Norway — Books as far as the eye can see.

I read a lot of books. Aside from a brief fanfic stint in my early teens, I’ve largely left writing one to the experts. I don’t have the time, the original ideas, or the patience to put thoughts to paper and then see it through to an actual published book. Hats off to the people who do, though, we wouldn’t all be here listening to me blather on about books if you didn’t.

All that said, though, I know at least at a basic level what it takes to go from a Word document of jumbled plot points, character sheets, place descriptions, and hand drawn maps to succeeding (or, more probably, failing) at getting something published. It takes up-front money, a lot of patience, and a lot of luck. Publishers don’t like to take chances on things that seem too out-of-the-ordinary, and so a lot of truly valuable books die on the vine. Sometimes a book gets published and then, for any number of reasons, goes overlooked by the general public and the author is politely shown the door by the agency, even if what they’ve published is valuable. Let’s not get into the gamble that is publishing a book (or, several books as it usually takes) and then actually making money from doing so. Or, heaven forbid, making enough money to live off of. Perish the thought.

I ran into a little factoid on Reddit a few weeks/months/I don’t remember how long ago about Norway that I didn’t know before. Perhaps people who are more worldly than I am already knew this, but I am only mortal and can’t get to all the places I would like to visit in my lifetime on a part-time library aide paycheck. Norway is actually extremely friendly, extremely positive, and extremely supportive of authors, books, and reading. The single factoid I ran across that led me on this journey of discovery was that Norway’s Arts Council actually purchases 1,000 copies of every Norwegian book published and donates them to libraries across their country. The idea behind this is to encourage Norwegian authors to publish books, to safeguard Norwegian cultural items, and to provide authors something of a reliable wage for their efforts. Being a library worker myself and seeing how poorly libraries in America are treated in terms of funding and demands, the idea that the nation is so supportive of libraries and authors is phenomenal.

Some additional pro-book factoids about Norway I uncovered include that it boasts a 100% adult literacy level, 93% of adults in Norway report reading at least one book last year, and 40% of those having read more than 10. When compared with the literacy rate in the United States (79% as of last year) or the number of adults who read just a single book in a year (72% in 2018, I was unable to locate statistics for 2019) I found those statistics fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging. At my small library, movies and video games are checked out far more than a book, any book at all. As someone who really loves reading and who tries to encourage everyone to read, it’s somewhat disheartening to see. I just want people to enjoy my hobby, man.

Another super interesting literacy-forward factoid about Norway is that there are so many books, bookshops, and book-minded people there that there are many small towns that boast more books than people. Mundal, in western Norway, has a population of 280 people (you really have to love your neighbors there), but contains more than 150,000 books. Free libraries, book shelves, and book shops line its streets. Most books sold in this town are used, as the residents believe strongly in preserving old books in an increasingly digital age. As someone who almost exclusively buys used books, this is an effort I support.

So, I suppose in closing, if you want to visit someplace as bookish as you are, consider Norway. If Norway wants to sponsor me doing a travelogue from your beautiful country, call me! 🙂

Source links, for additional reading:

Why Norway is the best place in the world to be a writer

The scintillating Norwegian publishing scene

Book towns are made for book lovers

This picturesque Norwegian town has so many more books than residents that roadside libraries and bookshelves line the streets

Three books from my to-read list.

There was a time not so long ago when I thought the only books I liked were sci-fi books and fantasy books. I was convinced — utterly convinced! — that there was nothing for me in any other genre out there. Why would I want to read about real life, or even fictitious real life, when I could read about, I dunno, dragons or space ships? This was a fact of the universe that could not be changed, until I had a supervisor several years ago recommend a fiction book to me (The One-in-a-Million Boy actually). I read it in like two days, and boy did it ever broaden my literary horizons.

Today I have a to-read list on Goodreads that’s 253 items long and growing almost daily. It’s become more of a shortlist I pick from when I need something to read more than a list I have a feasible chance of working through in my lifetime. I’ve got a little bit of everything featured on this shortlist, fiction and nonfiction alike. Topics are all over the board, as I quickly discovered that even mundane sounding topics can be super interesting with the right writer.

