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Reading Books in Swedish? – How to Begin Posted by on Apr 26, 2009 in Swedish Language

A while back somebody asked about which books would be a good choice for a first-time reader, in Swedish naturally.

I know that some people recommend the classics: Astrid Lindgren, or Selma Lagerlöf or more recent works by Henning Mankell or Liza Marklund or Stieg Larsson.

But I am going to be a little bit unorthodox here and suggest something different. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the writers listed above, their works are not for everybody. And especially not for those, who are just learning the language and reluctant to pick up a book in Swedish in the first place. This first book selection in a foreign language can be what makes or breaks you as a reader. It will either encourage you to read more and more, or will turn you off books for a long time.

Let’s face it, reading in a foreign language can be quite intimidating. Especially reading anything other than what’s in a foreign language textbook. It forces you to focus, it makes you think twice as hard as you would when reading in your native tongue, and it frequently bares all your linguistic inadequacies and shortcomings when it comes to vocabulary or foreign language comprehension.

Add to that the specific “flavor” of Swedish fiction and after the first try you may decide that reading in Swedish is not for you.

So, I am going to suggest something that will make all native-Swedish Swedish teachers cringe. Pick a book that you’ve read in your native language, one that you know and like. Find it in Swedish (chances are it has been translated) and give it a try along with the original language version. Make it a popular book without any highly specialized vocabulary. Though what’s “specialized” to one person, might be everyday to someone else, so use your own judgment.

I know a lady who’s a huge Harry Potter fan, and needless to say, for her first book in Swedish she chose a Swedish translation of one of her favorite boy wizard stories. My friend did the same with Alexander Smith McCall’s novels. Yes, I still have your copy of “Damernas detektivbyrå” – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, I’ll give it back, I promise!

Myself, I began with Swedish translations of the Discworld (Skivvärlden) series, which almost did me in. I kept comparing them to the original versions and was utterly disappointed. (Only much later did I learn that many Swedish fans felt the same way and preferred to read Terry Pratchett in English.)

Then I picked up one of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, looked up the English version at the local library and got busy. Muminböckerna proved exactly what I needed (which maybe is a good indication of my mental level, ha!).

My first Swedish-Swedish book was by Selma Lagerlöf. I’m not counting Tove Jansson, because she was technically Finnish. From there, I graduated to other types of Swedish literature.

Of course, using a book in your native tongue as a crutch may not appeal to everyone, but it is a convenient and almost pain-free way to ease yourself into reading in a foreign language.

So, what was your first book in Swedish? Or, if you haven’t started reading in Swedish yet, what would you like to begin with?

If enough of you agree, we can start a mini-book club on the blog!

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Comments:

  1. Carol Goller:

    Interesting question. Thanks for asking.

    My first book in Swedish may have been “Bröderna Leonhjärta.” However, the best for me has been Agatha Christie (for anyone who likes them) because they are well and tightly written. Virtually everything mentioned is part of the mystery and its solution so, for someone like me who reads in places where I have just the one book and no dictionary, I get tested on each page and am encouraged to find that the important parts are still fitting together. Also, the Swedish slows me down enough that I enjoy the books more than in English.

    Right now, I am reading “Luftslottet som sprängdes” and that is giving me the same kind of testing and encouragement. A couple of times when I have had a dictionary close, I have looked up all unknown words on a page which has improved my depth of understanding. It’s fun to be reading books so many people are talking about. Is there a website for discussion of Larsson’s books?

  2. BM:

    Alexander McColl Smith’s wirting style is so simplistic that it does indeed make an ideal choice for new readers of a foreign language.

    I think what is most important is to read whatever you tend to enjoy, ignoring how “difficult” you think it might be. If you’re really interested in politics, then not only is a wikipedia page on Swedish political parties more interesting to you, but also more useful to you than learning words related to Botswana, because you’re probably going to get into more conversations about politics than Botswana, if you are that way inclined.

    I would also say to start reading books, magazines, pizza instructions, whatever, from day one, even if it is just to get more familiar with the aesthetics of the language or to absorb grammatical patterns.

  3. Linda från Kalifornien:

    Hej Anna! Firstly, I’d like to say
    Tack så mycket for using my long comment a few blogs ago. I was surprised and happy that you read it. I have such a passion for learning Swedish and Sweden period. My first book in Swedish is from Mårten Sanden. It’s a kids book from his Petrinideckarna series called Gömstället. My husband and I took turns reading it together before bedtime. It was fun for both of us and helped me with hearing the proper pronunciation of the words, as well as a little slang.

