My Saturday was extremely literary! A member of one of my critique groups has, after years of hard work, self published the first novel in a planned trilogy. The release party was at noon at Marabouparken, and I stopped by to give my congratulations and enjoy a little bubbly to celebrate Den mörka portalen. It is surprisingly heart-warming and gratifying to see yourself appear multiple times in the author’s thanks.
Once under my own name, once as “Stockholm Writing Group” (the writing Meetup I organize), and (if I’m feeling generous) even a third time as a fellow redaktör and korrekturläsare, though I work in English and not in Swedish. Still, editor solidarity!
The venue was also lovely. When your park is named after one of the most famous candy companies in Sweden, it sets certain expectations (see: Hershey Park in the US), but it was actually quite understated. Dare I say…high brow, even?
As it turns out, Marabou no longer owns the property. It’s a bit of a misnomer.
After that I was off to help plan this year’s NaNoWriMo. Have you signed up yet? You should! And if you’re in Stockholm, you should come to the kickoff! We’ll have fika and pep and writing activities to get you all fired up for November. And, of course, my lovely face. Can’t wait to see you there!
A fortunate turn of events meant that a little over a week ago, I was able to finish my usual Saturday obligations earlier than usual and meet a friend in town to attend Stockholm Kulturnatt.
Even though Kulturnatt has been an annual event in Stockholm since 2010, this year was the first I’d heard of it. I’m glad I was able to make time this year, but I’m also a little disappointed at all of the years I’ve missed!
I didn’t know quite what to expect, except free admission to assorted “cultural events.” But I’d been thinking recently that I don’t really do enough to actually enjoy Stockholm (aside from my annual treks to Litteraturmässan), so Kulturnatten seemed like a good way to remedy that. I met up with a friend from Meetup, Thomas, with plans to meet other friends of his later in the evening. We queued forever, which seemed ridiculous since it was a free event.
“Maybe they’re counting heads for fire capacity?” I suggested.
“But the building’s huge!”
As it turned out, the bottleneck that was leading to queuing was the clerk at the desk, explaining the evening’s program (a couple of lectures and a self-administered quiz) to visitors.
“Jesus, is this it? This is so awkward. Can’t we just walk past?” I asked no one in a low voice, but shuffled up to the desk to hear the presentation nonetheless. No ticket was given, no name taken, nothing. We smiled at the clerk and took the flyer and the quiz and then went on our way. A safe distance from the counter, we laughed.
“That was the entire reason for the queue. That was, literally, the most Swedish thing I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. “People queuing because they’re too polite to just walk by. Oh, God. In Britain people would have figured it out and just walked past, given a little nod. Oh, Sweden.”
We had a wander around until his Couchsurfing friends showed up; a mutual Finnish friend of ours had been ahead of us in the queue and was off somewhere with her own friends. The Army Museum wouldn’t have been my first choice, so I didn’t pay too much attention to anything (though I still learned about the S-363 incident, so that’s something); I was pleasantly surprised to see placards featuring wartime literature (George Orwell, All Quiet on the Western Front, Bödeln). By the time the rest of the group arrived, Thomas and I had pretty much had our fill, so after confirming we’d missed the last lecture of the evening, we waited by the entrance for the Couchsurfers to finish the quiz.
The de facto leader of our little group, by virtue of her nerdy enthusiasm, wanted to go to the Nobel museum, so once she and the other Couchsurfer finished the quiz, off we went. Meanwhile, the Finn and her friends had since departed for the Finnish Institute without catching up to us—ships in the night. Thomas and I stayed with the Couchsurfing friends at the Nobel museum for just a brief moment; Thomas read the mood and came to the conclusion that the male half of the Couchsurfing couple was really interested in a date night with Excitable Nerd, so we broke off and made for SF Bokhandeln, with a pit stop at Storkyrkan.
“I’ve never been in here,” he commented.
“I don’t think I have, either.”
They were having a choral performance which I would have been happy to stay and listen to, but I also took the time to wander around a bit like a tourist. (I didn’t think to take any pictures, though. I guess not that much of a tourist.)
Such opulence and artistic finery surprised me in a nominally Lutheran church, and I said as much to Thomas.
“Yeah, that didn’t come until the Communists. They used to be Greek Orthodox or whatever before that.”
I thought of the occasional midnight Easter and Christmas services I had attended at my dad’s childhood Eastern Orthodox church, so much bigger and fancier than the Methodist church I had grown up with. “That explains it.”
We both had a chuckle over the prayer candles that now, in addition to (or maybe instead of?) the donation box, simply had a sign with a phone number where you could Swish your donation.
After a few minutes, we turned tail and headed for SF Bokhandeln. We were too late for any of their events, so we just browsed. I ended up picking up Hanabi, which I hadn’t seen the last time I was there. I also picked up a book for Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club that I was having a hard time getting from the library. I’ve since started reading it and unfortunately I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse. So it goes.
“I wonder how long it would take you, if you just sat down and tried to read the whole shop. Years?” Thomas wondered, picking up and putting down a generic-looking space opera book. “Like, this is the kind of stuff I want to have time to read, but I just end up reading the summary somewhere instead.”
“I mean, not all books are good books. Some are only worth the Wikipedia plot synopsis.”
Finnish friend had shaken her group and landed at a bar on Sveavägen and asked us to come join her. The weather was nice, so we capped off the night with a walk from Gamla Stan to Hötorget. So clear! So warm! Nothing like moving a few degrees’ latitude north to make you appreciate the shift in seasons. If this isn’t nice, what is? But it had been a long day for me (I was up at 6 am!), so after the walk, I bowed out of drinks and went home.
