Monday, March 01, 2010

Books, Guilt, and Akvavit

I have a problem. I read a lot. The reading isn’t the problem; it’s the books that are the problem. Mostly because I don’t like to use the library. I’ve been like this since I was a little kid. I like to own the books. I like to buy the books. I like to have the books near me. I like to buy books for other people. In fact, I find every gift giving opportunity the perfect time to force books upon people I care about.

But it has come to the point that I feel guilty when buying books. They pile up on the couch, on my shelves, beside my bed, on the floor. I read them all, eventually, but they keep collecting. There are times when I can fight through my problem. Months go by and not a single new book passes through my doors. I have such a back log of previously purchased books that it doesn’t infringe on my reading habits.

Other times though, other times I struggle. Once a year, every year, in Sweden I am challenged. Because every year in February, all of Sweden has a book sale. Literally (see what I did there?). The entire country has a book sale. A bokrea if you will. It’s incredible and horribly overwhelming for the bibliophile in me. This year’s sale started on February 25th and most places will keep it going for a couple of weeks.

The whole thing has quite a bit of history to it, damn near 90 years of history. The whole thing started in the ‘20s. There is even an organization behind the whole idea called Svenska Förläggareföreningen (The Swedish Publishers’ Association). Of course, this being Sweden, there are plenty of rules and regulations to keep things fair. One of the big ones being that the book sale starts on the same day for everyone in Sweden. The fear is that if everyone goes willy nilly offering sales prices on books, the whole structure will deteriorate into chaos. And so, there will be no cheating. Of course, this being a working economy, game theory does come into play.

This year, someone tried to cheat. It was none other than the evil empire of Swedish grocery stores, ICA. ICA Stig, the mastermind behind the plot, tried to start the book sale the day before the official start date. Public pressure eventually forced ICA into an awkward compromise and the book sale lives on.

As a general rule, I like competition. And while these rules smack of anti-competition, my love of books trumps my love of competition. Anything that creates a buzz around books for several weeks is ok by me. Unless you’re burning them. Burning books is not ok by me. So every year, I become a reluctant participant in the sale. Reluctant because I don’t need more books. Reluctant because I want more books.

This year, after wandering through several book stores, I hadn’t made a single purchase. I had a few specific books in mind, and to my great dismay, and great luck, they were not on sale. Then it happened. The last book store of the day. I couldn’t resist any longer. I’d been eyeing this book for a while (even when the book sale isn’t going on I have a habit of milling about in book stores). Norrlands Akvavit. I’m hoping Torgny Lindgren can ease my book buying guilt.

Welcome to Sweden. And a countrywide book sale.

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  1. I'm the same. Houses without books everywhere are sad, cold places. And books make the best gifts. (Not sure if the recipients agree.) I once told a friend I would love to own a book store. She said that would be like an alcoholic owning a bar. I'm also slightly possessive about my books, so I'm sure it would never have worked out.

  2. Lindgren is brilliant! All of his books are som completely different too! Anyways, book-sale is almost a holiday for me now, such a great tradition! (But you should work on your library avoidance, if not least for the environmental reasons)

  3. Who can resist a book sale? I’m also generally possessive of my book but I've recently learned to let go by joining (perhaps there is a Swedish equivalent). It's nice to know my books are going to folks who are eager to read them and in return I get a new (to me) book to read. It also helps with “book sale remorse” (or the stack of books that looked interesting in the store but not as interesting once they are sitting on the bookshelf at home).

  4. I thought you were describing me in the first paragraph....scary accurate portrayal.
    My family thinks I'm extra weird for reading books.
    I don't feel weird any more .

  5. I've already fallen victim to the horrors of Bokrean! I am now an owner of 'Sveriges Bästa Dikter' (Sweden's Best Poems), a synonyms lexicon and 'Aldrig Fucka Up' (it was just too cheap not to be bought, and I sorta liked 'Snabba Cash')

  6. I feel your pain. I have stacks of books piled up also around my apartment. I'm at a point where I've canceled my magazine subscriptions and no longer buy books (at least no hard covers!) b/c they take up too much space.

    At least we don't have a nationwide book sale here, so I don't face the same level of temptation as you guys in Sweden. Yikes!!

    -S (^o^)

  7. Torgny Lindgren is brilliant! I wish Norrlands Akvavit gets translated as well, so I can share it with my wife.

    I've been meaning to map out all the people and places that reappear in his stories. Same places, different times, different stories. Lindgren's own universe.

  8. Aw man, I should just have half my paycheck deposited directly with Borders and Amazon.

    I have found a new author recently that's incredibly funny. His name is Mykle Hansen and he has a book called Help! A Bear is Eating Me! His writing style is way different, but a lot of fun.

  9. BUY THEM! BUY THEM ALL! They have been waiting around all year for you and you are just going to leave them out in the cold like that? Unloved? Untouched?