    I just bought the 6 Mummin books when I was in Sweden. These are my childhood favorites and difficult to find in English in the states. So I will begin reading them when I have some freetime. I also have a few downloaded books in Swedish, Roald Dahl’s Häxorna was really fun to listen too, but unfortunately I didn’t have the book to follow along. Well, enough from me, keep up the great blogging!

    Mvh, Linda

  4. ann:

    I just finished my 2nd book in Swedish. I am reading the Millenium series by Stig Larsson. I am a huge mystery fan and have found Swedish mysteries translated into English to be a great part of moving to Sweden. But now I am forced to read the original due to access problems, and it’s going fine.

  5. Cornelis:

    As a dutchman living in Sweden I find it very useful to read magazines. You can pick the subject you like and …. you can loan them for free from the library too!

  6. Golnar:

    Hej Anna ,
    Starting a mini-book club is such a great idea .
    I wonder if there is some simplified versions of swedish novels or even short stories for beginners .
    ( like there are plenty of sipmlfied english books for those who want to stard reading in english . with different levels– beginner, intermadiat and advanced. )

    and I think comparative reading will work . at least you have a general idea about what you are reading and what s going on in the book . it s fun and at the same time helpful.

    most of us have heard / read about Pippi Långstrump . And the book has been translated into many languages . what do you think about reading this book in the book club ?

    It would be helpful if any body has any link to swedish e-books .

  7. Luke (Sydney):

    Children’s books? With a bit of rhyming would be cool.

  8. Agnieszka:

    My first book would be “Familiegraven”. At my Swedish course teacher gave us a list of books, which she thinks are good, and we were supposed to choose one of them. In May we are going to talk about it, write a review and so on. I choose this one, because I’ve seen a movie adaptation of the first part, so I have an idea what is going on. It was much easier to understand. And I have to say that audiobook helps a lot. I tried to read and listen in the same time and it is perfect way for understand. It is a bit fast, but you can get both – the written form and a pronounciation at the same time. I really recommend this method.

  9. Michael:

    A big problem I have is obtaining books in Swedish in the United States. Bokus bokhandel used to ship to the US, but apparently does so no longer. Are there any other convenient sources? I like Helene Tursten’s mysteries. I use the English translation for help, and I am starting to appreciate subtle differences in phrasing that I find very interesting. This makes me appreciate how Swedish “thinks.”

  10. David Curle:

    I learned to read Swedish in no small part due to the Martin Beck series of books by Sjöwall and Wahlöö. I’ll never forget dragging myself through Polis, Polis Potatismos, and I read the whole series within a few years.

    I still love those books and re-read one once in a while.

    In general, the Swedish detective series are really great. Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, etc – but I think the Martin Beck books are possibly easiest to read for a beginner.

  11. constantlearning:

    I would love to participate in a Swedish book club but I agree that getting access to books in Swedish (here in rural United States) is difficult.

  12. Golnar:

    as you guys mentioned , finding a swedish book is diffucult ( for me too ) .

    I live in Iran and you can hardly find a swedish(language) fan , comparing to English ,French , German and so on !
    tons of english ,french and ect books but when it comes to swedish … uhhhhh!!!

    Any solution ?! cause I really wanna improve my swedish !

  13. timan:

    Now ,what you ar suggesting , is literally a revolution in tackling a new language..but what about , think Dutch or Swedish… if one is keen on commanding of the language? Do you suggest here obliteration of the theory that says : Think do not translate if you wanna command a language ! Iam concerned ..

  14. Kenia:

    Translate? No way. That theory is just right, and anyone who has ever read successfully in a foreign language probably agrees. Not only should you not translate but also you can’t try to understand all the words, getting the main idea of every sentence is the key to understand what you’re reading.

    Me, I had thought many times of reading a good book in swedish but I didn’t know which one to chose or how to start, so I have been reading the news everyday. A mini-book club here on the blog would be just great. This new ideas are making the blog more interactive and thus more interesting, the proof is that the number of comments per post and new readers are increasing, have you noticed Anna?

  15. Muhammad Naseer:

    Plz.. send me the book of swedish language translate to english

  16. karen from Boston:

    First: The idea of a mini book club is wonderful.

    Second: Absolutely do not try to read and translate at the same time! Just read to enjoy. Figure things out based on context. Unless you’re trying to learn the language by reading (which is what children’s books are for), you should try to read to enjoy what you are reading and get the context. The more context you get, the more you’ll actually understand.

