This story is part of a new series explore the world through books. We’ve asked some of our favorite writers for recommended readings to help you learn about their cities and tips on literary landmarks to visit. We will be traveling the world with them over the next few months, from Madrid to Mexico City, Istanbul and beyond. Subscribe to the Books newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a stop!
To begin with, let’s make it clear to everyone who has read our books that Stockholm is a very safe city, usually without serial killers. But our capital is not harmless, at least not in literature.
Authors have written about the light of snow and the winter darkness in alleys, the melancholy of brief summer and the sadness of autumn. Thanks to crime writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and beyond, there probably isn’t a street or park in the city where a fictional murder hasn’t been committed (and we acknowledge our extensive contribution).
Stockholm is situated in the passage between one of Sweden’s largest lakes and the Baltic Sea and has been inhabited since the Ice Age. The 13th century Riddarholmen Church is the oldest fully preserved building here. It is surrounded by medieval buildings, which in turn are surrounded by beautiful houses and theaters from the 19th century.
Although Stockholm is one of the most modern cities in the world (for example, we do not use cash), the past is always present. We live on Oden street. Near us, on the square next to the Royal Palace, the Stockholm bloodbath took place in 1520, when about 100 aristocrats were executed. The amazing Vasa warship, which sank after traveling just 1,400 yards on her maiden voyage in 1628, can be seen intact in Royal National City Park. The well-preserved town of Birka, a Viking-era trading center, is nearby, and many gods from Old Norse mythology, such as Thor, are buried, according to tradition, in the nearby town of Uppsala.
Authors have always been drawn to this city, which is home to Sweden’s leading publishing houses, the Nobel Prize and the Royal Dramatic Theatre. This is where the artists gather; where the music is created; where film productions with Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman once upon a time took off; and where David Fincher filmed the US version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
What should I read before packing?
If you can get your hands on”Epistles and Songs of Fredman” you will get a direct look at the Swedish soul, if there is such a thing. The author, Carl Michael Bellman, is our own burlesque, tragic, and poetic version of Shakespeare.
Another warm-up reading tip is a novel by Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1909: “Your soul will testify”, a ghost story about a very bad man who dies on New Year’s Eve. He is the last person to die that year and is doomed to carry the souls of the dead in his chariot until he finds forgiveness and tries to mend what he has broken.
What books or authors should I bring with me?
“doctor glass”, by Hjalmar Söderberg, is an iconic read, a classic book that is relevant to new generations of readers again and again, with its cocktail of perversions, oppression of sexuality, murder and melancholy in the city of Stockholm. You can even take a “Doctor Glas” “audio tour” when you arrive, where you hear the book in the exact places described in it.
If I don’t have time for day trips, what books can take me there?
The amazing archipelago of Stockholm, with all its islands, beaches, cliffs, restaurants and sailboats, is really worth at least one day. In Sweden we have what we call everyone’s right, which is general public access to nature, whether on public or private land, granted by our constitution. You can camp and fish almost anywhere you want.
But if you don’t have time, read “Port” by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the author of “let the right one in” and our very own Swedish Stephen King. “Harbor” is set in the archipelago and has all the great ingredients you need for a horror story.
What audiobook would be a good company while I walk?
Why not a book by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer? He won the Nobel Prize in 2011 and is considered a modern icon. His poetry seems simple, but it opens doors to the enigma that is life.
Who are the literary icons you might see named on street signs, statues, or public monuments?
The ghost of August Strindberg haunts the streets of Stockholm. There is a giant statue of the misogynistic, hateful, legendary but brilliant author who wrote the novel”the red roomand the naturalistic game “Miss Julia,” in Tegnérlunden Park, and his words are quoted on the asphalt of Drottninggatan, the street where he lived the last years of his life in a building known as the Blue Tower. If you can, you should visit: Standing there looking at Strindberg’s desk, with its pens, papers, and books, gives the writers a certain familiar sense of discipline, dreams, and isolation.
What literary pilgrimage destination (an author’s home or favorite drinking spot, an amazing bookstore, a fictionally inspired real-life site) would you recommend?
The Nobel Prize Banquet is held every year at the Stockholm City Hall, a beautiful building by the water in the center of the city. In the cellar of the Stadshuskällaren restaurant you can try any of the dinners that were served at banquets past since 1901. Perhaps you would like to try the dinner that was served when Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954: smoked trout with cream-spinach stews; beef tenderloin with artichokes, truffles and mushrooms; and pear with pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce. Just remember to book your visit in advance.
In Dalagatan, a street in our part of the city, you can visit the humble apartment of Astrid Lindgren, who wrote “Pippi Longstocking” and many other legendary children’s books.
The National Library has built a space underground that is an exact copy of the house of the poet Nelly Sachs, who won the Nobel Prize in 1966. Visit her “cabin”, a completely small place where she would sit and write in the dark , trying not to upset her sick mother, is very touching and strangely creepy.
What’s a good place to curl up with a book?
The House of Culture is a modernist meeting place in the middle of the city with art exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, theater, music and an international writers’ scene that has attracted authors such as Jonathan Franzen, Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, Susan Faludi, Emma Cline, Philip Pullman, Hilary Mantel, Paul Auster, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, and Dennis Lehane. It is, in a certain way, a socialist vision of how culture does not need large halls or bourgeois interiors, and is the result of a desire to bring culture to where workers and families pass every day. Anyone can take a walk, curl up with a book, have a coffee, play chess or visit an exhibition.
Lars Kepler is the pseudonym of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. His Joona Linna crime fiction series, which includes such novels as “The Sandman” and “The Rabbit Hunter,” has been translated into 40 languages.