On the joy of reading novels – and having friends

Peter Sandstrom: Mamma November

Schildts & Söderströms, Helsinki, Finland 2018

In Finland the summer holiday season is when everything calms down. People go to their summer cabins out in nature, relax, eat well, and with a little bit of luck, read. The typical holiday read is anything away from your normal “have to”:s, and quite often something you either find at the cabin or have been given to you by friends. People who would otherwise never read them end up reading things like old Agatha Christies, or some weird biography from the fifties. 

Personally, this is something I have to (and have always had to) work on. My big challenge is that I easily would head off for the holidays with a hole pile of books, assuming and wishing I would finally have the time to read all those things I didn’t have the time to read during the year. But I understand that the beauty of a holiday is just the opposite, that you don’t “have to” so much.

When you read books that are not on your “to do”-list but just there for the pure enjoyment; novels, short stories, poetry, books about weird insects that you can find around you – anything not related to what you do professionally, really – you are met by the unexpected. Fantasy, creativity, imagination, and new thoughts all breed on this unexpected. On getting carried away by the story, on putting yourself in others shoes, on seeing the world from a different viewpoint. We should all do it more. Or at least I certainly should.

The book this blogpost is about, Mamma November, is an excellent example of such a story, for two reasons. It is something I would never have had on my own reading list, basically because I wouldn’t have heard of it. It describes a world I know only partly, and can help me imagine worlds I don’t know very well. Secondly, it was given to me by a dear friend, the importance of which I’ll wright some more about in just a bit. But first about the book.

The book consists of short stories describing the life of a family. Over decades, over generations. It describes small pictures of life at the same time as the language Sandström uses depicts moments of culture, habits, traditions and all the luggage we put into language.

It is a very Swedish-speaking-Finnish story, including quotes in dialect from Ostrobothnia, and descriptions of environments of Swedish- speaking Turku (Åbo). It is well written, easy and pleasurable to read.

It’s an excellent book. If you have any relation to the Swedish language, or are interested in the local variations of it, this is something you should read. And not just because it is good prose.

For me, as I suppose for anyone with a Swedish- Finnish background, it made me reflect over many other stories I have heard from this background, Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia. Many of them are similar to stories from other language minorities, like the need to speak the “official” version of your language in public and the usage of your own dialect with close and loved ones. I personally don’t have any connection to the area but know many who do. A good friend of mine, who was brought up in Ostrobothnia and then moved to Åbo, did this “dialect-switching” when we were young. Whenever she called home she switched from our “standard” Swedish to a broad Ostrobothian dialect. So you always knew when she had her family on the line.

For me, this book is excellent for more than just its literary qualities. I have got it as a present from a dear friend. Every year I get one recent book from a Finnish Swedish- speaking author from her. She is way more into literature than I am, and always knows what to read. This present is always such a delight. Someone has thought about you, made the analysis of what’s new and readworthy, and then made a pick.

I am always so happy about this present, and cherish reading it. I wait for a “good moment” to read it – just like you save the best sweets for last. This has made me think about these book reviews.

I know I am not the only one for whom it is difficult to just let go. To relax. To get carried away by the story. Or to read stuff that is unexpected, that is outside of your own bubble, and that isn’t what people close to you are talking about at the moment. To explore into the unknown. And still, I understand the importance of it. 

Sometimes we need a friend to tell us what to read. To push us a little. To propose something, we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves.

I hope this blog can be a little bit like that for some of you. To open up venues into which you wouldn’t typically have gone on your own. I know it has been for me. Since I started this blog so many people I know (and some I don’t know!) have proposed great books for me to read. I appreciate every one of these suggestions, so please keep them coming – thank you! You help me find things I wouldn’t have found on my own.

I also hope that you have had a good Summer. That you have been able to relax and read stuff you normally wouldn’t. And are getting ready for the Autumn with inspiration, imagination and fresh thoughts…

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