A selection of brilliant books

Mountain sunset

It may be because I spend too much time musing in front of my bookshelves rather than actually reading my books but I really enjoy rearranging my bookshelves (to a moderate extent of course). My library (that is, the part of my living room where my bookcases live) is not large enough for the books to actually need to be sorted in alphabetical order and as I’m the primary user I instead try sort them in ways that makes sense to me. Mostly that means that I place books that I feel somehow belong together adjacent to each other in the bookshelves but there are often multiple interesting ways to that. My  books by Lewis Carroll for example give a different impression next to my books about the history of mathematics than they would have if I had placed them among my children’s books. That also means that every time I reorganize my bookshelves I get to see some of my books in a new light.

Moving is of course the major reason for re-sorting a library. After one move I placed all my “books I find brilliant by woman authors” in age order on the same shelf and could suddenly see a line of great authors stretching back to Sei Shōnagon. Rather than individual authors they became part of a great history.

As in any categorizing effort I of course ended up with multiple difficult decisions. What if I loved one book by an author (A Room of Ones Own) but struggled with another (Mrs Dalloway) should I place one of them on the brilliant books shelf and the other in the general fiction section or prioritize keeping them together (and if so, where)? Should I include children’s books? What with books that could be placed on this shelf but also really should be placed in one of my other categories? To solve these issues I allowed myself to make some rather arbitrary decisions. Woolf and Sayers got one work each on my canon bookshelf with their other works shelved in other places whereas I kept all my Tove Jansson’s adult fiction together for now. I excluded children’s books not to overcrowd the shelf although that sadly excludes Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren which is otherwise a key work in my personal book canon. The final result may not be my ultimate personal book canon but it is close enough for now.

These are the books that currently live on my brilliant books bookshelf:

  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
  • The collected works by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  • Selected poems by Emily Dickinson
  • Gösta Berlings’s saga by Selma Lagerlöf
  • A Room of Ones Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Summer Book and various short stories collections by Tove Jansson
  • Mörkret som ger glädjen djup and Love Story of the Century by Märta Tikkanen
  • The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Bloody Chamber and other stories by Angela Carter
  • Kastanjeallén by Dea Trier Mørch

I find it very satisfying that whenever the world tries to tell me about a literary canon filled by male authors with only the rare woman scattered in it I can look in my own bookshelf and see an unbroken line of brilliant female authors and know that there is more than one truth.

This blog post was inspired by a discussion on Calmgrove’s blog about various ways to link different books. I was also inspired by this article about the art of unpacking a library from The Paris Review.


Midwinter reading recommendations


I once brought some Jack London novels to a remote Arctic area thinking that nothing could be more appropriate than sitting in my own tent reading about the cold, hard lives of dogs, wolves and people in the Arctic. It turned out I was wrong. When I actually lay there in my sleeping bag I wanted nothing more than the second-hand warmth of Jane Austen’s novels (I had brought a well-filled e-reader so fortunately that was an option). I realized that actual cold requires books that will keep you warm and comfortable (and this even though my visit was in the summer time so no real hardship).

I thus suggest that the following winter-themed books all benefit from hot cocoa, a fire in the fire-place and a winter storm safely on the other side of a 3-glass window.


Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

This novel tells the story of the time when the Moomintroll unexpectedly woke too early from his winter sleep and of his explorations of the cold, white, winter world outside. Although officially a children’s book it is well worth reading for adults too.

Sun storm (UK: The Savage Altar) by Åsa Larsson

If you are looking for a classic Scandinavian crime novel Åsa Larsson is my favourite. Her first book, Sun storm, takes place in Kiruna (north Sweden) in midwinter so expect plenty of cold.


The Expedition by Bea Uusma

This book follows the ill-fated Andrée expedition towards the North Pole and the author’s long and personal quest to find out what actually happened to it. This is a surprisingly thrilling history and deservedly won a major Swedish non-fiction award in 2013.

