooling types rave about (my children attend traditional school, but homeschool resources often have great lists of children’s literature), this sweet tale turns out to be worth the type.

Peter Pan: An Audible Original Drama – So, this is a dramatization and not the actual book as written by J. M. Barrie, but I’ll let it count. While I usually opt for unabridged and undramatized audiobooks, I make exceptions when I’m looking for a good story to listen to in the car with my children. It’s my goal to introduce them to a wealth of good literature and to nurture a love of reading that lasts their entire lives. My son and I thoroughly enjoyed this particular recording, and I have the feeling that we’ll be listening to it again soon with my daughter.

I have several others in progress, including Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Jane Eyre (I’m listening to the Thandie Newton audiobook for my third round of reading this classic), and ones I’ll be working through all year long (Mom Heart Moments: Daily Devotions for Lifegiving Motherhood and The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming, for example). I’ll write more about those when the time is right.

Did you read any notable books in January? I’d love to hear about them!

8 thoughts on “Kristin Lavransdatter and Other Books I Read: January 2020”

  1. I was required to read Kristin Lavrandatter for a Scandinavian literature class at the University of North Dakota back in the 1970’s. I loved it! I would highly recommend it. I stayed up all night to finish it before finals week. Couldn’t put it down.

  2. I loved Kristin Lavransdatter! I read it quite a few years ago after I spent a year in Oslo, and before I returned for a holiday. We walked along a part of the Gudbrandsdalen Path during our tour…a fun point of the trip. Thank you for posting about the other books…I will check them out.

  3. I loved Kristin Lavransdatter! May I suggest “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek”, another one about the packhorse library. One of the main characters was the daughter of a Norwegian immigrant. It is about a group known as the blue people of Kentucky due to their genetic make up. This was a real phenomenon.

  4. Just finished Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout…beautifully written! 13 short tales about the people in a small town,some of them only very peripherally connected to Olive…and she is a complex,at times obnoxious character …but I loved her! The book was published in 2008 and won the Pulitzer prize. Just bought the follow up Olive Again…can’t wait to start it.

  5. I am inspired to finish Kristin Lavransdattee now. I tried it earlier and the size just got away from me. I’ll start over and try again. In the meantime, I recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. It’s set in the NW briefly, before the family moves to Alaska, and I can’t put it down. It’s a great winter read, especially.

  6. I’ve read Kristin Lavransdatter the first time in high school and again about 20 yrs. ago. I think I will read it again. Each time I read it I come away with new insights depending on my stage of life I’m in.

  7. Thank you Daytona, and to all who commented. Since all of my great grandparents came from Norway, most of them from Gudbrandsdal, the Kristin Lavransdatter series was very special. In the past I’ve read The Great Alone (and I would highly recommend Hannah’s Winter Garden), enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, and last night finished The Giver of Stars which I found an amazing piece of historical fiction. I will look forward to this section of Outside Oslo every month! Pam Lokken Oman

  8. Where did you find audio book of Kristen Lavransdatter? Is it in English. I read it many years ago and would like to listen to it now. My library in Wisconsin does not have it. I have followed your blog for awhile and enjoy reminiscing about Norwegian foods, but actually read more than I cook, and have made it a point to read Norwegian authors for years. My grandparents emigrated from Sunnfjord, and I have visited cousins in that area.

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