Swedish Death Cleaning (#NordicFINDS and #ReadIndies) & Three Rereads

An unexpected opportunity to contribute another post for Nordic FINDS this week (after my skim of Sophie’s World): yesterday we went into London – for just the second time since the pandemic started – and I took along a couple of novella-length books, one of them this Swedish nonfiction work that I picked up from a charity shop the other week. As it was released by Canongate in 2017, it also fits into Karen and Lizzy’s Read Indies challenge.

Our previous London trip was to see Bell X1 play at Union Chapel back in December. Yesterday was also for a gig, this time The Lost Words: Spell Songs playing Cadogan Hall. I’d been dubious about this ensemble project based on Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words and The Lost Spells but ended up loving both books as well as the two albums of folk/world music based on them, and it was a brilliant evening of music.

Anyway, on to the books. I also reread a novella in advance of book club, so afterwards I’ll take a quick look at the rereading I’ve done so far this year.

 

Döstädning: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

This is not about trauma cleaning, but downsizing and culling possessions so that the burden doesn’t fall to your children or other relatives after your death. Magnusson, who is in her 80s, has experience with death cleaning: first after her mother’s death, then after her mother-in-law’s, and finally after her husband’s, when she decided to move from the family home to a small flat. I enjoyed the little glimpses into her life as a mother of five and an artist. The family moved around a lot for her husband’s work, living in the USA and Singapore. She makes more of an allowance for possessions that hold sentimental value (especially photos and letters), being more concerned about the accumulation of STUFF.

As for general strategies, she suggests starting the process c. age 65 and beginning with the big things, from furniture on down, so that you make visible progress right away. “I’ve discovered that it is rewarding to spend time with these objects one last time and then dispose of them.” She goes category by category through her possessions. Clothing and cookbooks are pretty easy to shed: get rid of whatever doesn’t fit or suit you anymore, and only keep a couple of much-used cookbooks; you can find most any recipe on the Internet these days, after all.  Leave the emotional material for last or you’ll get bogged down, she advises – you can take your time and enjoy reminiscing as you look through mementoes later on. She even considers what to do about old pets.

To let things, people and pets go when there is no better alternative is a lesson that has been very difficult for me to learn, and it is a lesson that life, as it goes further along, is teaching me more and more often.

Magnusson writes that she does not intend this to be a sad book, and it’s mostly very practical and unsentimental, even funny at times: on disposing of secret stuff, “save your favourite dildo but throw away the other fifteen!”; a little section on the perils of “man caves” and her memories of her clumsy cat Klumpeduns. I also laughed at the concept of a fulskåp (“a cabinet for the ugly”) for unwanted gifts that must eventually be rehomed or disposed of.

One problem that I have with decluttering books in general is that there isn’t enough of an anti-consumerist and green message. One, don’t accumulate the stuff in the first place (and reuse and buy secondhand wherever possible); two, possessions should almost never be thrown away, and only as an absolute last resort after doing everything possible to repair, refurbish, rehome or recycle them.

This was an enjoyable little book that I’ll pass on to someone else who might find it useful (so long as it’s not considered too on the nose as a book recommendation!), but it didn’t necessarily add anything for me beyond what I’d encountered in Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin and Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub. (Secondhand purchase)

[I’m a little confused as to whether this is in translation or not. It first appeared in Swedish, but as no translator is listed anywhere in the copyright info, I assume that Magnusson translated it herself. Apart from some wrong number/amount and during/over choices, it reads like a native speaker’s work.]

 

2022’s Rereading

I’ve reread three books so far this year, which for me is pretty good going. It helped that all three were novella length, and I had book club as an excuse to return to the two novels.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes was the other book I popped in the back of my purse for yesterday’s London outing. Barnes is one of my favourite authors – I’ve read 21 books by him now! – but I remember not being very taken with this Booker winner when I read it just over 10 years ago. (I prefer to think of his win as being for his whole body of work as he’s written vastly more original and interesting books, like Flaubert’s Parrot.) It’s the story of an older man looking back on his youth, and his friend’s suicide, in the light of what he learns after a somewhat mysterious bequest. The themes of history, memory and regret certainly mean more to me now in my late 30s than they did in my late 20s, but I still find this work a little lightweight; sordid, too. (Free from mall bookshop)

