12 July 2010

Summer Reads

Let me start by saying that I am thrilled to welcome you to a second week of Burrow blogging. For those of you who don't know me, I should warn you that there might be some giraffes lurking in the shadows of this post, and there definitely will be digressions…

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.
Ironically the Scandinavian mystery writer currently most read outside of Scandinavia doesn’t sell at all anymore here – I earnestly believe I am the last Norwegian that haven't read the Stieg Larsson books. Everyone else read them two years ago, and by now they are old news.

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"?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's a hard one! I think you're right--it's highly subjective. For me, it's a quick read that isn't taxing, but isn't a waste of time. In my experience, folks here in the Amer. South look for "beach books"--and those are frequently books *set* at the beach that are fast-paced reads and focus on change-of-life issues for women (kids leaving the nest, a woman deciding to leave her office job to do something artsy,a woman who moved to a beach location from someplace icy, etc.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I guess everyone does have their own definition. I think of a light read as something I can dive into and read with ease in just a couple days. Not simple in writing as much as a simple, captivating story.

Cruella Collett said...

Elizabeth - see, it never occurred to me to consider books set on a beach as "beach books"! I agree with you on the change-of-life issues, though - those are always popular.

Alex - I think that is a very good definition, actually. Like you I value that the writing isn't too simple, but I guess a simple story often is what one needs to be able to finish a book within a few days.

CA Heaven said...

I'm reading Johan Theorin right now, and my old lady has been through everything by Cecilia Samartin since Christmas.

On top of my reading list now, as soon as our vacation starts, is my "beach book" that I re-read every summer; The Gambler by Dostoyevsky, guess I've read it 10 times already, but it's a Hell of a cool book >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

I got some books for my birthday that include a Jo Nesbø (and the 2nd Steig Larsson, plus another Swede I can't remember at the moment)--I am excited to read them, though have been reading a stack from the library. I think of 'summer reads' as quick paced and not super complicated to keep track of because I am likely to get distracted, so may only read a few lines at a time. Often I turn to YA for that reason.

Mason Canyon said...

To me a 'summer read' is a book of less than 300 pages, something that can be read in a short period of time. I want a light weight book I can carry with me anywhere and read every chance I get.

Thoughts in Progress

Jemi Fraser said...

Light reading means something different to different people. I usually think of it as having a romance, a mystery or a chick lit theme. At least, most days :)

ViolaNut said...

Well, it's half past noon and I've already read two books today... :-P I guess summer is when I read the thrillers I've been saving up, the ones that I definitely want to read in one go because they're so fast-paced that putting them down in the middle kinda sucks - things like Kathy Reichs, Jeffery Deaver, maybe Michael Connelly... I read wicked fast though, so almost anything is an almost anytime book. My one rule is that I'll only take mass market paperbacks to the beach though - even with my bookseller discount, anything else is too expensive to risk having a seagull poop on it. :-P

H.B.Markor said...

The only genre I would consider as a summer read would be romance, since that seems to be the only time I read them, and only the skinny little paperback ones that can be finished in an afternoon. Other than that, I will read any thing else at any time of the year.

RosieC said...

First, I want to second Cold As Heaven's sentiments on The Gambler! An excellent read.

My "light reading" for the summer is anything and everything that doesn't have anything to do with my studies. Reading blogs is on my "light" reading list! haha. I don't usually have time to read for myself during the academic year, so when I can get my hands on ANYTHING else, I am borderline euphoric, and honestly it doesn't matter what it is.

Thanks for the recommendations. I'll have to see what I can find around here.

Cruella Collett said...

You guys are proving my point - who would have thought Dostoyevsky made it to a "light/summer reads" list, huh? But I may have to check it out - I've done an abysmal job in getting through Russian classics, and my Goodreads page is definitely in need of some "serious literature" love after my wild Percy Jackson rumpus...

I love hearing what everyone is reading! :)

RosieC said...

Oh, well, absolutely NOT a "light" summer read, but War & Peace is my favorite novel of all time. It's a huge investment, but it's totally worth it (even the war parts, much to my surprise).

Unknown said...

I'm a very picky reader so if I ever come into a store and ask for a recommendation, hide behind a counter. Although, usually, I know exactly what book I'm getting before I walk into the store.


Smackenicious said...

Wait ... Stephanie Meyers has others books aside from Twilight ... seriously? why?

...Anyway, since we have summer all day then anything I read is "summer read" :)

Hart Johnson said...

Mari-I don't see Dostoyevsky as light either, but I will have to look into The Gambler--I really LIKE The Brother's Karamazov and totally detest Crime & Punishment, so I am curious whether I'd like others of his.

and Rosie--War & Peace is the favorite of both Rayna and I, so you are in good company!

Natasha said...

I am giggling at the cultural differences here. For me the words beach and read just don't go together. A beach is a place you to do to play in the surf, swim a little maybe, and then disappear back into the shade. No place for books, I'm afraid.

But on a vacation I would take a book I can easily put down when I need to and pick up again without losing the tempo. War and Peace may well be a good book, because you can easily take a break between chapters!

CA Heaven said...

I agree that Dostoyevsky is not associated with light, normally. But the The Gambler is, in the sense that it's only about 200 pages. The book becomes even more interesting if you read a little bit of Dostoyevsky biography, and about the circumstances around the writing of The Gambler. I'm not saying any more ... >:)

Tosltoy is also among my favorites (check out the Sebastopol Stories). I found that War and Peace required a special approach; I locked myself in for 5 days during Christmas holidays and did nothing but read. The main challenge is to keep track of all the characters (with three different names each, as is usual in Russian books). I found it very useful to make a map of the characters and their relationships.

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

CaH--My copy of War and Peace actually has a list at the front of each family with all he names everybody goes by, or I never could have done it (read it on maternity leave with my first, so I was home instead of working, and had a fair amount of time I was sitting (nursing or rocking my new baby)

Unknown said...


Thanks for exposing me to Norwegian authors. The only person I've read (and I am not sure if he is Norwegian) is Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading some of the books you listed.

Cruella Collett said...

Ana - I am no fan of the concept "other Stephenie Meyer books" either (actually I am no fan of the concept "Stephenie Meyer books" at all), but yes - she does have some. One that is totally Twilight-unrelated, a few that are related but not actually a part of the series.

Natasha - beach books would be fried books, maybe? Though if that is the case, it is not so much a cultural difference as a climate one ;)

Chary - Larsson was Swedish, actually, but he is so widely read in Norway that we would love to pretend he was Norwegian... ;)