Official visit to Canada: On literature and reading
Dear friends of literature,
Books have always been an important part of my life – even before I could read myself. I am, therefore, very happy to share with you some thoughts on literature and on reading.
I recall many moments from my childhood when my mom read for me. I often felt very close to the characters in the books, we travelled near and far, and felt that the story was about me.
Today, as a mother, I understand that these illusions children, and grown-ups for that sake, fall into while reading, are important moments.
It nurtures our ability to feel empathy with others.
Literature helps us in the process of becoming a member of the flock.
For the reading child, literature is where you can ask where you come from, what it means to be a human being, how do we contribute in this world, what is my place in it.
You ask those questions as a child, then again as a young person, then as a mother or as a father, then as an old person – each time with a different perspective. And if you read the same book again – it will be different. Heraclitus said – “No man ever steps into the same river twice.”
Well, maybe one can also say “No man ever reads the same book twice.”
On Saturdays I used to visit the local library with my mother. It was a highlight of the week - walking along shelves filled with books and the opportunity to choose a few books to take home.
I still very much enjoy visiting libraries. I enjoy the peace and quiet. I can feel and smell the stories behind the book covers.
Reading lets us live not one, but many lives.
Reading lets us know not only those who resemble us– but also those that are not familiar, those who make choices we don’t understand, those who live in a different location and different situation.
In short, reading enriches our lives.
To read books is important. When or if we can - it is equally important to share our reading experiences with others.
By sharing reading experiences, we also share some of your inner thoughts. It opens up other channels of communication between us.
So I had a desire for a long time to communicate stronger, in a more substantial way, with other readers and lovers of books.
The way for me to do that, was to travel by train. So we created something we called The Literature Train. And we took that train through various parts of Norway, with the purpose of promoting literature, talking with people about why and how they read.
So far I have been on these trips three times in different parts of the country.
I have been fortunate to cooperate with many different authors – promoting reading and literature in Norway – and abroad. On the train journeys I have invited guests, including authors, to travel with me, to share their reading and writing experiences.
Meetings along the route have taken place in libraries or other venues in small communities all over Norway. We have discussed issues as identity and belonging, shame and other important aspects of the human condition with children and adults alike.
In Norway, and I am sure also here in Canada, there are many who share my love for books.
Statistics show that 93% of the population in Norway reads at least one book a year, and 40% read more than 10 books a year.
It is also very encouraging that people are introduced to books at an early age. About 80% of all parents read to their children at least 2-3 times a week – and creates a head start of a life filled with stories. Reading stories loud never falls out of fashion.
In Norway, as in many other countries, we have what we call Houses of Literature. And I find this incredibly encouraging – that in our digital age you can find an audience thrilled by just watching and listening to writers who read their own work, to critics who debate with authors, to academics who discuss a given work or topic. It is not even slow television – it is just slow – and it is fantastic.
One ambition I have for this trip to Canada, is to discover Canadian writers that I do not know yet, so I hope some of you will give me some tips after. Canadian authors are very popular in Norway, among others Alice Munro and Margareth Atwood, and not to forget Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
A unique artwork was launched in Oslo two years ago by the Scottish artist Katie Paterson – it is called the Future Library. A thousand trees have been planted in a forest just outside Oslo which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years. Between now and a hundred years into the future, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until twenty-one fourteen.
And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Margaret Atwood was chosen to be the first writer to contribute to the Future Library. Her comments at the time were:
“I am very honored, and also happy to be part of this endeavor. This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years!"
Many book-lovers here will be familiar with this quote by Umberto Eco – “The language of Europe is translation”.
Norway is a small country.
To reach a larger audience, the Norwegian writer needs to find readers internationally.
To add wings to the book – it needs the language of translation.
The organization NORLA - Norwegian Literature Abroad, plays an important role helping the Norwegian book to become international.
NORLA provides the important financial support for translations – and aims to inspire international buyers to discover new works of literature from Norway.
Canada and Norway both have high international ambitions for their literature. Norway has been chosen as the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019, the largest and most important arena for literature internationally. Canada is to be the Guest of Honor the year after.
We will certainly learn a thing or two from one-another in the process.
This was of course one of the topics during a Canadian-Norwegian literature event Tuesday in Toronto with Livres Canada Books and NORLA and publishers from both countries.
We have seen an increasing interest in Norwegian books internationally in recent years. And it is especially noteworthy that the interest for books translated into English has increased.
Some of you might have read the Norwegian authors Linn Ullmann, Per Petterson, Jostein Gaarder, Karl Ove Knausgård and Jo Nesbø. They are very different writers. All of them are among the most popular Norwegian authors internationally and “paved the way” for several of their Norwegian colleagues.
Some of them have reached both the French and English speaking Canadian market.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Erlend Loe, one of Norway’s most popular writers who you will hear more from later, and Hilde Kvalvaag in Toronto about their books “Doppler” and “Have a Good Life”.
Soon Erlend Loe and your own Ed Riche will enter the stage for what I am sure will be an engaging conversation. They explore similar themes in their sharply observant, imaginative and playful works of fiction. Even being from two different continents their lively fiction has so much in common.
It is a fine time to reinforce our work for Norwegian and Canadian literature abroad and actively use the time leading up to and beyond Frankfurt Book Fair.
Because the Frankfurt Book Fair is not only a marketplace.
It is the manifestation of the importance of literature in our world.
The trading of books in Frankfurt dates back to the early days of printing, to shortly after Gutenberg and his press saw the light of day.
The book fair illustrates the revolutionary, and necessary, power of freedom of speech.
This freedom also includes freedom of fantasy and the autonomy of the individual – which are hallmarks of a liberal democracy.
I said earlier today that I cannot imagine for myself a life without books.
Yet in the world of today, this freedom of imagination and of creation, is not enjoyed or ensured everywhere in our world.
Some do not have access to books because of poverty, illiteracy and discrimination.
Some do not have access to books - because they – the book and its reader - are considered to be dangerous together.
So when we follow each other to Frankfurt as guests of honor in a few years, we are together in promoting and stressing the very values on which our societies rest. When we start our thoughts with the pleasure of reading – we very quickly end at the importance of freedom.
It has been a privilege for me to share with you my passion for books.
Reading is important, at once beautiful and necessary.
I would like to finish with a passage - words of Lucy Maud Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables:
“It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines”.
And witth these very few words - we are already there – together.