Friday, August 14, 2009

get caught reading: Sweden

Whenever I am in a public place, I like to take note of what I see people reading. Books, magazines, newspapers—doesn't matter which medium, I'm curious about which title, which author, which issue. This is especially true when I travel, and I am tickled whenever I see men, women, children reading in planes, trains, and automobiles...and on ferries, as was the case on our recent trip to Sweden.

On our seven-hour flight from Chicago to Stockholm, I saw fewer people reading books than playing sudoku puzzles and watching movies, both on the in-flight video system. But, on the three-hour ferry ride from Nynasham to Visby, almost everyone was reading. No least one in five (and there were 700 people on board this ferry). I saw Swedish translations of all the Stephanie Meyer books, as well as the original Swedish versions of Mari Jungstedt's crime novels. Plus there were many other books whose titles were unrecognizable because they were in Swedish. The sight of all these people reading was so encouraging and heartwarming!

I have a few ideas about why fewer people were reading on the plane, one of which is, why bother to dig a book out of your carry-on, which is inconveniently stuffed under the seat in front of you when you can play games and watch TV and movies on the screen in front of you. It's also possible that more passengers were reading, but I may have made my survey at a point in the flight when they had moved on to a new activity? Not scientific, just guesses. Though if I still worked in publishing I would make a greater study of reading patterns on planes and trains...commuters are a captive reading audience.

We only stopped into a few bookstores. My favorite was a fantastic sci-fi bookstore in Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town. It carried a lot of English-language books, but I had fun trying to decypher Swedish translations. I love to see how jacket art is re-imagined for a foreign audience. Piles of Stephanie Meyer's books everywhere, in Swedish and in English.

Here is a rack in Visby's information center, just a stone's throw from the ferry station:

Clearly Swedish crime novels are popular, especially Mari Jungstedt's books, which isn't surprising since they're set in Visby. She has at least six titles in Sweden, but only three, so far, in the U.S. Anna Jansson's books (cut off, apologies)—the cover art, at any rate—look interesting. However, they are not published here. In fact, I couldn't find any English translations. I wonder why? Hello, publishers. Also, I didn't see quite as many of Stieg Larsson's Girl Who... books. Since they've been popular for years already in Sweden, perhaps there's little need to put them front and center. Again, just guessing.

I've got a hankering for some Swedish crime novels. Stieg Larsson, Mari Jungstedt, Henning Menkell, and others are on the stack.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

currently reading

I am just back from a ten-day vacation. Three days later, I’m really more jetlagged than I thought I would be, but I plan to soldier on because there are too many books on my TBR pile not to keep going. Plus, it’s August now, and do you know what that means? The publishing stork will begin dropping Fall ’09 new titles imminently. Here’s what I’m reading now:

~ The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John le Carre)
As I was winnowing down books to bring on this trip, John strongly encouraged my to include Spy. He’d just listened to an unabridged audio, enjoying it so much that he’s currently on a major le Carre spree. “Besides,” he said—and I quote—“You’ll finish it on the plane.” Thus motivated, I read about half of Spy on the long flight from Chicago to Stockholm (seven hours). Perhaps I could have finished the book, it’s certainly riveting enough but it’s far from a page turner. In fact, the thing I like so much about Spy is that the plot is intricate and the characters are complex. I’m getting bogged down by all the flipping between chapters that I have to do to make sure I fully grasp what’s happening. And, I’m not disappointed—this modern classic is truly not what I expected. In a nutshell, the plot follows British agent Alec Leamas, who is called into service for one more assignment, all of which is drawn from le Carre’s career in international espionage.

~ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
It is such a treat to do my first re-read of Harry Potter, especially since I am reading aloud to the most captive imaginable audience—my children! I read HP on our trip while laying over between flights and while on the three-hour ferry ride from Visby back to Stockholm and while waiting in restaurants for food to be delivered. I think Sorcerer's Stone is my favorite of the seven books. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the experience of meeting Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Snape, the Dursleys, and others. The rich world of Hogwarts is, well, magical—the houses, Quidditch, Diagon Alley, to name a few. Plus, the first book particularly is less bloated than books 4-7. Seriously, Rowling could have used an editor. I’m excited to on the Harry Potter journey with my boys!