Norway for bookworms: A travel guide for literature lovers

Photo: Camille Gévaudan / Wikimedia
Fjærland is called a bokbyen because of its miles of books housed in rustic sheds like this one.

Marie Peyre
The Local

With international festivals, award-winning libraries, and picturesque book towns, there is plenty to appeal to book lovers visiting Norway.

Norway’s literary greats
Think Norwegian literature and chances are the name Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) will be the first to spring to mind. Norway’s acclaimed playwright was one of the most influential writers of his time, still hailed internationally as the founder of modern drama. Ibsen was born in Skien, in southern Norway, and you can visit his childhood home there. If you are short of time, though, head instead to the Ibsen Museum in Oslo. Ibsen lived the last 11 years of his life in the city (then called Kristiania), and his old apartment, now restored to its former glory, is well worth a visit. The adjoining visitor center features an exhibit on Ibsen’s life and writing.

Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), another Norway great, is the country’s most famous novelist, known for works such as Hunger, Growth of the Soil, Pan, and The Wanderer. The Hamsun Center in Hamarøy, Nordland, celebrates the life and work of the author. The building itself, designed by architect Steven Holl, has received several prizes for its striking architecture. Hamsun’s childhood home, which lies 5km from the center, can also be visited; booking is required.

Photo: TorbjørnS / Wikimedia
The Hamsun Center, a museum dedicated to author Knut Hamsun, is situated in Presteid in Hamarøy, Norway.

Norway’s best-selling contemporary novelist is crime writer Jo Nesbø, who has sold over 25 million books and been translated into more than 50 languages. Nesbø himself has been a long-time resident in Oslo and some of his most popular books are set in the capital. Want to follow in the footsteps of his famous police detective? Oslo Guidebureau organizes weekly “Harry Hole’s Oslo” walks.

Events and festivals
Over 60 literature festivals take place every year in Norway. From the Children’s Book Festival in Grimstad to the Finnmark International Literature Festival, from the Raptus Comics Book Festival in Bergen to Kongsberg Crime Fiction Festival, there are plenty of opportunities for book lovers all over Norway to get together. The most popular is the Norwegian Literature Festival, which takes place in Lillehammer in late May to early June and attracts popular authors from around the world and tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Literature houses
Other great places to meet fellow book lovers in Norway are the literature houses, called Litteraturhuset in Norwegian. Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Fredrikstad, and Skien all have their own.

Photo: Offfstad / Wikimedia
Bergen’s Literature House. Oslo, Trondheim, Fredrikstad, and Skien also have their own.

Public libraries
Norway boasts some beautiful libraries, several of which have received international accolades for their architecture and design. The most striking is probably Vennesla Library in southern Norway, built by Helen & Hard and made almost entirely from wood. Also worth mentioning are Bodø’s Stormen and Tromsø Library, both in northern Norway.

Traveling with teenagers? The über-cool Biblo Tøyen in Oslo opened in 2016 and is Norway’s first library for 10- to 15-year-olds only! Here kids can do homework inside a converted tuk-tuk, learn to prepare food in the back of an old Volvo truck, or read in a recycled gondola hanging from the ceiling—no grown-ups allowed.
Located in Bjørvika, next to the Opera and the new Munch Museum, the new Oslo Public Library (Deichmanske bibliotek), due to open in 2020, will be Norway’s finest and a must see for any visitor.

Norway’s book towns
The bookish destination par excellence, the village of Fjærland with the original Norwegian Book Town (Bokbyen), boasts miles of shelves, housed in quaint little sheds along the picturesque fjord. There are also a few second-hand bookshops, most of which sell books in foreign languages as well as Norwegian. Bokbyen is open daily May to September from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Tvedestrand, on Norway’s southern coast, also brands itself as a book town, and here too you will find second-hand bookshops, guided tours, and a range of events. The town even has its own book hotel.

The Future Library Project
Started in 2014, the Future Library is an original art project where a new writer contributes a text every year to be held in trust until 2114. Will these texts find a receptive reader in the future? Time will tell. In the meantime, the unpublished books will be held in a special room in the new Oslo Public Library. A special Future Library forest of 1,000 trees has also been planted in Oslo­marka to supply the paper needed to print an anthology of the works in 100 years time. Acclaimed authors Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, and Sjón were the first three to contribute texts to the project.

If all this has made you want to go buy a book, you will be glad to hear that most big bookstores in Norway have a section selling books in English. But Tronsmo in Oslo is arguably the best bookshop in the country for English-language books. Here you will find a great choice of contemporary English-language literature, as well as Norwegian authors in translation, a fine selection of art books and comics, and more.

This article was originally published on The Local.

It also 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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