I thought maybe I’d do a feature once a month (or twice a month?) where I take three random books off my to-read list and talk about what got them there. Maybe I’ll even sell you on some of these books too.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan & Pierre Rigoulot

I discovered last year that I have a particular fascination with North Korean memoirs, nonfiction accounts, and other stories from this reclusive country. It’s tragic what the government has done to its people and its country in its blind isolationism. I’ve read five other memoirs from escapees and other perspectives into North Korea, and I’m always struck by how mistreated its citizens are, through abject poverty, terrible living conditions, starvation, work camps, the list goes on. It’s really sad. When I read those other five books last year, I read them one after the other and needed to take a break from the topic when I was done. This one will be my return to it, eventually.

The Diary of Lady Murasaki by Murasaki Shikibu

This one is an interesting inclusion on my list. Way back in the way back of 2017 I read an adaptation of Journey to the West (where the Monkey King character you see in many other books, movies, anime, and video games these days originates). I liked it well enough, but one of the suggestions Goodreads offered up when I was done with it was this interesting person. Murasaki Shikibu was the author of The Tale of Genji, commonly thought to be the world’s first novel, and written sometime before 1021 AD. Murasaki is not her real name as her real name is unknown. This diary was written by her before she completed The Tale of Genji and covers the period of time she spent at the imperial court. She sounds like a fascinating person, as she was fluent at reading and writing, unheard of for women in that time period.

Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall

Nautical adventure! I’m not sure there’s much more that needs to be said. I’m a big fan of the water, of boats, and of adventures, so it seems only natural to include this on my list of things to read. We had a discussion about nautical books in the Book Lover’s Club Discord server I’m in last month, and this was one of the (many) that I added that night. Other books added that night include Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian, and Richiard Bolitho – Midshipman by Alexander Kent and Douglas Reeman. Some of these are heavier on the lingo and the details than others, but I don’t mind. Adventure books are cool.

So there you go, three books off my to-read list! I’m sure I have stories for all 200+ on the list, so I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic again!

I know why the wind-up bird sings.

I admit it, I’m a big Murakami nerd. I know, I can hear your eyes rolling from here, but I promise I’m not the pretentious type that only reads it in public with the cover prominently displayed. I don’t dramatically adjust my glasses (much) and start talking about the symbolism of wells and water and how everything in the book has meaning even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of Murakami’s more obscure reference and allusions go over my rural public school head.

But I still love Murakami.

I had been putting off reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for a year or so, for reasons I don’t really recall anymore. I added it to my Definitely Read These in 2020 shelf on Goodreads, and decided to read it over the quarantine period, mostly because everyone in my book club Discord server told me how good it was. I’m very glad I listened.

At its core, the book’s message is about avoiding stagnation in your life. The main character (whose name is mentioned repeatedly but is still forgettable, by design I think) leads a mundane, aimless life. He’s jobless, without goals or ambitions, and doesn’t seem very keen on changing that. He’s not lazy exactly, maybe adrift is a better word? He’s married too, but his marriage seems passionless and emotionless. A phonecall (one of several, Murakami uses the telephone as a literary device) sets him on a new course, and most of the book is devoted to him being put into increasingly uncomfortable and bizarre circumstances as he tries to hold on desperately to his stagnant life. The book’s climax comes when he realizes that he *has* to move forward, and to do that he has to confront all the things that had been threatening him up to that point. It’s only then that his life, stagnant and unmoving up until then, finally starts moving on.

Of course, Murakami does what Murakami does and frosts that core message with beautiful imagery, themes, allusions, and a whole host of characters that really double as something (or someone) else in his life. There’s a lot to unpack in his books, and he is one of the only writers that I would willingly re-read (I never re-read books, truth). His writing style is super unique, and I find it super compelling as well. Either you really click with it, or you really don’t.

This ended up on my list of favorites for this year. 5 stars, would definitely read again.