Nordic literature, one challenge at a time

Scandinavia House inspires readers with the Nordic Summer Reading Challenge

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

Do you want to build your Nordic literature library but don’t know where to start? To provide inspiration for people just like you, NYC’s Scandinavia House introduced the Nordic Summer Reading Challenge.

There’s a new challenge every other week, ranging from books set in Iceland to books with the word “ice” or “snow” in the title. To successfully complete the challenge, readers must select a book that fits the category and finish it before the next challenge begins. To engage with other participants, readers are encouraged to share their selections on social media using the hashtag #NordicReading. Need help finding a book that fits the criteria? Don’t worry; Scandinavia House offers one suggestion for each challenge.

While the first year of the program is well underway, there are a couple of challenges remaining and readers are welcome to jump in at any point. Scandinavia House also hopes to continue with a similar program in the future. In order to learn more about this unique program, I interviewed the organizer of the challenge, Hilda Forss.

Molly Jones: What inspired you to create the Nordic Summer Reading Challenge?

Hilda Forss: Scandinavia House has arranged a monthly Nordic book club for over a year now, and this summer we are adding another book club to our mix, focusing on Nordic Noir. I wanted to do something different on social media in relation to these book clubs and thought this would be a fun way to engage our audience. The good thing about doing a reading challenge is also that it’s not bound to a specific location, so even people who aren’t in New York or can’t come to our book clubs can discuss Scandinavian literature in our social media channels. People also like reading in the summer, and taking on a challenge can be a good way to find the inspiration to read books you’ve wanted to pick up for a while.

MJ: How did you select the challenges?

HF: I chose the challenges based on the current book for the Nordic book club but also tried to make them broad enough so that there is a lot to pick from. For example, the current challenge is to read a book with a Scandinavian letter in the author’s name, and I suggested the book that we’re reading in our Nordic Noir book club: Samuel Bjørk, I’m Traveling Alone. The participants may read the book club book but can also pick anything else they like that fits in the challenge. I wanted to get variation into the challenges so that you have to think in different ways when picking, so some of them are about genres, while others are about location or about the book cover.

MJ: What is your favorite challenge?

HF: I quite like the fifth challenge, “Read a book with the word ‘ice’ or ‘snow’ in the title,” because it’s so stereotypically Nordic, but it’s also easy to just type ice or snow in Google and find books that you hadn’t thought of. At first I thought it would be difficult, but there really are a lot, and in different genres. I also like the challenge where you should find a book with a white cover. I am a graphic designer and have also designed a few book covers, so I like the idea of picking a book just based on the cover.

MJ: What challenge do you feel is the most difficult? For example, I would think it would be hard to find many Scandinavian fantasy / science fiction books available in English.

HF: I am a Swedish-speaking Finn, so I can comfortably read most Scandinavian novels in their original language (except for Icelandic and minority languages), so for me the challenge is actually finding out which books are translated into English when someone approaches me asking for tips. There is a lot of great fantasy and science fiction in Scandinavia, but not a lot of it is translated into English. Because of the Nordic Noir boom, a lot of the crime novels are translated, so the first challenge should have been pretty easy, but I think you’re right that the second challenge probably was the hardest in English.

MJ: Do you have an idea how many readers are participating?

HF: It’s very difficult to say, because you don’t have to sign up for the challenge. There has been a lot of interest on social media, but my guess is that the amount of people who are actually doing all six challenges isn’t very many. Some are doing just one or two of them as well. I also think some people are doing it for themselves, without actually participating in the discussion or using the hashtag. A few people also just participated by sending me an email with the book titles they chose.

This year’s challenges:
Challenge 1: Read a Scandinavian crime book written by a female author
What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis (Nordic Noir Book Club, June 12)

Challenge 2: Read a Scandinavian fantasy / science fiction book
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Nordic Book Club, June 27)

Challenge 3: Read a book by an author whose name contains a Scandinavian character
I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjørk (Nordic Noir Book Club, July 10)

Challenge 4: Read a Scandinavian book with a white cover
The White City by Karolina Ramqvist (Nordic Book Club, July 25)

Challenge 5: Read a book with the word “ice” or “snow” in the title
The Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe (Nordic Noir Book Club, August 7)

Challenge 6: Read a book that takes place in Iceland
Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson (Nordic Book Club, August 29)

It’s not too late to participate in the last two challenges—or do them all on your own schedule! Remember to use the hashtag #NordicReading to show your book selections on Instagram or Twitter. Visit to learn more about Scandinavia House and the Nordic Book Club.

This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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