Scandinavian Travel - our suggestions for great reads
Before departure, get your fill of inspiring travel books here.
There is nothing more inspiring than a well-written book & luckily; there are lots to read from our region. We have listed some of our favourite books – historic novels, Scandinavian/Nordic Noir and loads more. We have tried to narrow down books that shouldn’t be too hard to find in your local library. Nordic Noir is a complete genre to itself – hence, the separate section for each region listing some options.
Hopefully, there is enough to fill you with awe, knowledge, and wanderlust. This is an evolving list – please connect up with us on social media to suggest your favourites.
So without further ado, the books:
Independent People - Laxness
For a gritty glimpse of the Icelandic soul, Halldór Laxness’s humorous, heart-breaking, deep minded work Independent People is an absolute must.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s search for the Happiest places in the world – Eric Weiner
New York Times bestselling humorous travel memoir by long time National Public Radio foreign correspondent Eric Weiner, he starts his journey in Iceland, one of the world’s happiest countries.
Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland – Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland, sustained by a wild summer there when she was nineteen. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in Kent. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland's economic collapse, which halved the value of her salary, by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and by a collection of new friends, including a poet who saw the only bombs fall on Iceland in 1943, a woman who speaks to elves and a chef who guided Sarah's family around the intricacies of Icelandic cuisine.
Tales of Iceland – Stephen Markley
When American author Stephen Markley was a fresh-faced, impressionable university student in Ohio, he saw Quentin Tarantino describe a trip he’d taken to Iceland. “Supermodels working at McDonald’s,” said Tarantino of the Icelandic. Markley never forgot those words. Seven years later, Markley set out with two friends for Iceland, and adventure would ensue.
Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
The Blue Fox – Sjón
Iceland’s bell – Laxness
The Pets – Bragi Ólafsson
The Silence of the Sea - Yrsa Sigurðardottir
Detective Erlendur series: Arctic Chill – Arnaldur Indridason
Detective Erlendur series: Black Skies - Arnaldur Indridason
Ashes to Dust - Yrsa Sigurðardottir
Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
It is hard to put this one down – ageing, childhood, memory and family, this novel is overwhelming beautiful and graceful. Get ready with some tissues.
The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule - Joanna Kavenna
Vividly capturing our fascination with the Arctic north, with some outstanding sections on Norway, this novel is a good companion for a trip to Svalbard & Greenland. Academic.
Norway: The Northern Playground - Cecil Slingsby
This is a classic early- 20th-century account of climbing in the Norwegian mountains; it’s a gripping account that will appeal equally to nonclimbers.
Fellowship of Ghosts: A Journey Through the Mountains of Norway - Paul Watkins
This adventure novel is loaded with insight as it tells of the author’s solo journeys through Norway’s high country on foot. It is an easay read and has a nice summary of Viking history and early Norwegian hiker's tales. If you are planning on walking in Norway, it is a must read.
Summer Light: A Walk Across Norway - Andrew Stevenson
An affectionate and luminous account of a walk from Oslo to Bergen that captures the essence of Norway.
Arctic Dreams - Barry Lopez
A classic, haunting treatment of Arctic regions, with many references to Sami culture.
New novels to try include The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum and The Hunting Dogs by Jørn Lier Horst
Popular authors: Anne Holt, Karin Fossum & Jo Nesbø
Fault Lines – Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands – by playwriter, Nicolas Billon.
True North: Travels in Arctic Europe - Gavin Francis (also covers Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and Lapland)
Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Hoeg
A beautiful and technical book, it touches on issues such as European culture versus aboriginal culture (in this case Danish vs. Greenlandic) and the related issues of language and identity.
This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland - Gretel Ehrlich
For the last decade, Gretel has been obsessed by Greenland; it’s terrain, culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine. It can get a little repetitive by the end.
An African in Greenland - Tété-Michel Kpomassi
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all
Yrsa Siguroardottir – some are set in Greenland – ‘The Day is Dark’
You will also find Arctic novels set in the Canadian Arctic that are interesting to read.