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World is one of the classic Antarctic memoirs. It is written by one of the younger, surviving members of Scott’s South Pole expedition (not part of the final South Pole team). The fact that it was written by a junior expedition member makes it perhaps more personal than most memoirs from this time. (This book can be found for free on Project Gutenberg, I recommend the illustrated version).


Closing the books

Map indicating the countries I've read from in 2017

Author’s country of origin

In which I summarize my year of reading.

I’m fairly sure that I’m the only one really interested in the details of my reading during 2017 but the ending of the year provide a perfect excuse to indulge in charts and statistics and so I will.

In total I read 99 books during 2017. Most of these (56%) were by UK or US authors but I managed to read books by authors from 21 countries* which I’m reasonably proud of, although I failed my ultimate goal of 30 countries. It is however embarrassing that I didn’t manage to read a single book by an author from the African continent so I will have to do something about that in 2018.

Author’s gender

Out of the 99 books I read, 15 were re-reads, 35 were bought this year and 22 were e-books (mostly from Project Gutenberg or the library). 52 of them were in English, 38 in Swedish and 9 in Norwegian. I found that I read books by roughly as many men (49%) as women (44%) and published during 20 different decades. So all in all a reasonably varied reading list and I discovered some great books during 2017.

I also began blogging more regularly and published 16 blog posts between May and December 2017. (My very first post was already in November 2016 but then it took until May before I wrote my second post and the blog really got started). The most popular one was my Classics Club book list but my favourite one talked about literary whales.

For anyone actually reading this post, thank you! I’m grateful for every reader and hope to keep posting a few posts per month through 2018.

Number of books read per decade published

*I counted Nils-Aslak Valkeapää to Sápmi rather than Finland so it wasn’t just countries.

It is the season for lists


In which I make various lists of my favorite 2017 reads.

A great thing about late December is looking back on the year and consider memorable events, or in the case of a book blog, reads.

Another great thing is how easy it makes it to find a topic for a blog post.

I thus here present the mandatory “best reads of the year” lists. Only one of the books is actually published in 2017 but all of them are great.

20-21th century novels

  • The Love Story of the Century (Århundradets kärlekssaga) by Märta Tikkanen. Why haven’t I read Märta Tikkanen before? I knew it was a Finnish classic (written in Swedish) about a passionate but deeply dysfunctional marriage but I somehow never got around to read it before now. It is both beautiful and thought-provoking and makes some very sharp observations about love and relationships. It’s written as poetry so I’m not sure if there is an English translation that does it justice but it’s probably the best book I read in 2017.
  • Berlin Poplars (Berlinerpoplene) by Anne Ragde. Anne Ragde is another new author for me and another instant favorite. This novel about a dysfunctional Norwegian family was a best-seller upon publication but for some reason I never got around to read it before now. It was great! The characters are slightly cliched but given sufficient depth and written with a warmth and a humor which made them very memorable. It has been translated into English and I really recommend it!
  • Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon. Elizabeth Moon is my go-to author when I want a well-written SF page-turner with interesting characters that actually evolve through the series. Perhaps not as memorable as the previous ones on the list but it’s what I read when I don’t want a challenge, just something entertaining and good. This one is her latest novel and build upon events in her Vatta’s War series.

Pre-20th century

I’ve read some great pre-20th century classics this year, partly though the Classics Club reading challenge. The four I list here were by far my favorite ones. They have all been discussed previously on this blog.

  • The Queen of Spades and other stories by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin is competing with Tolstoy for the spot as my favorite Russian author and this collection included his best known short stories. A great read!
  • The Poetic Edda. The Poetic Edda is a collection of epic poems about Norse gods and heroes. Being Swedish I sort of knew many of the legends before but this was the first time I read any of the source material (except small excerpts). It was a lot more readable than I had thought and I expect to re-read at last parts of it.
  • Gösta Berling’s saga by Selma Lagerlöf. A Swedish classic centered around a community in Värmland (west Sweden) during the 1820s. Each chapter is a partly independent story, covering various people and episodes. Taken separately they are the kind of half-mythical stories I could picture being told in 19th century Värmland  but Selma Lagerlöf brilliantly weaves them together into a rich portrait of the region.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I hadn’t planned to read Moby Dick but I happened to get plenty of reading time and limited reading options. I’m glad I did, I really enjoyed it. Reading it just after finishing “Twenty thousand leagues under the sea” also provided some interesting contrast.

