Tag Archives: Heinrich Böll

Gripped, and wanting more

We met up for waffles, the Resident IT Consultant and I, GP Cousin and Swiss Lady. One has to get the waffles when one can, and it was a warm sunny day for it. As it had been for months.

As GP Cousin inadvisably tackled the Resident IT Consultant on the England win, Swiss Lady leaned towards me and said she needed to talk about books. This was very unexpected and a really unlikely thing. She had been reading – something she rarely does – and it was so wonderful she’d reread it, and read all the books and seen the film. As had all her friends.

I should have seen it coming. Fifty Shades.

I muttered something about maybe perhaps having to disown her now, but she was so happy this went un-noticed.

And then we spent a long time over waffles and fifty shades. Not sure she even realised I’d not read the books. But I was glad she’d been reading, and that she had enjoyed it. And, erm, learned stuff.

Forty years ago, newly arrived in Sweden, she had read Sigge Stark. I read Sigge Stark as a teenager, because the books were in our bookcase, and you tend to read everything at that age. They were bestselling romantic fiction in Sweden after the war.

So, I could sense a pattern for Swiss Lady. I rashly promised to find her suggestions of what to read next, preferably something not quite fifty shades. I have a few ideas, but would welcome more. It mustn’t be War and Peace, and not Solzhenitsyn, whose books apparently also got read at some point. Although Heinrich Böll had been all right…

It’s tricky. You don’t want to turn someone off late-found reading. At the same time you sort of want to save their soul.

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Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.