Tag Archives: Vi


This is something I have occasionally thought about [almost] doing. And when I read about it in my recent copy of Vi magazine, I felt [almost] encouraged to do it.

Their snippet was about a named person doing something involving a named author’s books, but those details are not important here, so I’ll leave them out. After all, it’s a bit foreign, so fairly irrelevant.

A sort of famous Swede visited a German branch of IKEA, and noticed among the many books they use to style their display furniture in the room settings, several remaindered copies of his favourite book by his favourite author. That would be a highly thought of author, not just anyone.

After some deliberating he took all the copies of the book home with him, hidden in his bag. I believe he has since given those copies to friends, the way we do when we want someone else to like what we like.

Was it stealing? Probably. But I’d like to think of it more as liberating a handful of books that were being seriously under-appreciated as decorative pieces in an almost industrial setting. If we all did it, it would be quite noticeable. But we wouldn’t, would we?

The seventh chair

I read the article several times.

Before that I had had a telephone conversation with Son, about various things. One of the ‘things’ was Åsa Wikforss. It was a professional sort of mention. Minutes later I sat down to eat supper in the company of the December issue of Vi magazine, of which page 30 was already lying open.

It turned out to be a long interview article with Åsa Wikforss. Coincidence? Serendipity, more like. She was photographed on top of a stepladder, wearing a shiny – but nice – copper coloured dress and a scarf billowing in the studio’s wind.

So I ate, and I read about Åsa. I liked everything I read. In fact, I felt a bit like her. No, not that exactly. More that we seemed to have a lot in common, in that comfortable way you sometimes discover when you talk to people. I wish I could. Talk to her, I mean.

The reason I probably won’t be able to, and the reason we are not the same, is that today she will be sworn in as a new member of the Swedish Academy. Yes, that slightly tarnished but formerly great institution. Chair number seven, I believe. The one that belonged to Sara Danius, whom I also felt strangely close to.

Åsa sounds very sensible. Intelligent. She doesn’t hail from a privileged background, so as far as I’m concerned she is the real deal. By privileged I mean money or family ties. Otherwise she was really quite privileged, having sensible – working class – parents, growing up in a concrete suburb of Gothenburg. Possibly studying at the Literature department at the same time as me. Possibly not. Then the obvious stuff; Oxford, international romance, New York, back to Sweden to be Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, and now the Swedish Academy.

It’s a long article, and the author, Stina Jofs, regrets not having had room for all the information she’d collected. So there’s no point in me going on and on here.

But she’s been where I’ve been, even if she did it in New York and I was in Stockport. It’s almost the same.

I read the article again. Told Son about it, and he wants me to save it for when he gets here. Fine. I will. But I might want to read it again.

Here’s hoping Åsa’s first day with her Swedish Academy colleagues goes well, and that soon she and her rookie peers will sort them out good and proper.

Åsa Wikforss, photographed by Thron Ullberg for Vi

Bengt Ohlsson?

Some years ago in a comment on someone’s [Swedish] blog I said I didn’t know who Bengt Ohlsson was. Another blog reader told me that since he’s a really great literary author and columnist, this was impossible. I [hope I] replied that I had no cause to lie. In the end I was allowed to not know Bengt because I was living abroad.

Anyway, yesterday I read a short story by Bengt. Vi magazine is celebrating their 20th Literature Boat (where authors and readers take to the high seas for book events and food) and have asked some of their former performers to write a short story for the magazine. The theme is literature at sea. The first story, last month, was about stalking an author.

The second one, by Bengt, was – seemingly – about boarding the Literature Boat for one more trip. It started in a fairly pedestrian way, but by the end it actually became something quite different.

It was interesting, and entertaining, but it didn’t necessarily make me want to join one of the sailings.

What I really appreciated, however, was the almost supernatural coincidence Vi provided me with. You see, there are more authors of some repute that I don’t know; not only poor Bengt. His story was in the December issue, and I’d saved it for ‘reading later.’

