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5 Danish books definitely worth reading

by Agatha Green
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Do you like Scandinavian literature?

Here’s the good news.

Danish isn’t the most widely spoken language, but Danish books are popular all over the world.

Why Scandinavian literature is so popular?

We often use therm Scandinavian literature as a synonym for crime fiction and thrillers, and Danish books are no exception. And no wonder, because Scandinavian readers love detective stories and mystery novels. Every Autumn and Spring, crime writers from the Nordic Region and around the world gather for Krimfestivalen – crime festivals.

Crime fiction is hugely popular in Scandinavia and there are many writers who specialize in detective fiction and mystery novels. The so-called Scandi books have a special cold and dark vibe and feel to them, and are sought after all over the world.

The Nordic Region includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, as well as Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland.

And this time, I’d like to bring your attention to the 6 million-people country of Denmark, famous for inventing Dynamite by Alfred Nobel in 1866, LEGO bricks by Ole Kirk Kristiansen in 1932, and popularising the term Hygge in the last few years.

Danish isn’t the most widely spoken language, but Danish books are popular all over the world and translated to many other languages, including English.


Danish crime books by Jussi Adler-Olsen

It may seem that Norway and Sweden are leading the race in the crime fiction section, but if you’re fascinated by the darker side of life, Jussi Adler-Olsen might be the Danish book author for you. Adler-Olsen was born in 1950, grew up and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He sold more than 27 million books worldwide, published in more than 40 countries and languages, and received many awards and nominations, including the most recent Reader’s Choice award in Denmark (2019).

Jussi Adler-Olsen debuted as a nonfiction writer but became most famous for his crime fiction – Department Q series. Department Q is a special police unit focused on investigating a cold stack of unsolved crime cases led by Carl Mørck. It became so popular abroad that the film series was released based on the novels, and The Purity of Vengeance (2018) has been acclaimed as the most successful Danish film ever.


5 Danish books definitely worth reading

Many book lovers like to read a good crime novel from time to time, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But there’s so much more to Scandinavian literature than just crime and mystery thrillers.

Here’s a collection of a few Danish books from fiction and non-fiction genre worth reading.


1. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, Karen Blixen

In 1914 Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya with her husband to run a coffee farm. Instantly drawn to the land, she spent her happiest years there until the plantation failed. Karen Blixen was forced to return to Denmark in 1931. Her book Out of Africa describes her strong friendships with the people of her area, affection for the landscape, and animals.

About the author: Isak Dinesen

Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen, was a Danish author who wrote in Danish, French, and English (1885-1962). She published poems, plays, and short stories using the pen names Tania Blixen, Osceola, and Pierre Andrézel. Blixen is best known for Out of Africa book, which has been adapted into an Academy Award-winning epic and romantic drama film produced by Syndey Pollack, and starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

About the book: Out of Africa

Genre: Classics, Autobiografy, Memoir

“Out of Africa is Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself, visited frequently by her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up stories “like Scheherazade.” In Africa, “I learned how to tell tales,” she recalled many years later. “The natives have an ear still. I told stories constantly to them, all kinds.” Her account of her African adventures, written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark, is that of a master storyteller, a woman whom John Updike called “one of the most picturesque and flamboyant literary personalities of the century.”


2. The little book of hygge: The Danish Way to live well by Meik Wiking

Denmark has an international reputation for being one of the happiest nations in the world. Word hygge is widely recognized to be the magic ingredient to this happiness. Hygge has been described as everything from the art of creating intimacy, the coziness of the soul, the absence of annoyance to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. It’s been also called cozy togetherness and the pursuit of everyday pleasures. Find your own synonym of this Danish word, and enjoy simple pleasures daily.

About the author: Meik Wiking

Meik Wiking is a Danish author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. Wiking is a research associate for Denmark at the World Database of Happiness. His books have been translated into 15 languages.

About the book: The little book of hygge: The Danish Way to live well

Genre: Nonfiction, Cultural

Denmark is often said to be the happiest country in the world. That’s down to one thing: hygge.