Readalikes: Any Human Heart by William Boyd, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was January’s book club selection. I had remembered no details apart from the title character being a teacher. It’s a between-the-wars story set in Edinburgh. Miss Brodie’s pet students are girls with attributes that remind her of aspects of herself. Our group was appalled at what we today would consider inappropriate grooming, and at Miss Brodie’s admiration for Hitler and Mussolini. Educational theory was interesting to think about, however. Spark’s work is a little astringent for me, and I also found this one annoyingly repetitive on the sentence level. (Public library)

 

Brit-Think, Ameri-Think: A Transatlantic Survival Guide by Jane Walmsley: This is the revised edition from 2003, so I must have bought it as preparatory reading for my study abroad year in England. This may even be the third time I’ve read it. Walmsley, an American in the UK, compares Yanks and Brits on topics like business, love and sex, parenting, food, television, etc. I found my favourite lines again (in a panel entitled “Eating in Britain: Things that Confuse American Tourists”): “Why do Brits like snacks that combine two starches? (a) If you’ve got spaghetti, do you really need the toast? (b) What’s a ‘chip-butty’? Is it fatal?” The explanation of the divergent sense of humour is still spot on, and I like the Gray Jolliffe cartoons. Unfortunately, a lot of the rest feels dated – she’d updated it to 2003’s pop culture references, but these haven’t aged well. (New purchase?)

 

Any Nordic reads, or rereads, for you lately?

13 responses

  1. The idea of death cleaning does appeal – I’ll have to downsize soon enough and do try not to thrown things away, but pass them on where practical. Having just finished Sarah Moss’s book about living in Iceland for a year. One of the most surprising things she found was the lack of a second-hand market for virtually anything but cars – could be a Nordic thing?! She thought that the perceived shame, potentially on both sides, of seeing your cast-offs on someone else could be a cause – in a relatively small and concentrated population. This appears to be changing with younger more eco attitudes happening now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wondered if you might be thinking of downsizing after your daughter left for uni. I know you have lots of collections too.

      That’s a good point about Nordic attitudes. Magnusson actually mentions that very thing, that it would be odd for her if she saw a young woman walking down the street in her old dress. She’s lucky that she has lots of children and grandchildren to pass things onto.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hurrah! Always good to get two challenges with one book! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure lots more indies will be represented in my reading piles this month!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. M & S are currently offering a mac ‘n cheese sandwich. Every time I pass our branch I’m aghast at such an aberration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Double carb delight! How bizarre.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] Döstädning: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson – Bookish Beck […]

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  5. You prompted me to order Year of No Clutter from another library branch. Sounds like it’s at least worth a look. I’m feeling the need to get rid of stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s a lot of good practical ideas in that book. Getting ready to move soon has been my excuse to get rid of some things that we haven’t used in a long time, mostly by giving them away on our community Facebook page. (Even books! — about 20-30 so far.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a lot of rereads, even if they are short. Well done! I mean, after all, you could have just read one new and shiny book, but you didn’t! Heheh

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    1. Yep, I’m pretty proud of myself 😉

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  7. That’s very useful to hear about A Sense of an Ending, I’m going to quietly remove that from my husband’s (temporary) bookshelf as he lost a friend in that way himself a couple of years ago and doesn’t want to be reading about it. So thank you! The decluttering book sounds sensible, but yes, recycle and repurpose, please! I’m getting good at not keeping books I won’t re-read but not being quick to register them on BookCrossing while liking getting the messages from passed along books. Did manage to give two bags of oat powder husband can no longer use to a friend the other day so good to feel things are leaving the house!

    Oh yes, and three Nordic reads yesterday and one still going plus one I won’t finish but at least have started for NordicFINDS. Hooray!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not huge on trigger warnings, etc., but it can be useful to know if the main themes of a books are ones to avoid for a particular reason.

      Our community Facebook page is a great place to pass stuff on to other people and thus save it from the tip. We’ve gotten a bunch of furniture for our new place for free or cheap. And most weekends I put a box of free books out at the end of our path for people to pick up as they walk by.

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