Best non-fiction

I didn’t read very much non-fiction in 2017 but much of what I did read was excellent.

  • Country Boy by Richard Hillyer. A quiet memoir of the childhood of a boy in an English farm-labor family and his longing for reading and learning. Lory at The Emerald City Book Review made a great review of it.
  • Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski. I hadn’t read anything by Jenny Diski before but I certainly plan to now. It is partly a memoir of a terrible childhood but Jenny Diski is far too good an author to make it the normal cliched type of memoir.
  • Signatur about Olaf Storø. A personal portrait of my favorite artist of course I loved it!

Best re-reads

And finally honorable mentions of my best re-reads in 2017.

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Summer Book (Sommarboken) by Tove Jansson
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh

Have you read any of the books on these list? What did you think?

Reading challenges -status report and plans for 2018


During 2017 I attempted to follow the 30-20-20-10 reading challenge, that is, to read books from 30 countries, by 20 male and 20 female authors and from 10 decades. The decades proved to be the easiest part of the challenge, I finished them already in January and by now I’ve read books from 20 decades. Reading books by 20 men and 20 women also happened without any real effort, I was finished with this part of the challenge in August without really trying. So in the end it was only the 30 countries that actually worked as a challenge but there I struggled. With a few days left of 2017 I’ve only read books from 21 countries. The challenge still worked in that it made me read a lot more broadly than I normally would but I will need to use 2018 too to finish it.

The other challenge I started in 2017, the classics club, has also been a real treat. Here the challenge is to read and blog about at least 50 classics within 5 years. As I started my list on October 22nd and have already finished my first 5 books on my list I believe I’m well on my way. This challenge has been a lot of fun and also comes with a great community so I look forward to continuing with it during 2018.

Challenges for 2018

  • Finish the 30-20-20-10 challenge (read 9 books from countries I didn’t read any book from in 2017).
  • Read 12 books from countries I rarely read from (countries I read no more than 1 book from in 2017, this mini-challenge will naturally overlap substantially with the 30-20-20-10 challenge).
  • Read and blog about at least 12 books from my Classics club reading list.
  • Read at least as many of my unread books (including new books) as I buy in 2018. (I may have cheated and just bought eight new books with a January delivery which won’t count so I will have a head-start on this one).
  • Join the Back to the classics reading challenge which should overlap nicely with my reading for the classics club and provide even more great discussion on the classics. Considering my other challenges I don’t want to put too much pressure on this one but I want to finish at least 6 of the 12 categories and hope to do most of them.



The Classics Club: Book list

DSC_0166 (2)

Considering my struggles to finish the book challenge I have already started it can be questioned whether I really need to participate in another reading challenge. However The Classics Club, consisting of members who all aim to read and blog about 50 classics within 5 years, seemed too fun to miss.

In my own list I have prioritized books that I own (18), especially those I haven’t read (5) or haven’t finished (8). Nordic authors feature heavily (20). I have tried to avoid rereads (thus no Jane Austen) but have included a few novels I haven’t read since I was a teenager (3) and a few I have read recently but wanted an excuse to read again (The Pillow Book, Brothers Lionheart and Gaudy Night). Overall I have tried to find a good balance between books I want to read and books I want to have read.

