...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Leisure reading

Update added, 26 September 2007

Another long-delayed post.

Sometime early last summer, I told Christianne that I would post about my summer project. I planned to read as many Swedish children's books as I can, which I thought was a good way to get into Swedish culture and to understand, to a certain degree, how it was to have been a Scandinavian child of the 80's.

I myself have so many childhood memories of reading: at home (instead of doing homework), in class (as Cheryl would testify to, heheh), and sometimes even, antisocially, at reunions and class meetings. I had a collection of children's books whose first-time borrowers also got a long letter from me describing what they could absolutely not do to the book, like writing on the pages, folding the edges, and leaving food marks. The reading slowed in tempo in college where leisure reading was replaced by coursework, but even then I reserved summers especially for reading the fiction backlog – and what a backlog! We seem to have the habit of hoarding books. Ultimately, I guess that's the biggest reason for pushing myself to this summer reading project: if I don't want to spend the rest of my summers here reading the likes of Shakespeare, which the staple at the English section at the library, then I might as well get used to reading Swedish books.

I've advanced one step with Swedish class, where I feel I can take up more "serious" books, but anyhow, it doesn't make the experience of reading children's books less enjoyable. In fact it's another kind of cultural experience.

On my reading list, for example: Hatt-Stugan, by Elsa Beskow. This is a book for very small children, but gives you some minutes of fun nonetheless. It's meant to be read out loud, and some words in the poetry are missing which you have to figure out yourself. In that way, books like these are good way to practice Swedish pronunciation and simple vocabulary, but it might just insult your intelligence to read too many of these types of books. The drawings, however, are beautiful. In fact, Elsa Beskow is well quite well-known for these drawings depicting children and nature, that is, gnome children and children with strawberry hats, who live in houses that look like mushrooms and hats, etc. She is also Sweden's best known children's book author, if you don't count Astrid Lindgren, who writes for bigger children to young adults.

Speaking of Astrid Lindgren, I borrowed her Kajsa Kavat (a compilation of short stories that all deal with children), and – of course, if speaking of culture – some Pippi Långstrump books, including the first one where Pippi moves in to her house Villa Villekula and meets the neighboring kids Tommy and Annika. It's all very amusing, and the child in me giggled inside at the small silly things (Pippi can lift her horse across the fence with her bare hands and – like me – sleeps with her feet propped on pillows). The chapters are not necessarily connected with one another however, so override your adult expectations of a straight plot and just read on.

I also borrowed a Pippi Longstocking picture book, translated to Pippi Longstocking on the Island of Kurrekurredutt, which is actually a compilation of selected chapters from a thicker Pippi book, but illustrated. Here Pippi, Annika and Tommy go on a winter holiday to meet Pippi's dad, Captain Longstocking, who is the tribal chieftain in an island in the Pacific. The language here is so amusingly politically-incorrect, but hey – it was published in '48! Speaking of culture though, this particular story about the Kurrekurredutian islanders is not without controversy even to this day. There's talk of a "racist" ice cream (from the same umbrella company that owns Selecta) called Nogger Black, whose promotion included the distribution of the Kurrekurredutt story in audiobook form there Astrid Lindgren reads "neger" off the book about 40 times. Other previous debates on the use of the word made the publishers decide to edit the book and make it more PC in 2004.

Because of the boat work last summer, I was only able to finish a handful of books and had to return some unfinished. The last book I read in my project, however, was a promotion from the previous picture-books and light reads. Astrid Lindgren, as I mentioned, also made books for young adults, one of which was Bröderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart). It's about the adventures of two boys Karl and Jonathan in Nangijala, a world in the afterlife. It's not exactly "heaven" there, they discover. Eventually, some evil creeps into Nangijala and the two brothers get involved in a rebel group against a tyrant Tengil who tries to terrorize the land. It's classic adventure between good and evil, getting out of your comfort zones – think Hobbits and the Shire – where characters discover that they can be brave, and in the end have to say goodbye to each other. Think of the elves leaving Middle Earth and the Pevensies not being able to go back into Narnia... Isn't there something really touching about these types of stories?

Anyway, I think the reading project did me good, and I took it up just in time before starting Swedish class. I've discovered that once you take up books you never thought you could understand – and understand them! – the natural step is to conquer yourself another step and take up even longer and more challenging reads (which is an ongoing project for me right now). I actually feel like I was previously illiterate and suddenly discovered the joys of reading (which is true in a sense, when we speak of Swedish), and I hadn't felt this triumphant over reading books in a long time -- not since reading Count of Monte Cristo and surprising myself that I could read "serious" classics! Anyway, I'm reliving my gradeschool excitement of going to bookstores and thinking that I wanted to pick up and read everything in sight. They're really not kidding when say that that reading "opens doors," because now I don't feel like I'm bound to the library's Shakespeare shelf anymore.

Update! I just can't wait to finish this week's assignment for school – writing a paper and reading the required texts for next week – so that I can continue reading my second novel for Swedish class. Reading this entry by Peachy didn't help me to be patient. Think of all the good books out there just waiting to be read!

Read: Marie Hermansson's "Mannen under trappan," a story of paranoia and crime. One wonders throughout the book which events are real and which ones belong to Frederik's (the lead character's) realistic nightmares. I'm so glad I chose this book instead of a book translated from English, because the descriptions are artfully written. Reminds me of Paul Auster books where you can almost feel the characters' dread and desperation as you read the book through.

Reading: Vibeke Olsson's "Molnfri Bombnatt", a historical fiction that takes place in World War II Germany, and (eventually) Sweden. Hedwig, a German who escaped to Sweden after the war, tells of her love story with Wilhelm, an SS-man, and other dramatic happenings in her youth. Vibeke Olsson is not sparse on the historical facts either without sounding like a textbook. She successfully sets up the milieu where Hedwig's personal story is told. But – oh well! – I just stopped smack in the middle of the book to complete my school requirements. Just when I got convinced that this book would have been a successful tele-novella that I would have loved to watch!


Blogger Christianne said...

I was under the impression you were all done with Swedish classes! What level are you in now? I didn't enroll in the autumn SAS Grund evening class, work just keeping me too busy :( but I'm still reading Bröderna Hardy books that I bought from Tradera, hehe

Hmm, I've never read an Elsa Beskow book, maybe I should borrow some from the library (which, strangely enough, we've never used even if it's so near). Annika's still fascinated by the Max books but I'm afraid na panay kapilyuhan ang matututunan niya (e.g. Max klättrar upp på bordet; Lisa smäller Max, Max smäller Lisa!)

11:11 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Heheh... Lisa smäller Max, Max smäller Lisa! At least, from a gender perspective, they're equal. Heheh.

Hihi, yeah I'm also in SAS. I was never able to take up Swedish before at Komvux (except for about five boring SFI nights), because I was busy with "real" school. But right now I'm enrolled in the intensive class, and hopefully by the end of this semester, I can graduate from "grade school" and get on to Svenska A. I'm excited, hihi!

11:29 AM

Blogger Christianne said...

Hehe, buti ka pa malapit na grumaduate! Tsk tsk, at the rate I'm going I'll be stuck in Grund forever.

12:53 AM


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