Nothing Like Some Good Fiction from an Indie Bookstore! (A Man Called Ove)

A Man Called Ove cover 2

Last week I purchased a book at nearly full price at a wonderful independent bookseller in Minneapolis. It was, of all things, a work of fiction, a genre I don’t read much. (That may be changing.)

The book is A Man Called Ove (pronounced “OOH-vuh”) by Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman.

It begins like this:

Ove is fifty-nine.

He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.

“So this is one of those O-Pads, is it?” he demands.

The assistant, a young man with a single-digit body mass index, looks ill at ease. He visibly struggles to control his urge to snatch the box out of Ove’s hands.

“Yes, exactly. An iPad. Do you think you could stop shaking it like that . . . ?”

Every day Ove is frustrated by a highly tech-oriented world, where IT consultants and men in white shirts run society but can’t tighten a screw or back up a moving trailer properly.

Already at 59 Ove is a grumpy old man—but not beyond hope, and maybe even lovable if the author has his way.

A Man Called Ove begins with a young family moving into the neighborhood and crashing their trailer into Ove’s mailbox. Each new day thereafter is destined to bring a new interruption to the solitary peace Ove desires.

The story is interesting, compelling, and moves along well. Beckman deftly weaves between Ove’s past and present. At first the flashbacks felt like intrusions, but then I found myself equally engaged in both the back story and the main story.

The writing is enjoyable. Backman’s use of metaphor is clever and funny. A number of chapters make use of inclusio, using the same thought (and even wording) to both open and close a scene. And the occasional clipped writing style fits well with Ove’s character, as here, where subjects drop out:

 

 

There is lots of nodding and shoving of hands into pockets—maybe just a touch more than necessary. Some coincidences, especially toward the end of the book, are a little unbelievable. And I spotted about a dozen typos, as well as a couple handfuls of places that wanted a closer edit.

Those faults do not outweigh the pleasure of reading the story. As a bonus, the layout and cover and typesetting are some of the best I’ve seen in a novel, and made me want to pick it up even more. (Though the compelling story, especially in its second half, was sufficient for keeping me engaged.)

And–get this–there’s a movie version of the book. It’s supposed to be coming to the U.S. this fall. I watched the trailer after reading the book, and it looks like it perfectly captures the essence of the characters and interactions in Backman’s story.

Here’s the publisher’s page. You can find it on Amazon here, or (better yet!) at your local independent bookseller, or even at your local library.

Children’s Book Review: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories!

daniels-grr-ific-stories!-9781481443913_hrDaniel Tiger (a.k.a., “D. Tiger,” according to our three-year-old) continues to be a hit around here. I expressed some skepticism two-and-a-half years ago toward a tiger replacing Mr. Rogers (see here). And of course no one could ever fill those shoes and that sweater. But Daniel Tiger–both the character and the show–has turned out to be pretty awesome.

 

Now… Books!

 

Yes, we enjoy the show. And the music is a favorite soundtrack at home. Last year our three-year-old (then two) got the toy trolley and some character figurines for Christmas.

I wonder whether the franchise has been slow to merchandise since heavy consumerism isn’t exactly a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood value. However, I have wished on numerous occasions for D. Tiger books to read to my daughter. Now Simon & Shuster and The Fred Rogers Company are releasing a slew of volumes for children.

 

Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories! (6 of Them!)

 

One such release is the surprisingly affordable six-book boxed set: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories. It includes six short stories (22 pages of story text in each) with full-color illustrations:

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood!
  • Daniel Goes to School
  • Goodnight, Daniel Tiger
  • Daniel Visits the Doctor
  • Daniel’s First Sleepover
  • The Baby Is Here!

As with the show, each book uses an interesting (and, let’s admit it, cute) narrative to help children deal with the many and diverse feelings that life throws their way.

Daniel is a big helper with the new baby–he helps get her room ready, holds her when she’s born, and even helps change a diaper! Smoother sailing then one might expect when a new baby comes and shakes up a family dynamic. (This may be one reason Honest Toddler does not like Daniel Tiger.)

The books are true to the show, which is nice–you’ll see, for example, familiar songs here:

Daniel is not sure what he’s going to do at the sleepover. He sings, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!”

Daniel and Prince Wednesday have a pajama dance party and brush their teeth together, but then Daniel gets scared:

Now it’s time to turn out the light and go to sleep. But wait! There is a great big shadow on the wall. It looks scary to Daniel! What could it be?

But, lest you worry our own child should get scared, the authors are on it:

Daniel remembers, if something seems scary, “See what it is. You might feel better.”

Sure enough (spoiler alert), “It’s just Mr. Lizard!” It was only a stuffed animal.

“When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!” comes up, too, when Dr. Anna sings it to Daniel in his check-up. Nothing to fear. He’s growing stripes just as he should!

All six of the books are of the quality you’d expect. (Though, be advised: they’re paperback.) Your kid may want you to read all six before going to bed, but one or two or three will probably fill 10–15 minutes easily enough. There’s a lot of good content here.

The illustrations are well-done, too:

 

Welcome to Music Shop

 

Waiting for Doctor

 

Baby Sister

 

Plus, A Super-Cute Growth Chart

 

Also included in the six-book box is a full-color growth chart parents can put on the wall. It starts at 17 inches (so you hang it 16 inches above the floor) and goes up to 59 inches. Daniel, Miss Elaina, Prince Wednesday, O the Owl, and Katerina Kittycat are all there cheering for your growing wee one. A nice touch is that at three parts there is, “Now I’m big enough to _” that you can fill in.

 

Growth chart

 

Where to Get It

 

Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

 

Box Contents

 

You can find the boxed set at the publisher’s page here, and here at Amazon.

For how much is here, both the list price and the discounted price on Amazon make it easily worthwhile.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Simon & Schuster for sending the boxed set for review, though that did not influence my opinions.