Category Archives: Languages

When books become retro

In the end it was the fonts that made me go all nostalgic.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Här är Lilla Anna

I was reading Scandinavian Retro, a style magazine, featuring mainly mid-20th century things. I’d expected furniture, china, textiles. That kind of thing. But here were all 105 books by Inger and Lasse Sandberg; every cover of every book they wrote and illustrated together for over fifty years.

First I wondered why, when they started in the mid-1950s, I hadn’t really read any/many of their books. I’ve always been aware of them, but had somehow felt they were after my time as a picture book reader. And mostly, it turned out they were. They had a slow start and I must have missed the early books while I was still young enough.

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Är det jul nu igen? sa Spöket LabanI did read about the little ghost, however. Both for myself, and later to other young people, including Offspring. Lilla spöket Laban (Laban, the little ghost) is rather sweet. He is scared of many things, including the dark, which is awfully inconvenient for a ghost. Apparently he was born to help the Sandberg’s middle child who was afraid of the dark, after his older sister locked him in a wardrobe.

But, as I said, I can only have read a handful of the 105 books. They all look thoroughly familiar, however, and I worked out it’s because of the font(s) used on the covers. The pictures are also quite typical for that era, but there being so many, for me they blend into one and the same. There’s probably a name for the font, but for me it will always be the ‘Swedish children’s books font.’

Inger och Lasse Sandberg, Fixa fisk, sa Pulvret

And, as I also said, there were obviously more than one font, and styles developed over the years, but mostly they all look soothingly familiar.

Just as Laban was born to deal with the dark, many of the books were written by Inger to cover a small matter of some importance to small people everywhere. I really like the sound of the story about the man who suddenly shrinks and discovers what it is like to be small and treated like a child again. He becomes a children’s politician after that, with notes explaining to young readers what a politician is.

Never mind your ABCs. You can have a book about the number 0, which when standing next to other numbers, becomes terribly important.

And when all is said and done, this whole concept feels frightfully Swedish and egalitarian, besides being trendy and nice to look at.

To Sir With Love

I freely admit to having a Reader’s Digest past. Somehow some sales person must have managed to bypass Mother-of-witch and her frugal approach to most unnecessary things in life, and persuaded her to subscribe to those books. I have no idea how many of the abridged novels she read, but I got through a lot of them. I was at the age when there simply weren’t enough books around to read, and I searched the bookcase daily for more entertainment, and discovered that quite a lot of those odd looking titles were not that bad. Nice, easy reads, and quick, due the their abridged nature.

To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite was one of them. It was probably also one of my best loved books on the RD shelf. That will be why I introduced Offspring to the film starring Sidney Poitier, when the opportunity arose, years ago. When Daughter was last home, we watched it again. It made us talk, and think about things.

Do you remember my Canterville Ghost Favourite Teacher? I thought of him then. Not long before I had read a letter to the editor in a Swedish magazine, and I’d wondered if the writer might have been him. Right name, and I believe, right town. And what he said seemed to fit as well.

So I Googled a bit, as you do, and came to the conclusion it very likely was Favourite Teacher. On Swedish sites you get some odd information, like date of birth, and thanks to Mother-of-witch who was also a teacher, I knew how old he’d be. And then I hit on the idea of Google images, and found a photo that could very well be him, ‘a few years on.’

At my age you can’t take for granted your teachers will still be alive.

Apart from being such a great teacher, and managing the difficult balance between fun and friendly, versus knowledge and discipline in the classroom, he was also the politest teacher I’ve ever had. We were between the ages of 13 and 16 and he addressed the boys by surname and the girls were Miss and surname.

Just like Sidney Poitier, in fact. That was one of the details I’d forgotten, but which came back when I watched the film again.

There were two Misses C in my form. I was Miss C at the front, while the other Miss C sat at the back. ‘Mats hört immer zu’ is a phrase I still remember, helping me know what to do about the German verb zuhören, while chuckling about Mats who never did any kind of zuhören whatsoever. And as all you English native speakers must know, ‘skulle heter would, skulle heter would, skulle heter would.’ As opposed to should, which is what we might have guessed and what Favourite Teacher was there to prevent.

