If I were to define a Classic a key characteristic would be their ability to leave a trace in the reader and/or culture at large. Influencing people, later works or even the language itself in their wake. Rarely is that clearer than when it comes to the classical mythologies. The Norse myths have named the days of the week (in the Scandinavian languages and in English), formed proverbs still in use ( such as “Där ölet går in går vettet ut” roughly “where the beer goes in, sanity leaves”) and continue to influence works through the centuries (Wagner, Tolkien, Marvel, Gaiman).
The Poetic Edda (also called the Elder Edda) is a collection of epical poems about Norse gods and heroes. During the 13th century these myths were collected and written down in Codex Regius. This text now form the primary document for The Poetic Edda but other poems of a similar type and age are often included.
I got the Poetic Edda in Christmas gift last year and have been reading it on and off since then. So it has been another slow read but unlike Metamorphosis and other stories I have mostly enjoyed it. While it is hardly something to read from cover to cover in one setting it was mostly very readable. The poems range from high to low, from funny to bloody to tragic and back again. I might not read the whole again but I will certainly revisit some parts.
I read it in a Swedish translation (Den poetiska Eddan) by Lars Lönnroth which included helpful notes and introductions to the texts. It was on my list of 50 classics to read with the Classics Club.
There is an English translation available for free at Project Gutenberg but I found that it lacked much of the lyrical qualities of the text. So if you want to read it I would suggest looking for a more modern translation. If you want to try just a piece of it I would recommend Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva) which is reasonably brief, covers (at least in passing) much of the mythological framework and generally is one of the best parts (and probably the most famous).
Although the traditional Swedish way of celebrating the Swedish National Day is by ignoring it, I though I should make an exception and list a few books that may serve as an introduction to Swedish literature. I made a rather narrow selection this time so I may come back and expand on this topic later.
Sweden’s probably most influential author is Astrid Lindgren, best known for her books about Pippi Longstocking. Her books (and the TV-series made from them) have been loved by Swedish children for decades and form an integral part of a typical Swedish childhood. Some familiarity with her books is thus useful for anyone trying to learn about Swedish culture. For an adult reader I would recommend Ronia the Robber’s daugther (Ronja Rövardotter) or the, slightly more controversial, Brothers Lionheart (Bröderna Lejonhjärta, my favourite) as good starting points.
For classical Swedish literature Vilhelm Moberg, Per Anders Fogelström and the Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlöf are all good choices. Vilhelm Moberg’s series The Emigrants (Utvandrarna), about the Swedish emigration to America, and Per Anders Fogelström’s City of My dreams (Mina drömmars stad), about working-class people in Stockholm, are also good introductions to 19th century Sweden. A few of Selma Lagerlöf’s novels are available in English at Project Gutenberg.
For Swedish crime I would recommend the novels by Åsa Larsson or Henning Mankell. I particularly enjoy the well-captured north Swedish setting (Kiruna) in Åsa Larsson’s novels.
It’s still only May but the temperatures for the last few days have equalled those of the height of summer. Fortunately I got to spend a few days by the sea, lying on a warm rock in the sun, eating (imported) raspberries and reading.
With summer thus officially here it is time to collect my summer reading. Most important is The Summer Book (Sommarboken) by Tove Jansson. In a series of loosely connected episodes we follow a young girl and an old grandmother through a summer on an island in the Finnish archipelago. Often funny and always down to earth, it paints a beautiful but melancholy picture of life and summers. I try to re-read it every summer.
If one book by Tove Jansson is not enough I’m happy to continue with Finn Family Moomintroll (Trollkarlens hatt) which follows the summer adventures of the Moomin family.
Otherwise my summer reading tend to be dominated by lazy reads. Battered copies of cosy crime novels (mostly Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers), suitable for reading in the shadow under a tree or during a long journey.
Best combined with: Ice-cold elderflower cordial and fresh, sun-warmed, berries.
A review of “The summer book” can be found here