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Understanding Sweden and Swedes can sometimes feel like an overwhelming challenge. So instead of banging your head against the wall of confusing Swedishness, why not use the wisdom of those who came before you. First of all, we have a lot of writers who have put their knowledge into books AND we also have a lot of newbies who have done the journey before you. We, therefore, asked our newbies to suggest which books they thought were helpful to understand Sweden and Swedes. So here goes:
The Newbies own book list to understanding Sweden and Swedes
- How to be Swedish – A quick guide to Swedishness in 55 steps by Matthias Kamann. In this book you learn how to interact with Swedes without embarrassing yourself, celebrate Swedish tradition and flirt like a Swede.
- Smile of a Midsummer Night – A personal guide to their Swedish homeland by Lars Gustafsson & Agneta Blomqvist. In this book, you follow the authors as they set off from the far south all the way up to Norrland. From the farms of Scania to Laponian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Typiskt svenskt – Din handbok till svennelivet by Anders Westerberg. This book is a fun and easy read about Swedes and the stereotypes they are known for. It is in Swedish but the texts are short and fairly easy and is a good practice book.
- The Swedes: A Happy Culture of Scandinavia by Julien S. Bourelle. This book provides insights into the everyday life of Swedish people. It describes Swedish social codes with the help of entertaining illustrations and can work as your social guidebook to Sweden.
- The nearly almost perfect people by Michael Booth. The author has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years. Perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic that has engulfed the rest of the world. He leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success and, most intriguing of all, what they think of each other.
- A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove is the quintessential angry old man next door. An isolated retiree with strict principles and a short fuse, who spends his days enforcing block association rules that only he cares about, and visiting his wife’s grave, Ove has given up on life. After a boisterous young family moves in next door and accidentally flattens Ove’s mailbox, an unlikely friendship forms.
- Utvandrarna (easy read – lättläst – version) by Vilhelm Moberg. Considered one of Sweden’s greatest 20th-century writers, Vilhelm Moberg created Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson to portray the joys and tragedies of daily life for early Swedish pioneers in America. It is a series of four books.
- The xenophobe’s guide to Swedes by Peter Berlin. A common trait among Swedish people is a deeply felt svårmod, a dark melancholy born out of long winters, high taxes, and a sense of being stuck far out on a geo-political and socio-economic limb. They brood a lot over the meaning of life in a self-absorbed sort of way without ever arriving at satisfactory answers. Or do they?
Where to buy books
Finding these books probably won’t be too hard. My guess is that at least one of these books is found among other newbies in your SFI-class, språkfika or social newbie groups. But if you rather have your own copy, here are some options:
- Amazon – the book behemoth probably has all these books. BUT if you order from the US you should be aware that you may get stuck paying annoying import fees.
- Adlibris* – Swedish online book shop
- Bokus* – Swedish online book shop
- Nextory* -Swedish audiobooks
If you are on a budget, sign up to your local library. Just google “bibliotek + the name of your town.” Libraries have loads of activities for parents, newbies, kids, students etc and it is all pretty much free.
And you should of course not forget about second-hand shops. If there is one near where you live – check it out for some gold literary nuggets.
So here is a little list to get you started, given to you by our very own newbie readers. Enjoy! And please let us know your favourite book about Sweden or Swedes in the comments.