The Year of living Danishly - Helen Russell
Hilarious and well written, this novel chronicles the author’s move to Denmark’s rural Jutland. She is persuaded to up sticks from north London, swapping a job editing for MarieClaire for a freelancer’s life so that her husband can take a job working for Lego, which is based in Billund, the town that bequeathed the plastic brick to the world. Russell makes it her mission to discover why the United Nations named Denmark the world’s happiest country. In a bold move, they start their new life in January. In Jutland, where locals could teach dormice a thing or two about how to hibernate.
Just As Well I’m Leaving - Michael Booth
Not strictly about travel in Scandinavia, but this funny travelogue follows the 19th century travels of Denmark’s favourite writer, Hans Christian Anderson.
The Keeper of Lost Causes – Jussi Adler–Oslen
Between Each Breath - Adam Thorpe
In this witty recent novel, Tallinn and the Estonian islands are the setting for a successful Englishman’s midlife crisis and infidelity, and the fallout from his actions.
Lost Cosmonaut, Strange Telescopes - Daniel Kalder
Both these books are both blackly comic and serious explorations of some of Russia’s quirkiest and least visited locations. In the Lost Cosmonaut, the ‘anti-tourist’ author puts Kalmykia, Tatarstan, Mary-El and Udmurtia under the microscope. In the latter, Kalder goes underground in Moscow, hangs out with an exorcist and extends his travels into Siberia to meet the religious prophet Vissarion.
Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia after the Fall - Andrew Meier
An acutely observed story, with dispatches from Chechnya, Moscow, Norilsk, Sakhalin and St Petersburg, the author paints a bleak picture of the country.
The Man Who Spoke Snakish - Andrus Kivirähk
An exploration of alternative history by a well-loved contemporary author.
House of Orphans - Helen Dunmore
A gloriously evocative historical novel, with excellent background on early-20th-century Finnish rural life, the class divide, workers’ movement and burgeoning nationalism, through the eyes of sympathetic characters. Interesting to read about the Finnish relationship and history with their neighbours, Russia.
Palace of the Snow Queen - Barbara Sjoholm
This is a winter travelogue that spends more time in Norway and Sweden, but is good on Lapland and the Sámi in general. It has much detail on the building of snow hotels, and pays a visit to Inari’s film festival.
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name - Vendela Vida
This is a woman’s voyage to discover her roots and evokes Finnish and Norwegian Lapland through her vulnerable visitor’s eyes. The emotional journey is powerful, but the setting’s just an exotic backdrop here and let down by inaccuracies, which is a shame. Only if you like an emotional, easy read.
Purge or When the Doves Disappeared - Sofi Oksanen
Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish contemporary writer. She is considered one of the most prominent contemporary authors of her generation as well as a global literary phenomenon.
The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto
Travelling with your family - be sure to read some Moomin books before you leave. Originally written as fairy tales for childre, their philosophic nature is universal and makes the books enjoyable for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The carefree and friendly Moomins provide a warm-hearted reading experience, and these books were an essential part of the childhood of every Finnish kid.
Hash - Torgny Lindgren
Get a taste of a thematic journey in the remotest parts of northern Sweden. Two odd characters set off on a motorcycle in search of the perfect, life-altering pot of hash (pölsan), a sort of potted-meat dish traditionally prepared in the rural north
100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window - Jonas Jonasson
Bestseller in 2012, you are probably familiar with the film that has been recently release. A very humorous book and as usual, best to read the book before seeing the film.
Jan Guillou’s epic tales about the Knight Templar Arn Magnusson are available in English and the most successful books of all time in Sweden.
A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman has also been recommended as a funny read.
Nordic Ways - Debra Cagan
A new anthology of essays, representative of all five Nordic countries. It describes life in the North from different perspectives.
Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series. I suggest reading these in order. Local libraries should have the complete series – 14 books by memory but they are mostly thin.
Falling freely, as if in a dream - Leif G W Persson
Popular authors: Stieg Larsson, Camilla Lackberg and Henning Mankell
Insider's tip: Jo Nesbø's The Snowman is based in different places in Oslo, Fløyen and Ulriksen in Bergen among others. Visiting these areas, keep a look out for a film crew - they are making a movie of this book in Oslo these days.
Images from Visit Sweden, photographers: Lena Graneflt, Simon Paulin, Helena Wahlman & Cecilia Larsson.