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Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

I’m working on two Book Bingo cards this summer, one from Concord Public Library and one from Regina Library. For “a book with a summer word in the title” on Regina’s card and “a book set in a country you’ve never been to” for Concord’s I read Finnish Summer Houses by Jari and Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen. I’d listened to a 99% Invisible episode which introduced me to Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and then I looked in the catalog for a book with summer in the title and came across this gem, which seemed serendipitous since i had Finnish architecture on my mind. This book made me want to move to Finland and get a summer house. Which my offspring pointed out I probably can’t afford.

Anyway, fantasy aspect aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which I read on my iPad. The design aesthetic of Finnish summer houses varies, but most in this book were meant to fit into their natural surroundings — lots of boulders, which are probably my favorite landscape feature, trees, lakes, coasts — which are pretty reminiscent of northern New England’s natural surroundings. So the houses are mostly simple and seamlessly relate to the land. And they are very practical, meant to be low maintenance places where a family can relax and enjoy themselves and enjoy nature. Lots of wood and windows, utilitarian kitchens, and built-in or built to fit furniture.

Several people I know whose reading tastes I admire have recommended another Scandinavian book, A Man Called Ove by Swedish author Fredrick Backman. I read My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry and Brit Marie Was Here back in March but Ove scared me because I knew it dealt with the main character’s suicidal thoughts. I needn’t have worried — it’s as charming, funny, and humane as Backman’s other books. Ove is a classic grumpy old man, tired of missing his wife, whose been dead six months. He decides he wants to die, but he keeps getting interrupted by various goings on in his neighborhood, where he’s lived for forty years. His neighbors all think he’s angry and unapproachable but as the book progresses readers come to know that under that exterior, Ove is kind, loyal, hard working, honest, and dependable. He cares about other people far more than he lets on, and he may use politically incorrect language  (he refers to a gay character as “bent” ) but he is tolerant and caring — he takes that same young man in when he has nowhere to go after coming out, and Ove convinces the young man’s father to talk to him later.

It may seem a little bit tired, the curmudgeon who is really a good guy underneath the gruff exterior, but Backman makes this archetype fresh and he works in social commentary in a way that pleases this Jane Austen fan. A Man Called Over is a brief book but it addresses masculine stereotypes and manliness, the lack of practical knowledge in today’s society (fixing a bike, making things, repairing an engine, etc.), immigration, social services bureaucracy, globalisation, aging and elder care, “problem” children in schools, and NIMBY-ism and gentrification, to name a few. Plus his main characters are just interesting. Parvaneh, one of Ove’s new neighbors, is someone I’d like to be friends with. Actually I’d like to live in their neighborhood. And, Ove takes in a half-frozen at missing a good bit of fur. Anyone who (however grumpily) adopts a needy cat is ok by me, even if he’s fictional.

A good read, probably just the thing if you can’t bear to look at any more news. it’s definitely the kind of book I’d take on vacation.

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Nils Uddenberg is “a retired professor of medical psychology,” and when he was in his early 70’s, a cat made itself welcome in his garden shed. This little book is the story of how Uddenberg and his wife “have ‘come down with cat.'” Kitty, as they name her, is “a small, gray-brown speckled cat” with “large, yellow eyes.” Despite not wanting a pet, least of all a cat, Uddenberg notes, “With her determined approaches the cat had shown a measure of faith in us, which I found it difficult to be unmoved by.”

Sprinkled with natural history, psychology, literary cat references (T.S. Eliot, Doris Lessing, Jean Cocteau), tidbits about Sweden and Uddenberg’s interests (including travel to Africa and classical music), and illustrated with beautiful, whimsical drawing by Ana Gustavsson, The Old Man and the Cat: A Love Story is a lovely way to spend a couple of evenings. Like life with a cat, it’s cozy, warm, pleasant, entertaining, and edifying. Uddenberg’s clear admiration for the little creature is endearing, as is his honesty about his own reluctance to have a cat at first, the disruptions to his routine and even his need to adapt in some ways to life with Kitty. For example, he admits finding her hunting disruptive and even a little repugnant, but he understands it’s in Kitty’s nature; he and his wife stop filling birdfeeders so that Kitty will hunt mice rather than songbirds.

Uddenberg is a keen observer of animal and human nature and he writes eloquently about what it means to have a cat in his life. “Kitty has become a part of of our lives, and vice versa. Not because we understand one another, but because we quite enjoy our time together. . . . For me, it has become a philosophical challenge to try to understand at least a little about her world.” Readers are the fortunate recipients of this challenge.

 

 

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