Top 20 Bestselling Scandinavian Books at Amazon US

by Peter

I have to admit that I am fairly interested in book lists, perhaps mostly lists of bestselling books. The most important reason for this, I think, is that as a reviewer it is pretty easy to get caught up in “hype” and discussions about new fabulous authors or books, and to some extent focus more on what is interesting than on what people actually read. So lists like the following, even though they are no more than snapshots of popularity at a given point in time, to some extent provide interesting correctives.


1. Firewall by Henning Mankell. A book in the series about Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in the town of Ystad. Great book. Mankell is Swedish.
2.
The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology (Penguin Classics) by Snorri Sturluson. Very classical old Nordic saga from the Viking era. Sturlasson is an Icelandic writer.
3.
Sidetracked by Henning Mankell, Steven T. Murray. Another great Kurt Wallander novel. Several Wallander movies have been shown on TV in the US lately. Mankell is a Swedish writer.
4.
Black Seconds (An Inspector Sejer Mystery) by Karin Fossum, Charlotte Barslund. A deep and penetrating psychological thriller by Fossum, a Norwegian writer.
5.
The Redbreast: A Novel by Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett. Another book in Nesbo’ series about detective Harry Hole of the Oslo Police. Nesbo is a Norwegian writer.
6.
Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie (Perennial Classics) by Ole Edvart Rolvaag. A saga about the Norwegian immigrants to North Dakota, spanning three generations. Rolvaag is a Norwegian-American writer.
7.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Wonderful book, hard to classify, perhaps crime fiction, by Danish author Peter Hoeg.
8.
The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics) by Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal, Kathryn Davis. One of Tove Jansson’s adult books, which are no being translated into English. Jansson is a Finnish writer.
9.
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (The Annotated Books) by Hans Christian Andersen, Maria Tatar, Julie Allen. Anderson’s fairy tales will probably always continue to astonish and delight people. Anderson is a Danish writer.
10.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Petterson’s prize winning, sparsely written novel about an old man and his relationships and history. Petterson is a Norwegian writer.
11.
Kristin Lavransdatter (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Sigrid Undset, Tiina Nunnally, Brad Leithauser. An old historical novel by a Nobel Prize winning author – great translation. Undset is a Norwegian writer.
12.
The Death of a Beekeeper by Lars Gustafsson. A wonderful and intriguing tale by Swedish author Gustafsson!
13.
The Axe: The Master of Hestviken, Vol. 1 by Sigrid Undset. The other main work of historical fiction by Sigrid Undset. Undset is a Norwegian writer.
14.
The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics) by Anonymous, Jesse L. Byock. Another of the old Nordic sagas of the Viking era.
15.
The Snake Pit: The Master of Hestviken, Vol. 2 by Sigrid Undset. Another volume of Undset’s wonderful historical novel. Undset is a Norwegian writer.
16.
Nemesis: A Novel (Harry Hole) by Jo Nesbo, Don Bartlett. More Harry Hole from Oslo in this thriller/crime fiction novel by Nesbo. Nesbo is a Norwegian author.
17.
Gunnar’s Daughter (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) by Sigrid Undset, Sherrill Harbison, Arthur G. Chater. A huge surprise – a wonderful book that raises interesting feminist issues by Undset. Undset is a Norwegian writer.
18.
Mysteries: A Novel by Knut Hamsun, Gerry Bothmer, Sven Birkerts, Isaac Bashevis Singer. One of Hamsun’s most beautiful and most lyrical books. Hamsun is a Norwegian writer.
19.
Hanna’s Daughters: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle) by Marianne Fredriksson. Intriguing novel by one of Sweden’s greatest authors.
20.
An Enemy of the People (Penguin Plays) by Arthur Miller, Henrik Ibsen. One of several excellent and still thought provoking plays by Ibsen. Ibsen is a Norwegian writer.

There are many interesting things about this list. First of all, it is obviously not correct! Amazon is a nice book store, but it is very bad at classifying books and authors. So I suspect a number of authors are missing here, for instance Stieg Larsson with his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. For some or other reason Larsson is not classified as an Scandinavian author by Amazon, whereas Fossum and Nesbo are. Only Amazon knows (or I guess perhaps they don’t) who else is misclassified. Also I think a number of Swedish-American, Danish-American, and Norwegian-American writers, like for instance Siri Hustvedt, are not classified that way either.

Secondly, the list is cleaned by me. Don Quixote and some other Spanish books are for some other reason classified as Scandinavian. Perhaps Amazon thinks Spain is in Scandinavia. Maybe they should take a trip to Stockholm and Madrid, and then go home again and consider that classification?

Third, there are a lot of Norwegian writers here, but fewer Swedish and Icelandic (especially) than expected. I tend to think this is due to classification problems. Where are Åsa Larsson, Karin Alvtegen, Johan Theorin and others? And Arnaldur Indridason?

Fourth, it is interesting and surprising to notice that – to the extent the list can be assumed to tell anything – old Nordic sagas and writers like especially Sigrid Undset, but also Rolvaag, Hamsun and Ibsen seem to be selling quite well in the US.

What do my readers make of this?

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