    Sorry, I am as bad as you, if not worse when it comes to books. (this is thelillymaid btw)

  10. I love books, and just like you love OWNING books (I'm a material girl living in a material world). I haven't been to a library in years, which was my Spanish MIL's comment when she came to visit us and saw all my books (she hasn't seen ALL of them, ha ha)...
    Unfortunately I haven't been back to Sweden in time for the bokrea for years, but a few years I have actually checked the catalogues on-line and sent orders to my family ;-)
    Speaking of sales, can you explain the CONSTANT sales in the US shops? Macy's for example has a sale almost every weekend! It just seems very weird to two Europeans (living in Puerto Rico, which in this case is like the US, in other cases not at all)... And they claim very often that it is "the biggest sale of the year"!??

  11. Me too, me too! But being about to move to Florida I've been able to resist buying books recently... oh yeah except for the books I ordered online that were received yesterday. But one of them was for a class so it's all right.

    Petra H - personally I find it the same way here. Not in book stores though, but there's always at least some items on sale in every clothing store.

  12. Lucky your pals, receiving book in different occasions.

  13. croissant au beurreMarch 2, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    I've been lurking around here for awhile - love your blog! It's so interesting to read about the differences between the US and Sweden from your point of view (I think of you as an undercover agent since you're both nationalities haha).

    Random: I went to Sweden once about 9 years ago, and as a teenage girl I was intimidated as hell by all the good looking well dressed people in Stockholm! But since then I've always been fascinated by the place.

    Anyway, I LOVE to read so a national book sale sounds like heaven! Hope you find some good deals, and remember there's no such thing as too many books! :)

  14. Man. The US needs one of these. I would buy so many books.

  15. I saw a book from my course lit (from two years back, cost me 400kr) for 20kr. Should tell you something about the value of the ideas in that book.

  16. If you haven't yet - really, you should read the Millennium trilogy (by Stieg Larson), even if it's "beneath" you or whatever it was. I had a discussion about them with the European farmers in Brussels on Monday - the 70 year old Brit knew every detail from them, and the 45 year old Spaniard was a big fan too :)

    You'll regret not having read them when you were here, you know.

    Oh, and the other authors I was telling you about were:
    Erik Larson (American actually), Wally Lamb and G.W. Dahlquist, though I doubt you'd like the latter :)

  17. Your blog is awesome. I'm Swedish, and it's so amazing to read what someone 'from the outside' gathers when 'on the inside'.

    And I must say, I agree with pretty much all I've read on here. Which makes me happy because I feel that means I've got a clear view of Sweden and that makes me able to form well-built opinions.

  18. I found your blog randomly one day about a year ago, and I just keep coming back to it. You're a very enjoyable read and just thought it was high time I tell you so. :)

  19. E – After having lost one of my books to a friend, I have become increasingly possessive. I have no problem buying books for others, but loaning them out? I already explained that I don’t like the library. Why would I want to act as one myself?

    @anonymous – This is only the second one Ive read, but so far it is keeping me entertained.

    @jordgubben – no friend of mine as far as Im concerned.

    I might have to check it out, but Im not sure I can give my books away…

    @Lost – Im here for you.

    @Simon – that’s the thing… they have those books that are just too cheap not to be bought. They suck me in every time.

    @anonymous – my magazine subscriptions are just growing in a pile next to my bed… I tell myself that one day I will read through them.

    @eklandisk – to be able to create a sort of fictional universe that reappears throughout stories is incredible to me.

    @Stacy – I once had a dream that a bear was eating me. I woke up screaming in a puddle of sweat. I don’t know if I could handle that book…

    @snakedancer – I touch them all. Then I have an internal battle to walk away without them…

    @Petra – Every time I head home to visit or someone comes to visit me, all the books Ive read go back, I don’t even want to see how many books have started to pile up in my parents house waiting for me. in terms of the sales in the US, that Petra, is the beauty of marketing. The power of words used in small snippets on a sign rather than in a book.

    @Maya – class books don’t count. They are required of course. And if you happen to buy another book while buying class books that doesn’t count either.

    @Tod – they might be getting tired of it by now I think

    @croissant – oooh, I like the undercover agent thing!

    @Victoria! – agreed.

    @J.B. – coud be, or the publisher has just put out seven new editions so as to keep the second hand market from thriving at universities.

    @terander – its not that I said they were beneath me. Ive just lost so much hope in all of these popular Swedish criminal dramas that are supposed to be so amazing. Ive read too many that have the exact same character. Same plot. I end up reading only to confirm the ideas Ive already formed and then kick myself when I finally finish for wasting all that time.

    That being said, Im going to read the trilogy. I was looking for them on sale in Swedish, strangely enough, the only ones on sale were in English. If you find a store with them on sale in Swedish, let me know.

    @Mattias – thanks! Very nice of you.

    @Rachle – thanks, glad you commented!

  20. Try it with your new friends :P

  21. unless the book sale keeps going here in Stockholm, I dont think I could afford it

  22. Just stumbled over your blog - and find it very interesting and good reading, since I'm a Swede living abroad since a few years back - and recognise quite a few things in your blog but the other way around so to say :-)
    But - gosh, I miss the book sale -my favorite sale. Should try to get to it next year...

    Well, I'll bookmark this blog so that I can find my way back. Wish you a nice day!

  23. Glad to hear it! The book sale is a pretty incredible time of year and well worth a trip back if you ask me.