Of all the books in the list of Christmas bestsellers this year, one in particular stands out as unusual. Lars Mytting’s ‘Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way’ has been an unexpected hit in the UK, reaching number 21 in the official chart in the week leading up to Christmas. Published by MacLehose Press in November 2015, it had to be reprinted four times in one month in order to keep up with demand.
The book (whose original title is ‘Hel Ved’) was a runaway success in its native Norway when it was published in 2011, selling over 300,000 copies and remaining in the bestsellers list for over a year. It even inspired a 12-hour-long TV programme – watched by around a fifth of the population – that showed a burning fireplace accompanied by commentaries about the process of preparing firewood.
So why has the book been such a success in the UK? After all, ‘Norwegian Wood’ does exactly what it says on the tin. It contains information and how-to guides on things such as selecting the best axe and chainsaw, building effective wood stacks, and the characteristics of different types of wood – knowledge that is neither commonly sought nor strictly necessary in this country of relatively mild and snow-free winters. Perhaps the real appeal instead lies in the book’s reflections on nature, trees, myths and legends, and above all, labouring in order to live self-sufficiently. Mytting comments that the book taps into “a very basic dream of human survival,” and his lyrical prose style (Mytting is first and foremost a novelist) perfectly evokes the forests of Norway.
So forget those grisly Scandinavian crime thrillers, pick up this book instead and embrace the opportunity to become an “armchair wood chopper!”
Written by Jenny Nicholls
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham