I work in a bookshop. One of the most challenging parts of the job (aside from trying my best not to explode over some of the things my customers can bring themselves to say), is when I am asked for recommendations. You'd be surprised how large a percentage of our customers ask for our help in finding a good book, either for themselves or as a present. Sometimes it's an easy task – I have certain go-to books that I tend to suggest and most customers are happy with these. Sometimes the customer wants books that are specific to a genre; or they approach me with "I just finished Twilight/Harry Potter/Stieg Larsson/[insert other popular books] – do you have something similar?". Those are also relatively easy ones. The really tricky ones, though, are those who have read everything, and who will not settle for anything unless they are convinced it's going to be their new favourite book.
Since we're well into July, a lot of people are requesting "summer-" or "light reads". They may be looking for books to bring to the beach or on vacation, or something to entertain them on a rainy day. Whenever someone comes in looking for a "light read", however, I face a problem: there is no consensual definition of "light".
Certain people mean this in the most literal way. It has to be a paperback book, and it can't be too big. They are packing light, and they don't want their literature to weight them down.
Others are thinking more figuratively. Trust me, it is no picnic trying to read someone's mind to figure out the level of "lightness" they are looking for! Some expect me to understand that when they say "light", they mean mysteries. Or chick lit. Or Kafka... As I said, there is no consensus.
Some say "summer reads" and want me to understand this means books about summer. Others are convinced that I should know "summer reads" equals "light reads" – in the literal sense…
Even though matching books with customers can be a risky business, there are certain books that seem to appeal to more customers than others. Below is an excerpt of our paperback bestseller list – these are the books you are most likely to read if you are spending your summer on a Norwegian beach:
- Cecilia Samartin has become a star in the Norwegian market. Her books, "Broken Paradice", "Tarnished Beauty" and "Vigil", have all sold plenty of copies, tempting cold Norwegians with her Latin settings.
- "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford just came out in paperback here, and it immediately begun climbing on the bestseller lists. This one I am hoping to fit into my own reading list sometime soon.
- "Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs" by Linda Olsson sold widely in hardback, and the paperback doesn't appear to be any less successful. She is originally Swedish, but she has been living in New Zealand for many years, and she writes her books in English.
- "Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery. This French book is probably not one of the "lightest" on this list, considering it was written by a Philosophy professor. Nevertheless it has been very popular this summer, which I only take as evidence of my theory that there is no such thing as a consensus definition of "light"...
- "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I have seen a lot about this book around the blogosphere lately, so it should be familiar to many. When it first came out in Norwegian, it was hardly noticed, but with the paperback edition sales have exploded. The reason is probably that the hardcover came out with a non-recognizable cover, and a poorly translated title. For the paperback edition, however, the Norwegian publishers decided to leap on the publicity wave this book was on and go for a title and cover closer to the orignial. A wise move.
Even though Easter traditionally is mystery reading time in Norway, we also have a few of those on the list. This genre is almost exclusively dominated by Scandinavians, though:
- Jo Nesbø – he is insanely popular here in Norway, and it is nice to see he is also becoming known abroad. I don't think a single day at work goes by without selling at least one (usually many more) of his books.
- Camilla Läckberg – she has quickly become a best-selling author here, and it now seems she is also ready to take on bigger markets. Look out for this one.
- Johan Theorin – his spooky books set on the Swedish island of Öland are giving many of my customers the chills during otherwise hot nights this summer.
- Henning Mankell – the "grand old man" of Scandinavian crime is still popular among Norwegian readers.
The Norwegian Young Adult market is not as specific as the US or UK one. It is not as common to distinguish between separate genres within the YA segment, and there are fewer recognizable trends than what I have seen abroad. Of the books I will mention here (I have left out Norwegian or Scandinavian titles that aren't translated into English), there are some usual suspects:
The Twilight-books and everything else Stephenie Meyer put her name on is still hot, both in Norwegian translation and the original versions. Helped by this you will also find other vampire books among the teen reads this summer. Percy Jackson is making a strong case for himself (urged on by the movie that just came out on DVD, and of course the recommendations by one enthusiastic bookseller...) In general fantasy books seem to dominate the YA market in Norway this summer.
What would you like to read this summer? What is your idea of a "summer read", and should it also be a "light read"?