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CULTURE

Ten Swedish books to read in 2022

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to read more? Here’s a list of book recommendations from Sweden or about Swedish life from writers and readers of The Local. 

a man reading a book and there's a dog on the floor
First New Year's resolution: read more books about Sweden. Second resolution: get a dog. Photo: Fotograferna Holmberg/TT

The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life – Emma Löfgren & Catherine Edwards

Sweden is more than lifestyle trends and Ikea. It’s also the country of fredagsmys (cosy Friday), kosläpp (release of the cows), lillördag (little Saturday… or Wednesday), and where the average citizen dreams of a villa, Volvo and a vovve – or do they?

If you enjoy The Local’s Swedish Word of the Day column, then this book is for you. This is a great book to help you explore the Swedish lifestyle beyond the cliches, with the help of more than 100 uniquely Swedish words, translated into English. Learn more about the country where yes is just another word for no, where the word for poison is the same as for married, and where words without meaning are mashed snow.

In Every Mirror She’s Black – Lola Akinmade Åkerström 

For anyone looking for insight into what it means to be a Black woman in the world, this novel follows the stories of three Black women in search of a better life who end up in Sweden. It explores racism, tokenism, and more, through the nuanced experiences of Black women living in a white-dominated society. Akinmade Åkerström, a Nigerian-American author and travel writer, pulls no punches in her debut novel. 

You might recognise her name from the popular coffee table book, Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well, and the many travel articles she has written about Sweden. 

50 Words for Love in Swedish – Stephen Keeler

From bageri (bakery) to vitsippa (wood anemone) via Björn Borg, Saab and smörgåsbord, Keeler takes us on a journey through the objects, places and people that made him fall in with Sweden. This book, recommended to us by a reader of The Local, charts his life after moving to Mariestad to teach English in the 70s; a delightful love affair with the country he calls home.

They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears – Johannes Anyuru

The plot of this novel surrounds a Swedish writer who is invited to a high-security psychiatric unit to interview a young former terrorist who claims to come from the future. She hands him a bundle of papers that tell the story of an alternate Sweden where populist nationalists have seized power.

According to Sweden.se, the novel “artfully combines speculative fiction with a nuanced exploration of harsh political realities, all written in a pulsating, rhythmic prose”. It was awarded the August Prize for fiction – one of the most prestigious literary awards in Sweden. Anyuru is a Swedish-Ugandan poet and author and “one of the leading writers of his generation”.

Everything I Don’t Remember – Jonas Hassen Khemiri

In this novel the narrator anticipates being asked “How Swedish do you feel?”

Sometimes, it can be a lighthearted question, for example when you go for lunch at 11.30am or start taking your coffee black and joke that you’ve now earned citizenship. But it is often a very loaded, difficult issue; in the book and in reality, it’s a question tied up with race, discrimination, and the challenge of integration. This is a politically engaged novel with a lot to say on immigration.

Jonas Hassen Khemiri is a multi award-winning playwright and author. This novel has been sold in over 20 countries.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

This is a story about a small town’s junior ice hockey team, the first in a series of novels. The team is the pride of Beartown, a small and struggling community in rural northern Sweden. A lot of hopes are pinned on the prospect of their championship victory, from the players, parents, and villagers who all hope a win would bring them just what they need. But a violent act by their star player changes everything.

You need not be a hockey fan to read this book, or even have experience of small town life in Sweden. It’s about community, conformity, trust, and right and wrong – topics that resonate with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Fishing in Utopia – Andrew Brown 

Brown, a British journalist, tells a semi-autobiographical story of a misfit Englishman who moves to Sweden in the 1970s and becomes absorbed in and by the country.

He marries a Swedish woman and works in a timber mill outside Gothenburg, but Sweden is not the Utopia he was promised. Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated. The country falls apart. The protagonist yearns for the Sweden he loved and searches the length of the country to find it again. 

Easy Money – Jens Lapidus 

Easy Money quickly became a bestseller when it was published in 2006, selling over 3.8 million copies worldwide. The author is a criminal lawyer with access to stories from the grittier underworld of Sweden rarely seen before. The first of his Stockholm Noir trilogy follows the lives of three characters entwined with Stockholm’s dark underbelly, whose main driver in life is the quest for easy cash. 

It’s full of Stockholm slang, but if you want to try reading it in Swedish you can get a version in Lätt Svenska, where the language is pared down for those still learning the language. There is also a trilogy of films based on the series, and a Netflix series.

Popular Music from Vittula – Mikael Niemi 

Niemi tells a fantasy version of his upbringing in the north of Sweden during the 1960s and 70s. With humorous and ironic depictions of the people in the town he describes their communist views, family feuds, machismo, hard drinking, and local superstition. Recommended by a reader of The Local, it’s an important account of an upbringing in rural parts of northern Sweden, which also won the August Prize for fiction.

The Emigrants – Vilhelm Moberg

In a series of novels written in the middle of the 20th century, Moberg describes the long and strenuous journey of a party of poor Swedes from Småland to Minnesota in 1850. Religious persecution, poverty and poor land persuade Kristina, Karl-Oskar and their neighbours to make the perilous voyage at the beginning of the first significant wave of immigration to the US from Sweden. The series sold nearly two million copies in Sweden and has been translated into more than 20 languages. A new film adaptation has just come out this Christmas.  

What’s your favourite book set in Sweden? Let us know in the comments!

Member comments

  1. Hej!
    I love all of Fredrik Backman’s books incl. Beartown and just finished Anxious People. It is absolutely brilliant, set somewhere outside Stockholm. Just loved it!

  2. Slowly, slowly going through Tomas Tranströmer, Samlade Dikter och Prosa, the translation by Robin Fulton side by side with the original.

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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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