“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter”
– John Burroughs (In The Catskills)
Its a tricky time of the year. Holidays are over, the trees have become leafless and frost is covering the roads outside. Now, all we can do is wait for spring to greet us a welcoming “Hello”. In the meantime, why not find a few pleasure-books (as I like to call them) to cuddle up with under a warm blanket in front of the fireplace?
Here is a list of some books that I like to seek comfort in during cold days in Scandinavia …
1. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
“I think I haven’t done much harm yet, and may keep this to pay for my time,” she said, after a long meditation, adding impatiently, “I almost wish I hadn’t any conscience, it’s so inconvenient. If I didn’t care about doing right, and didn’t feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally. I can’t help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn’t been so particular about such things.»
Summary: This is a family drama, set in the middle of the eighteen hundreds – including a mother, her four daughters and their father who is serving as a chaplain in the Civil War. Their family recently lost a fortune, so the sisters are struggling to support themselves. However, poverty doesn’t stop them from building castles in the sky and believing in each other. As the girls grow older, each one gets confronted with their own weaknesses – leading them through a passage from childhood to womanhood, from children to mothers and to faithful wives.
My first discovery of this book happened on a lovely april day at a hotel-room in London, 2014. Little me, had just turned fifteen, when my mother decided that we would go on a little retirement – away from our busy lives in Norway. For two or three days, we were staying at Portobello House in Notting Hill, taking the time to wander the streets, watching busy strangers pass by and getting lost in second-hand books from the Portobello Road Market. Then, one night, we had scheduled a dinner appointment with an old friend for 7pm. She was supposed to meet us in the lobby around that time, but fortunately she was running late because of complications with the tubes. My mother decided to turn on the television to pass the time – and that was when we both discovered the movie adaptation from 1994 of «Little Women». It did not take long for me to start researching. Was this movie based on a book? I asked myself as I fetched a computer and typed in the name on Google. I remember how badly I wanted it to be a book, and that if it was, I would buy it online as soon as possible.
And when the letters appeared before my eyes, «Little Women» based on a novel by Louisa May Alcott, my mother and I cheered in delight. We enjoyed the rest of the movie and ended up postponing the dinner appointment just for another hour.
This novel has given me so much joy, and I would read it again in a heart beat. I laughed when Jo burned Meg’s hair and I cried when Beth fell ill. I felt sorry for Laurie’s bitter heartache and I smiled whenever Mrs. March comforted her daughters during sorrowful times.
Although it’s as long as 449 pages, it will feel like a light breeze going through it – and at last, you’ll be sorry because it ended too soon.
2. “Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark” by Mary Wollstonecraft
“How frequently has melancholy and even misanthropy taken possession of me, when the world has disgusted me, and friends have proven unkind. I have then considered myself as a particle broken off from the grand mass of mankind.”
Summary: The eighteenth-century British feminist and writer, Mary Wollstonecraft takes the reader on a journey through twenty five letters, covering a wide range of reflections and observations of the three countries, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The original reason behind her journey was to retrieve a stolen treasure ship for her lover, Gilbert Imlay – in order to restore their broken relationship with more money. However, during the three months spent in the north, she realizes that he doesn’t care for the union any longer. Nevertheless, she continues her journey without the intention to stop writing about it.
Although this is hardly a novel, I find it utterly satisfying to read these letters on wintry days. First and foremost, they include elaborative descriptions of the Scandinavian landscape, culture and people – which I find perfectly suitable to read during the cold months that we are approaching now. Second of all, Mary Wollstonecraft’s letters are (till now) the best I have come across in female literature. The way she narrates her trip to her lover, Gilbert Imlay – allows the reader to learn more than just the conditions of nordic living – one also gets to explore her ways of thinking; her thoughts on gender equality, human emotions and politics. Therefore, it has been considered both a travel journal and an autobiography.
I would highly recommend this book for all the dreamers out there, who’s thoughts are in a constant blur, and who’s opinions are too unconventional to be heard. Mary Wollstonecraft´s melancholic intonation will let you know that you’re not alone in this world – and that everyone goes through a moment of existential crisis some time in their life.
3. “The catcher in the rye” by J.D Salinger
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
Its time to man up with some male literature. And speaking of being lost in the world – «The Catcher in The Rye» couldn’t be a more suitable as the last one on the list.
Summary: The story takes place outside New York City around the 1950s, where the main character quits school. This decision is the theme of the book. His thoughts are described equally as much has his actions in the days following his choice to quit. On one side, he sees society as something decadent and ugly. On the other side there is his sister, who is the light of the world and what the world could be. When he has to decide whether to save his sister from becoming like him or fleeing as planned, his inconsistent brain has to make up its mind.
During my childhood, the book-title was mentioned countless of times through conversations among twenty-something year old students of my father. Most of them were sufferers, proclaiming how much they could relate to Holden Caulfield – and how they wish that the society they lived in wasn’t that disordered. At the time, I wasn’t tempted to read it at all – convinced that it was written for a specific audience: young and angry boys, tired with the world and the people in it. So I let it rest on the shelf for a couple of years. But then one day, while surfing online, I discovered some interesting facts about the book. According to Mercedes Aguirre, the lead curator of American collections, the novel is one of the most censored books in American literature – due to its objectionable language and unorthodox content. In fact, it has been banned from several school libraries ever since it was first published in 1951.
I was interested.
Insanely curious about the radical content and the despicable slang I was about to devour in, I reached for the paperback in the corner of the shelf – and started reading. Skipping both lunch and dinner that day, I was captivated with the whole story. When I finished it that night, I wanted to start from the very beginning again. Somehow I liked J.D Salinger’ broken off sentences. I enjoyed Holden’s cynical narration and I loved how unpredictable all his actions were. Even for girls or young women, this novel is sensational, because almost every teenager has had the same worries or the same feelings of alienation before. During cold winter times when you’re feeling a little gloomy because of dark, sunless hours – this book is perfect to cuddle up with.
Just … dont end up using the phrase; “That killed me” too much after reading the book, like I did!
Thats about it! I hope you enjoyed my list of pleasure-books, and that it will make your winter warmer.
In my next blog post, I will share with you – what its like living as a writer at the Nerdrum School .
Aftur S. Nerdrum