Yesterday morning, before reading the short story, I had glanced through the January edition of Vi. It very conveniently had an article about three shortlisted authors for the Vi book award; none of whom I’d heard of.

Within an hour, one of the three turned up as a character in Bengt’s story. And I wouldn’t have realised!

Write to me

Authors’ letters are drying up, it seems. Maybe they were a luxury, anyway, and now it’s all many can do to keep their heads above water, writing things that might pay. On the other hand, there is nothing actively wrong with emails. Paper can burn, while cyberspace could be lost in, well, cyberspace, as it were.

Anything can disappear, but most things can also last surprisingly well.

I read an article in Vi magazine the other week, about the correspondence of authors. One of the people interviewed was Peter Englund, former Permanent Secretary to the Swedish Academy. He saves every email. Which should mean that mine to him must be there, somewhere. (As is his to me; in my archives, so to speak.)

The article touches on one published volume of letters, which I’ve already blogged about. I did some more research on what they said, and decided that I was possibly slightly misinformed back then. But so were they. I believe the letters were from the author to ChocBiscuit’s father’s first wife’s first husband’s mistress. Rather than the other way round.

Tove Jansson is mentioned by someone who met her, many years ago. She astounded her companion by saying she read every letter, and replied to them as well. This someone wrote to Tove afterwards. He never had a reply.

Oh well.

As I said, I’ve got a small email archive here. If I save emails, it’s either because I might need to remember what someone said. Or because they wrote so well that I like keeping it. I very much doubt that I will publish any books off the back of my collection, however. So please continue writing.

Besides, most of them are signed xxx, and perhaps an initial, if I’m lucky. (And if I may quote briefly from one, ‘holy shit Batman!’ does not necessarily have a lot of literary merit.)

Depressingly familiar

The Resident IT Consultant suggested we watch a Swedish film (because us dinosaurs have now got access to Netflix), but no, not that kind of Swedish film. He had read a review of it and thought it sounded good.

I lasted half an hour before I asked to be excused. It was simply too painful to watch. While I’m not claiming to have led a life like the girls in the film, it still felt very close to home in a not-so-good way, and to me it wasn’t entertainment. It was revisiting days I’m relieved are over. The characters in the story were not my kind people.

A day or so later, I was scanning the book reviews in my Vi magazine. They are generally never for books that I know (of) so unless the actual writing of the review is riveting, I tend not to spend time on reading them.

But what hit me was much the same feeling as I’d had with the film. I’m glad I’m no longer part of the kind of life that features in these often highly praised novels (all adult books). Somehow it just feels very alien. I like nice, and I like familiar. If I’m to step on to new ground, it has to be the best of new grounds.

Even the new non-fiction collection from Henning Mankell failed to interest me. Perhaps it’s because they made much of his illness, which is depressing. I don’t know what his health is like right now, but assume that the Swedish press have got it covered. The one story that is mentioned in the review is about a ‘leaving’ in Salamanca, of all places. And I have one of my own, so didn’t need reminding.

Sorry to sound so grumpy. I reckon that Britain was just waiting for me. I like the books here better. Or is that because I didn’t go to school here? Not so much for me to cringe over. I don’t know. But thank you for putting up with me.

Happy Birthday Vi!

The young Witch found Vi magazine pretty boring. It was the kind of thing old people read. I wanted colour and fun and Vi didn’t offer much of that. But that was OK. Old people need their stuff, too.

‘Everyone’ around me had it. I can’t say they subscribed, because Vi was (is) the Coop magazine in Sweden. Back then, you collected your receipts and handed them in for your annual membership dividend, and on the envelope you could tick if you wanted Vi. That’s why Mother-of-witch and all her siblings and the neighbours and everyone in the whole world read Vi.

As I got older I, too, caught the bug. I was older quite early, in my late teens. I liked the recipes and the knitting patterns and stuff. (Let’s face it; I was boring.)