There were still lots of events that I wish I had attended (concerts, primarily), but for my first year at Kulturnatt and going in completely unprepared, I had a really good time. I’ll certainly be marking my calendar for next year’s, and hopefully a little more planning means I’ll get a lot more out of it!
Another year, another successful Litteraturmässan! Or, at least, it was successful from my perspective. I guess it’s up to the vendors and the sponsors to decide if it was successful in a more typical sense. The panels I attended and my thoughts on them:
Vi minns Ursula Le Guin
It took me twenty years to get into Le Guin, but I made it eventually. Still, interesting to hear people talk about her who fell in love with her writing from the get-go. (The difference: half of the panel seemed to get into her via The Left Hand of Darkness, whereas my first attempt was either A Wizard of Earthsea or The Dispossessed.) Also weird to hear a discussion about Ursula K. Le Guin in Swedish when English and Swedish pronounce the name of the letter “K” differently. (It’s the little things.)
I don’t know if it was because I had a hard time tracking the discussion in Swedish or because the topic wasn’t as engaging as I thought it would be, but I confess to ducking out early of this one. It might have been better if I had read the books in question prior to the discussion: Aednan and Släpp ingen jävel över bron, both of which sound interesting in their own right.
Tema Fristad: Zurab Rtveliashvili
While I found the discussion frustratingly limited (John Swedenmark seemed extremely uncomfortable with silence and therefore didn’t allow Rtveliashvili as much time to answer as maybe he needed), the poetry readings and performances were engaging. Here’s a clip of Rtveliashvili reading a poem he also read at the panel (though without the instrumental accompaniment).
Never a bad time to discuss Nazis and their nonsense. I picked up a copy of Lilian O. Montmar’s book (same title as the discussion panel) in the market for my sambo.
I didn’t get to see as much of this panel as I would have liked, but I liked what I saw. Heard? I hope that the library will get in more copies of Flora Nwapa‘s books in soon, because now I’m quite curious about them!
Tema Fristad: Tesfagiorgis Habte
Habte was perhaps the most at-ease speaker in all the panels I attended, or at least the one most willing to crack jokes. It helped that Sami Said was also a great interviewer: they had good banter and he allowed Habte time to answer questions. Habte spoke about his years in prison, but there’s only so much to cover in twenty-five minutes. His piece at PENeritrea touches on many of the things he talked about, and then some
Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you had a lovely weekend. I spent mine (at least, my Saturday) at Stockholms Litteraturmässan. Last year I went alone, but this time, I managed to bring a friend along with me. This worked out for me—she very thoughtfully dropped by the panel on translation trends that I couldn’t make and picked up their rather snazzy-looking handout, so even if I missed the discussion I still have all of their data on translated literature. Not as fun as the discussion itself, but better than nothing.
The first thing I did was to hit the book market itself. While Stockholms Litteraturmässan has featured a wide range of salient conversations and presentations two years in a row now, it’s also clear that those presentations are directly tied to the promotion of at least some of the available books. Not that I want to fault them for making money; quite the opposite, actually. I grew up on a steady diet of Borders (RIP), Barnes & Noble, The Strand, and countless independent, local used bookstores all across the US: often large and almost infinitely browseable. Even in the age of Amazon.com they were doing well, or at least hanging on. For whatever reasons (economic, social, historical, geographical), such stores don’t exist here, by and large. (The English Book Shop and SF BokHandeln are notable exceptions and they have my undying loyalty forever.) For two days a year, the Litteraturmässan manages to fill that vacuum. Both times I’ve attended I’ve found something niche and fascinating (or just hard to come by) that I have yet to find anywhere else, and for that alone the event is worth it.
What makes Stockholms Litteraturmässan stand out, though, are the accompanying promotional-ish panels. The organization seems to cultivate an outward focus towards question of cultural intersections, politics, immigration, and global interconnectedness, both in the publishers and sellers featured in the market and in the books and writers they choose to promote. On the eve of the French election in a post-Trump milieu, these kinds of questions suddenly felt extra urgent.
The two panels I attended were the interview with Marlene Streeruwitz and the interview with Irena Brežna. Unlike last year, both of the panels I attended were conducted in English. A logical choice for an Austrian and Swiss-Slovak writer (Streeruwitz and Brežna, respectively) presenting in Sweden, but I should note that I didn’t deliberately gravitate towards the English presentations. 😉 I failed to take notes, so some general impressions.
Streeruwitz and Ihmels presented Smärtans ängel within the context of their new publishing house and organization writersreadwriters, which is coming out with other work aside from Streeruwitz’s that sounds exciting and vital. Their books are definitely going on my watch list. I failed to pick up Smärtans ängel at the event, but it looks to be available from Stockholms bibliotek. Good news for me!
The Swiss embassy seems to be very involved with this event. Their cultural liaison, Benita Funke, presented Brežna this year and was also a moderator in a discussion on contemporary women’s migrant literature from last year’s Litteraturmässan. It would be great to see other embassies join this project as well. Brežna herself was a warm and charming presenter.
Both Den otacksamma främlingen and Smärtans ängel are available from Stockholms bibliotek, so I look forward to reading them. As of yet, it appears that they lack an English translation, but I hope someone will come out with one soon! My German is a bit too rusty to tackle Austrian or Swiss German myself, alas.