    Three: I totally agree that it’s terribly difficult to get books in Swedish outside Sweden. I’ve been buying books when I’m there or having people send them to me.

    I’ve read the Steig Larsson series. The first book was difficult to get into, but after the first 175 pages, I wasn’t able to put the books down. I felt like a fluent reader once I finished the first book. The second and third books were a breeze. I think I read the third book in the series on two days!

    Last night I just finished my first Liza Marklund book: Nobels testament. Luckily my daughter is going to Sweden at the end of the month and can hopefully bring me back some more books.

    Larsson and Marklund were recommended to me by my “Swedish mother” — not my mother, but the woman who helped me learn Swedish.
    I’m beyond children’s books.

    I’d love to get some other recommendations. I have a Lindo Olsson book: “nu vill jag shunga dig milda saanger”, but I just can’t seem to get into it.

    Perhaps we could start a roaming library of Swedish books in the US?

  17. Ari:

    Does anyone know of anywhere you can read/purchase ebooks in Swedish? Or anywhere you can purchase Swedish language books in New York City? Trying to avoid shipping charges…

  18. Håkan Berg:

    In my opinion, many swedish translations are less than good. E-books in swedish is almost non-existing. So I understand your frustration. However I have one suggestion: Internet! There are a lot of swedish sites, and magazines. Try the news. http://www.sydsvenskan.se, http://www.aftonbladet.se, http://www.expressen.se, http://www.metro.se and many more. Use Google to find more. Also, the television sites, like http://www.tv4.se and http://www.svt.se. Images and text together sometimes are easier to learn from. And when you read a swedish text you cannot figure out, use Google translations. It often comes out with very good translations. You can translate whole pages, but there’s also a translation tool that translates a word in a tool-tip when you hover over it!

    If you ever have the time and money, come visit us! Nothing is better when it comes to learn a language than to live it and use it among its native users.

    Happy reading!

  19. Anna:

    Uhm… Tove Jansson was not TECHNICALLY Finnish. She was Finnish and nothing else, born and raised in Finland, died in Finland.

    Moomin is part of inherently Finnish chilrens’ culture, the stories and the ideology behind them is very Finnish.

    The Moomin have become popular in other countries too, and that’s always when the Swedes start to claim it’s “theirs” 😉

  20. Håkan Berg:

    Well, I never heard anybody claim that Tove Janssons books on ‘Mumintrollet’ was swedish, but I can imagine that some would beleave it was, because Tove do have a swedish name. At least it sounds very swedish, and the ‘son’ part in the family name is actually swedish for, yes, ‘son’. Jansson means ‘son of Jan’, a very common way to for a family name in Sweden during roughly the 15:th to the 17:th century.
    We did have a television series based on Tove’s books, and the actors very carefully kept an obvious finnish accent, which would indicate the finnish origin of the characters.
    But still, it is a common trade to ‘adopt’ other works as you suggest was done in this case.

  21. Russell:

    I’m looking to purchase a few children’s books written in Swedish for my wife, who is learning the language. Can someone point me to a website that sells them? Thanks so much!!!

  22. Håkan Berg:

    http://www.bokia.se/categories/A/Barn-och-ungdom/ has books in swedish for youth and children.

  23. Terry Langston:

    I’m reading my 5th Swedish book ~ started with Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed them. It’s been 30 years since I studied the language in any depth, so it’s been thrilling to pick it up again. I just ordered a Kindle DX which I’m excited to try with the Swedish books.

    Adlibris.com sells ebooks and paper books in Swedish. Amazon.com also has a large selection of the paper books, but not much selection of ebooks in Swedish.

    I’m glad to find this blog ~ very helpful and informative.

  24. Sophia:

    Hej and hello,

    for swedish books and more… have a look http://www.sophias-bokhandel.de

    Best regards / med vänliga hälsningar
    Sophia

  25. Rachel:

    The first book I read in English as a child was Dr. Suess’s Green Eggs and Ham, so I decided to read Gröna Ägg och Skinka as my first swedish book. It totally helped!!!

  26. Sissel:

    Tove Jansson was indeed Finnish throughout her life, but her mother tongue (since she belonged to a Swedish speaking minority in Finland) was Swedish, and Swedish was the language in which she wrote all her books. So we Swedes can’t claim that she belongs to us as a nation. Still they can be said to be an important part of the Swedish speaking world.

  27. Paul:

    The website http://www.fingelska.com has a number of very short stories and poems in bilingual Swedish-English and Finnish-English.