Monday, 18 May 2009

The Reading Circle

In a Hbl column, the Helsinki journalist, writer and literary critic Pia Ingström writes about a cultural institution that's especially widespread among Finland's majority Finnish-speaking population - the book club, or reading circle. She says that a large part of her Finnish-speaking life (as a Finland-Swede, she also has a Swedish-speaking one) is spent in a circle of readers "whose members are authors, editors and translators. We eat and talk about our jobs if we have one, as well as about our children, grandchildren, husbands or pets. Also, each of us presents a book we've been reading, for purely personal or for professional reasons."

At the circle's last meeting, author Anita Konkka had been re-reading Hungarian author Peter Esterhazy's novel Helping Verbs of the Heart, and her view of the novel had been changed, she said, by the life experiences she had had in the intervening two decades. Pia writes that "I need my reading circle not for discovering new books, but old ones. It's lucky that there are people who read according to an order that is completely subjective, free from passing trends and fashions."

1 comment:

Eric Dickens said...

It is fascinating that in bi- or multilingual countries, people who are proficient in languages can move from community to community with relative ease. I doubt if there is any Finland-Swedish cultural figure working in Helsinki-Helsingfors nowadays who cannot speak very good Finnish as well.

But the converse is not necessarily true. The majority Finnish-speakers (96% of the Finnish population) got fed up of "pakkoruotsi" (compulsory Swedish) years ago, and have preferred to learn English. So I have no idea how many high-up cultural Finnish-speakers in Helsinki can do elegant things in Swedish.

As for Péter Esterházy, the novel mentioned here is about his mother. He wrote one twice about his father; once before he found out that his father was a secret police informer, then rewrote the same novel, with added, highlighted passages, later on, when the truth dawned.

I agree with Pia Ingström about discovering old books. In the frenetic rush to create new photogenic bestselling authors, many of the national literary promotional agencies ignore classic authors, focussing their attention instead on some pretty, ephemeral bimbo, or boy toy, instead of one of several national geniuses from four decades ago, now dead.