And there were many more where those came from.

Two languages, for all three years of secondary school. I was very lucky.

He wasn’t easily taken in, either. When one girl asked to copy my homework, I wasn’t worried. She came back and said he’d given her [her first ever] full marks, while adding he thought she had ‘cooperated with Miss C.’

The last year we gave him a – collective – gift when we left school, because he had been our form teacher that year. He wrote each of us a thank you card, posted to our home address. That’s what I call class.

Another ‘Girl’ crime novel

I wonder how long the ‘Girl’ phenomenon will last? And would we have had it at all, had someone not made Lisbeth Salander a ‘girl’? For someone like me, the plethora of girl-titled crime novels now means that I cannot tell them apart. But presumably they sell a bit better for it.

Anyway, this one, by Liselotte Roll, was called Tredje Graden [third degree] in the original Swedish. The translator and I have spent some time discussing a suitable English title, and I felt we came up with some good ones. But on the other hand, I do quite like the sound of Good Girls Don’t Tell.

Liselotte Roll, Good Girls Don't Tell

Published today by a Dutch publishing company, recently bought by a UK publisher, I have to say I also like the look of the actual book. It has curved corners, and the font used on the cover looks good. And as with most female Swedish crime writers, Liselotte has ‘been compared to Camilla Läckberg,’ which I suspect isn’t always a useful thing for authors. But there you are.

The blurb on the back gives away too much of the plot, in my opinion. Knowing what has to happen, someone like me would read on tenterhooks, just wondering when ‘it’ would come. And then the next ‘it.’

Translation by Ian Giles, as you may have suspected.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

If you are looking for a classic Christmas present for a child, look no further. This retelling of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson is rather nice, and with the illustrations by Olivier Latyk, including some intricate card cut-outs, you won’t find anything more beautiful. (Make sure the child isn’t of the destructive kind, though.)

Kochka and Olivier Latyk, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Kochka, who has adapted Selma’s old classic, probably knows the story in French. I say probably, as there is no translator credited, nor is there one for the translation from French into English. (I’m on a translation track here, and would have liked the people who made it all possible to be present.) But apart from that, and a few of the expected misspellings of Swedish place names, it is very nice.

Snowy, even if it doesn’t all happen in snow, but it adds to the Christmassy feel. As a Swede I am also aware of the dangers to geese around this time of year. Watch out, or you are dinner.

Nils is a naughty little boy, but one who is surprisingly fast at recognising what he has to do, once an elf has shrunk him to miniature size. He needs to improve his behaviour and be kinder to all, especially animals, and he needs to help where help is wanted.

To be truthful, I no longer recall how much geography there was in the original, and how much adventure and improvement of Nils. But as Selma wrote the story to assist in teaching children about their country, I’d say the adaptation has mainly lost this part, and probably for the better. Not many small foreign children will want to hear about ancient Swedish landscapes. They will want the adventures, and – perhaps – the story of how one little boy learned a lesson.

My lesson will have to be that I had no idea the geese were given names from the Finnish one to six. But it’s sort of fun to discover now.

This is beautiful fantasy, i.e. perfectly normal stuff for today’s readers. And there is a happy ending for the dinner.

Cornelia and her Mount Everest

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

And, bringing up the rear, here is Bookwitch interviewing Cornelia Funke on the last day of the blog tour for Reckless, The Golden Yarn. Good things come to those who wait, and I knew – somehow – that talking to Cornelia would be good, even if I had to chase her to Newcastle’s Seven Stories to do it.

I was right. Cornelia is the kind of woman I’d happily chat to some more. And aren’t languages – foreign ones, even – the best? Where would we have been if we’d not both of us paid attention in school? I’d not have got far in German, and for all her early reading of Astrid Lindgren, I guess Cornelia’s Swedish isn’t very fluent. If at all.

