Isn’t it good? Norwegian Wood hits US shelves

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch Hel Ved poses with its English edition and of course its subject matter.

Photo: Heidi Håvan Grosch
Hel Ved poses with its English edition and of course its subject matter.

Heidi Håvan Grosch
Sparbu, Norway

Barnes and Noble and Amazon U.S. call this “the latest Scandinavian publishing phenomenon.” Amazon UK reports Norwegian Wood topped sales charts at no. 2 last month, and in Norway this book about firewood continues to intrigue non-readers, enticing them to peruse this tome from cover to cover. Since its publication in 2011, Hel Ved has been translated into 11 languages and to date has sold over 350,000 copies, most recently appearing in English in October 2015 as Norwegian Wood.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about firewood, so when gathering information for this book, author Lars Mytting traveled in his rear-wheel drive Volvo 240 to some of the coldest parts of Norway in order to discover how others, researchers and normal folk alike, approached the chopping and burning of wood. He also tried out most of the methods himself with “vekslende hell og bratt læringskurve” (varying degrees of luck and a steep learning curve)…. but “samtidig har jeg jaktet på vedfyringens sjel” (at the same time I have hunted for the heart of wood burning itself, searching for its soul).

Mytting wasn’t surprised when people in Scandinavia found his book interesting; after all, Norway is a country where 1.2 million households have fireplaces or wood burning stoves. In fact, Norwegians find the topic so fascinating that in 2013 the Norwegian Broadcasting station (NRK) aired a program based on Mytting’s book. “We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the program,” said Mytting.
“Fifty percent complained that the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down.” Nearly a million people, or 20 percent of the Norwegian population, tuned in at some point during that broadcast, which was immediately followed by a six-hour program with nothing but a “live” open fire burning in a hut. “People actually followed it,” said Mytting. “They’d comment on Twitter ‘time to get on a new log,’ or complained ‘when will they burn spruce? There’s too much birch now.’”


He thought a book about firewood might hold some appeal in Germany as well where the use of “green” energy is popular. “Up until now wood has been an important theme in the Norwegian public sector,” comments Mytting on his homepage, “but it has enormous potential as a climate neutral bioenergy. Because our connection to fire is so ancient, so concrete and fundamental, it touches the very core of humanity.” He describes Norwegian Wood as “a useful how-to guide, and a tale from a cold country … a non-fiction book carrying with it the dream and the ambience of being self-sufficient.”

Mytting did not expect his book to become a global phenomenon. In a recent interview with the Guardian he exclaims, “I think if I had known the sales potential of it, and the success it would have, I wouldn’t be finished writing it yet. But without anyone knowing, the time was right for it.”

I asked Mytting to explain this fascination with wood in a culture where modern technology is prized, in which folks want instant gratification, and in Norway where forced air heating has become more popular. “The use of wood has actually grown in the last 30 years… because it is a fantastic supplement to electric heat and really the only thing that cuts through the bitter cold.” Mytting believes chopping wood “is a very healthy thing to do for a modern person. So much of our life is based on a digital lifestyle. Chopping wood is… a hands-on experience, which is only you, with simple tools, and very organic material… It gives you a reward that is exactly equal to the effort you put into it.”

norwegian wood

When I reminded him that many feel heating with wood is a bit old-fashioned, he set me straight: “I actually think it is one of the most modern ways of heating you can find! The new clean-burning ovens pollute very little. In fact, it is very possible to burn wood without smoke or annoying smells from the chimney! You also don’t find any other renewable, green energy that is also equally easy and cheap to produce.”

Burning wood is humanity’s oldest form of energy, and is used throughout the world. It is really no surprise, then, that Norwegian Wood is on its way to becoming a hands-on classic as folks embrace the strong traditions and memories that surround a wood pile or a blazing fire in the hearth. “The feelings of comfort and well-being that come with the flames is the same feeling one gets when the sun’s rays touch the skin.”

So for those of you looking for the perfect gift this Christmas, and the chance to immerse yourself in both the warmth of your Norwegian heritage and the flames of the fire itself, Norwegian Wood (Hel Ved) is the book for you.

Further reading:

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 4, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.