Book list
1 de Beauvoir, Simone: The Second Sex
2 Bellman, Carl Michael: Fredmans epistlar (Fredman’s epistles)
3 Boye, Karin: Kallocain
4 Bulgakov, Mikhail: The Master and Margarita
5 Carter, Angela: Night at the Circus
6 Cather, Willa: My Antonia
7 Alighieri, Dante: Vita nuova
8 Eliot, George: Silas Marner
9 Eliot, George: Middlemarch
10 Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
11 Fogelström, Per Anders: Mina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams)
12 von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang: Faust
13 Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The House of the Seven Gables
14 Ibsen, Henrik: Peer Gynt
15 Jansson, Tove: Sent i november (Moominvalley in November)
16 Jansson, Tove: Pappan och Havet (Moominpappa at Sea)
17 Kushner, Tony: Angels in America
18 Lagerlöf, Selma: Gösta Berlings saga (Gösta Berling’s Saga)
19 Lagerlöf, Selma: Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils)
20 Lindgren, Astrid: Brothers Lionheart
21 Linna, Väinö: Okänd soldat (The Unknown Soldier)
22 Lönnrot, Elias: Kalevala
23 Moberg, Vilhelm: Utvandrarna (The Emigrants)
24 Moberg, Vilhelm: Din stund på jorden (A Time on Earth)
25 Morrison, Toni: Beloved
26 Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
27 Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar
28 Rhys, Jean: Wide Sargasso Sea
29 Rushdie, Salman: Midnight’s Children
30 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: The Little Prince
31 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: Wind, Sand and Stars
32 Sayers, Dorothy: Gaudy Night
33 Scott, Robert Falcon: Scott’s last expedition
34 Sei Shōnagon: The Pillow Book
35 Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
36 Sturlasson, Snorre: Heimskringla
37 Thoreau, Henry David: Walden
38 Thorvall, Kerstin: Det mest förbjudna
39 Tikkanen, Märta: Arnaía kastad i havet
40 Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
41 Tunström, Göran: Juloratoriet (The Christmas Oratorio )
42 Undset, Sigrid: Kransen (The Wreath, Kristin Lavransdatter triology, part one)
43 Walker, Alice: The Color Purple
44 Den poetiska Eddan (Poetic Edda)

Anthologies etc.
45 Kafka, Franz: Metamorphosis and other stories
46 Lie, Jonas: Fortellinger i utvalg (Selected stories)
47 Mansfield, Katherine: Short story collection
48 Pushkin, Alexander: The Queen of spades and other stories
49 Rumi: Selected poems
50 Selected Bible books: Psalms, Revelation

Goal date
20th of October 2022.

Bonus classics
Cooper, Susan: Over Sea, Under Stone
Khvoshchinskaya, Sofia: City folk and country folk
Melville,Herman: Moby Dick
Verne, Jules: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea


Origins of the books I will be reading as part of the challenge (for some of the older authors this was not trivial to determine and some of those were therefore rather arbitrarily assigned a country). There clearly will be some blank spots in my reading also after this challenge.

Reading challenge – 6 months progress report


I decided to participate in the 30-20-20-10 reading challenge this year. That is, to read books from 30 countries, by 20 men and 20 women and from 10 different decades. The goal is to finish it this year but if not I will continue on the same challenge until I’ve finished it.

As I expected the easiest was the 10 decades goal. I usually mix old and more modern literature and had finished this goal already in late January. Currently I’ve listed books from 14 decades, with 2000-09 being the decade I’ve read the most books from (9), followed by 1920-29 and 2010-17 (5 each).

Reading books by both men and women is also going well. Currently I’ve read books by 19 women and 14 men so I expect to finish this goal too in 2017.

As I feared the countries have provided much more of a challenge. I’ve only read books from 12 different countries so far. UK dominates my list (18 books) followed by the US (8), Sweden (4), Finland (3), Russia, Belgium and Norway at 2 each and Denmark, Canada, Lebanon, Colombia and China with one each. Hopefully I will have read books from at least 20 different countries before the end of the year.

I like this reading challenge as it pushes me to read outside of my comfort zone but it may be a bit too ambitious for me. When I have finished it, whether it is this year or the next, I will probably chose a simpler reading goal with the same aim.

Best this year so far (only including first-time reads)