At the age of 21 I spent a year at the University of Sussex, and my – own – subscription to Vi followed me there. You can’t go for almost a year and not read Vi! One of my fellow students found out I had Vi there, and I can still recall the pitying look she gave me. (Her name is long forgotten.)

It came with me to Brighton once more, when the Resident IT Consultant and I moved there. More need for recipes, and for generally keeping track of what went on in Sweden and in the world.

I did have to give it up for a while, in more recent years, when I felt the annual subscription (no longer available by ticking anything at all) with postage abroad became a bit steep. School Friend gave me hers when she was done with them. But it’s hard to go without your own, so I’ve been back as a subscriber for some time now. When the bill comes, I simply close my eyes and pay.

Cover of Vi, June 2012

And now, today, Vi is 100 years old. Everyone I know does not read it any more, but those who matter do. As for the Retired Children’s Librarian who needs to be frugal, but who likes crosswords, I send them to her.

No need to pity me. Vi is what keeps me vaguely informed both about the old country, but also about the rest of the world, when the British press forget that there are more places than the UK, and maybe the US.


(I like the cover above. It features former party leaders for Labour, Communists and – I think – Greens. These ladies enjoy each other’s company, and are not above posing in this royal fashion, and one of them brought her toddler with her, because it was her day to look after her. And there is an article about eating porridge.)


So, how are we? All present and correct?

I’m not one to buy into this end of the world stuff. I had actually managed to escape the latest ending of our world until quite recently, when I read in Vi magazine what was happening. Their reporter had been to France and was amused by the restaurant he came across, that offered a spectacular last night meal with entertainment.

Perhaps he has not read Douglas Adams? I suspect the restaurant people might have, unlikely though it sounds.

But it set me thinking apocalyptic thoughts. There is Tim Bowler’s Apocalypse; bleak, but not quite the end of everything. (Unless I got it all wrong?)

There is/was – or maybe not – Nicola Morgan’s novel which tried to be Apocalypse, but changed into The Passionflower Massacre ( a much better title, now that I stop to reflect) in deference to Tim.

Most likely there are apocalypses everywhere with our taste for dystopias and horror. (Quick search in online shop only netted a couple more, surprisingly.)

Some years ago the Resident IT Consultant returned home and mentioned he’d seen a film while away. I asked what film. He said it was called The Day Before Yesterday. Or something. Personally I find his a more interesting title than The Day After Tomorrow (which is what he did see.)

Let’s get on with today…

Hello, is anyone there?

Anyone at all?

Maybe it was a mistake to set this blog post to appear automatically?


I was going to begin by saying that you mustn’t all start writing romances after this blog, but then I thought that if you did, I’d most likely find myself reading some very good romances some time soon. (Well, not soon soon, publishing takes time. But soon.) It’s not the genre that is bad, it’s the quality of the writing. Just as I have a fondness for opera singers singing popular songs, really. It’s supposed to be really dreadful that they do, but I like popular songs, and I love them being sung by someone who really knows how to sing. Take Pavarotti singing Ti Adoro. Wonderful!

Anneli Rogeman who is editor of my favourite Swedish magazine Vi usually writes good editorials, commenting sensibly on whatever topic she has a go at. I tend to agree most of the time. I was just a little disappointed with her latest editorial, where she attacks light reading.

At least, I think she is. In the summer I blogged about what Swedes were reading, and mentioned the latest publishing phenomenon, Lars Kepler. He’s a pseudonym. Now he has been outed, and Anneli Rogeman is disappointed. Lars is in actual fact two very ‘proper’ authors, married couple Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril (yes, really!), about whom I know virtually nothing, living in exile as I do. But they are good, I understand that much. Good as in serious, and promising to reach greater greatness in future.