Here she is, on standing up to publishers, editing, languages and the beauty of Los Angeles, coyotes and all. And, well, the naked man who traditionally plays the violin, standing in some river or other. She knows about him too.

What was I thinking???

Have you any idea how often I ask myself this? On Tuesday I asked the question so often and so loudly that you could be forgiven for thinking it had been a while, whereas the question had popped up only last Friday.

Do you remember SELTA? I blogged about them last year. They are the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, and they do things I’m sort of interested in. And on Tuesday it was time for their AGM in London, and they thought it’d be good to ask a few ‘translated literature’ bloggers over for some light entertainment at the end. I was one of them, and why anyone would think I can speak in the first place, and why I might measure up next to two people who read almost exclusively translated, and literary, books, is beyond me.

But there I was, pretending to speak about translation and other linguistic stuff. This is when I wasn’t feeling petrified at the mere idea. I garbled a few things at them, and I distinctly recall them laughing at one point, so I must have said something amusing. Shame I can’t remember what. I could use it again, if I did.

Wait a minute! No, that would suggest I’d ever do this again. No need to know what was funny.

They encouraged the asking of questions, so I asked whether they read the book before they translate it. Interesting reaction. Some do, some don’t. Those who do were shocked to find others don’t.

My co-speakers were Stu Allen of Winstonsdad’s Blog, and Ann Morgan from A Year of Reading the World. As you will find if you look them up, they read adult books in translation. Ann spent a year reading a book from every country in the world, a while back. And Stu reads books from all over the world, as long as they have been translated.

And then there was me. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most accomplished speaker in the room.

But it was fun. Afterwards, I mean. Never again, though. Most likely.

I threw them a challenge. I spoke to Fiona Graham who was the one who did the sample translation of My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? that I so enjoyed last year. Dr Death was there. So was Deborah Bragan-Turner who did me the honour of interviewing me a year ago. She did it so well that when the Resident IT Consultant re-read the Swedish Book Review, he felt I’d get on well with ‘that person.’ Until he discovered that was me. Ruth Urbom, who was the one who invited me, and many others. They could all tell what was wrong with ‘sugar cake’ but hamburgerkött was less obvious. (Horse meat…)

Afterwards we went to the pub. And after that Son and I went to Diwana Bhel Poori, before we slept our way north (where I was – accidentally – greeted on the platform by Helen Grant). And that’s where I am now.

(Home, not on the platform. Obviously.)

The Canterville Ghost

Soon after I’d started at my new secondary school, the school hall burned down. This was unfortunate, but certainly nothing to do with me. In fact, we were quite lucky, since it happened on sports day, when nearly everyone was out, and only [I think] the choir was there to practise. And the head teacher, who might have attempted to put the fire out.

The hall was almost brand new, so it was a shame, but the replacement hall was – probably – even better. I can barely remember what the unfortunate first hall was like.

Nor can I remember for how long we had to go without a hall while it was being rebuilt. We had assembly first thing every morning, which meant the school had to come up with alternatives. In effect this meant that the teacher who taught the first period got to ‘entertain’ the class for fifteen minutes before starting on the real stuff.

My Favourite Teacher ended up doing most of my assemblies, as I had him for two subjects, which managed to cover several mornings of the week. He very sensibly read to us, and his first choice was The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.

Despite having him for English, our teacher read the story in Swedish. Perhaps it was just as well, since this way everyone in the class could enjoy it. And I believe learning to enjoy a good story rather than making it be too educational is the best way.

We had a lot of fun with the ghost and the Otis family. In actual fact, I still consider the name Otis to be a fun name, so I guess it’s just this happy memory.

After Canterville we had other books/stories to listen to and they were all excellent. But I can’t remember what they were. I was sad to return to the new assembly hall when the time came. Those assemblies were generally also fairly good, but not quite up to Canterville standards.

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost and other stories

(There’s a new Canterville Ghost out now, along with other Oscar Wilde stories. Enjoy some fresh blood stains for Halloween!)