‘Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. My personal favourite is cocoa by candlelight…’

You know hygge when you feel it. It is when you are cuddled up on a sofa with a loved one, or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. It is those crisp blue mornings when the light through your window is just right.”


3. The complete fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen

All-time and world best classic collection of fairy tales including The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, The Red Shoes, The Princess on the Pea, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. This book has been delighting both adults and children around the world, and many of us can still remember our favorite tales.

About the author: Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen (often referred to in Scandinavia as H. C. Andersen) was a Danish author and poet (1805-1875). Andersen wrote plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, but is best remembered for his fairy tales, which have been translated to more than 125 languages.

Andersen’s classic tales of fairies and princesses, ducklings, and dancing shoes have been selected by scholars as culturally important and part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

About the book: The complete fairy tales

Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Folklore

Some of Andersen’s most famous fairy tales include The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Nightingale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Princess and the Pea, The Snow Queen, The Red Shoes, The Little Match Girl, and many more.

Andersen’s stories have inspired plays, ballets, and both live-action and animated films.

Which one is your favorite Andersen’s tale?


4. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

Sonja, who just moved to Copenhagen from rural Jutland, is ready to get on with her life. Tired of the Swedish crime stories she translates for a living, Sonja finally decides to get driving lessons. Although she suffers from vertigo and cannot shift gears, she shows her determination to accomplish the course. It’s a story about alienation, anxieties, vertigo, and a journey to discover oneself.

About the author: Dorothe Nors

Dorthe Nors is a Danish author and writer who lives in Jutland, Denmark. She publishes novels and short stories, translated to 25 languages, and is the first Danish author published in the American magazine The New Yorker.

Nors was a finalist for The Man Booker International with the novel Mirror, shoulder, signal.

About the book: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

Genre: Nonfiction, Contemporary Novel

“Sonja’s over forty, and she’s trying to move in the right direction. She’s learning to drive. She’s joined a meditation group. And she’s attempting to reconnect with her sister.

But Sonja would rather eat cake than meditate.

Her driving instructor won’t let her change gear.

And her sister won’t return her calls.

Sonja’s mind keeps wandering back to the dramatic landscapes of her childhood – the singing whooper swans, the endless sky, and getting lost barefoot in the rye fields – but how can she return to a place that she no longer recognizes? And how can she escape the alienating streets of Copenhagen?

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a poignant, sharp-witted tale of one woman’s journey in search of herself when there’s no one to ask for directions.”


5. The Danish way of parenting: A guide to raising the happiest kids in the world by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl

What makes Denmark the happiest country in the world? How Danish parents raise happy, confident, and successful kids, year after year? This upbeat and practical guide reveals the six essential principles that have been working for parents in Denmark for decades.

About the author: Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American author, columnist, and cultural trainer who lives in Rome. Her book The Danish Way of Parenting: what the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids, came out in 19 counties and 15 languages.

About the book: The Danish way of parenting: A guide to raising the happiest kids in the world

Genre: Nonfiction, Parenting

Denmark has been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row. Countless articles and studies have been devoted to discovering the reasons why. But the results are always unclear. In this groundbreaking book, American author and Danish psychotherapist, Alexander and Sandahl claim to have uncovered the real secret to the Danes happiness. And it is, quite simply, in their upbringing. Danish parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults who raise happy children and the cycle repeats itself. The Danish Way of Parenting takes a fascinating look at some of the differences between American and Danish parenting styles and explains why the Danish Way has been so effective in creating happier, more resilient people for so many years. Alexander and Sandahl ask the reader to remove their “cultural glasses” for a moment and try on a “Danish way” of seeing things and then take a look at the world around them. Can anyone improve their wellbeing and cultivate the happiest children in the world in their own backyard? The answer is yes!”


Do you like Scandinavian literature? Have you ready any Danish books? Share your recommendations in the comment below.

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