Or they would, had they not stooped so low as to write for the man in the street who has little interest in literature. She moans that now we will lose years of real books from them, as they’ve been contracted to write eight books. But surely, they have the right to write anything they like? This way they will provide reading material for many more people than their ‘proper’ writing would. That’s not a bad thing, I feel. I don’t know what this Lars Kepler book is like, but assume it’s a well written novel; that they have written lighter, not badly.

AA and AA stand to make a lot more money doing this. I can see that this would be attractive. But it seems this is to be sneered at. You have proper literature for the few and possible financial hardship, versus ‘rubbish’ and authors who are well off. Hm. Tricky.

Apparently there are five reasons for writing under a pseudonym, according to Anneli Rogeman. To get read at all, if you’re a woman, say. To attract curiosity and attention. To joke with the establishment. To avoid ruining your ‘proper’ writing. To simplify your own name.

Bo Balderson

The reason I got a little incensed with the editorial was that an old favourite of mine was listed under the second reason, and was rubbished by Anneli Rogeman. I now feel that my earlier fondness of and appreciation for Bo Balderson* has been ruined in my mind. His crime novels from forty years ago are only mediocre, it seems. It was just the fact that none of us knew who BB was that made people buy the books. Really? I read them because they were funny, and I enjoyed them. The mystery was fun too, but even now that BB has been found to have been a mere primary school teacher (and I expect my Vi to be less scathing on the subject of being a ‘mere’ anything), I still like him. I wished he’d turn out to be King Gustaf VI Adolf, but this is OK.

OK, so let’ move back from mere school teachers to potential Nobel prize winners; they are still allowed to write what they want. And if they do a light genre well, then that is good and will give pleasure to many. Maybe one day they will sink so low as to write for children. No, surely not…

(*Footnote – Bo Balderson wrote crime novels about a sleuth who just happened to be a government minister. He was really only an affable, wealthy man with about 14 children, but he accidentally became a minister because his galoshes were too large. He is assisted in his sleuthing by his long suffering school teacher brother-in-law; a nervous and over-sensitive man. At the time almost every public person in Sweden was suspected of being Bo Balderson. I really favoured the theory that it was the King.)

Hej och välkomna!

And in order not to confuse the regulars or to spoil any new readers, that’s likely all the Swedish I’ll offer today. The witch has been chosen as blogger of the month by that trusty old magazine Vi, which I mention every now and then, in their book magazine ViLäser. One has to admire their superior taste, and their courage in plumping for something so foreign as one of their own blogging in English. But Swedes are a linguistic lot, so I hope this will work out well.


I did realise the other day, that in my eagerness 28 months ago to remain fairly anonymous, I might have overdone things ever so slightly. No name (but by now most of you know what the civilian witch is called), no geographical clues as to where she stores her broomstick (much) and no way to contact me other than by commenting and ‘screaming’ for help. Ever an unhelpful soul, I like it that way.

So, a few facts; I’m Swedish. I’ve lived in England for over a quarter century, and yes, that makes me really old. These days the broomstick cupboard can be found in Stockport, which I generally explain as Manchester’s Mölndal, if you think Göteborg. It’s famous for hats. Like Alice’s Mad Hatter, hat makers went mad because they were poisoned by something in the hat making process. Very nice.

I drive my family mad. They are the Resident IT Consultant, who despite being born in Scotland can say ‘koav’ which is halländska for korv (sausage). It’s Offspring, consisting of Son and Daughter, who these days are so old that I find myself borrowing other people’s children for author interviews whenever necessary. Their bookish exploits get milked for all that they are worth on these pages. Son is a Philip Pullman nerd on the highest level. Daughter loves several authors, and to prevent you all having a fight, I won’t mention names. But you know who you are.

I mostly write tongue-in-cheek comments about book related things, do reviews of books and interview many of my beloved authors. Bookwitch set out to be about children’s books only, but there is a fair amount of crime in these parts, too. My list of Aspie books has suggestions for books for readers with Asperger Syndrome.

Last but not least, little sister CultureWitch goes on and on about all sorts of things that are not books.