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  • Hilde Huus

Nordic Reading Habits

(Photo: Tina Stafrén/

One of the initiatives of CNS Council this year was to set up our own Facebook page. My brother Jan (the “techie” )and I sat down together last fall to set it up and start posting events and articles. Gradually, more and more people started viewing and “liking” our page and the items we posted - not only CNS members, but people from across Canada, the USA, the Nordic countries, and scattered here and there around the world.

A recent article we posted quoted a study that ranked 60 countries based on their “trends in literate behaviour and literacy”. The country that came out on top was Finland, followed by Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. I have heard similar claims about high literacy rates in the Nordic countries in the past and wondered why this would be so. Does it have to do with the historic isolation of many inhabitants in mountainous areas and on small islands? Is it the long, dark winters? The introspective nature of the Nordic character? Or maybe it’s the strong influence of Lutheranism? In the past in Norway, and presumably in the other Nordic countries as well, the state religion required that a person be confirmed in the Church before they could get married or buy land. In order to be confirmed, you had to be able to read.

When Norwegians go to their cabins in the mountains or by the sea over the Easter holiday, it has become a custom to bring along a good juicy crime novel. But it is not only Norwegians who enjoy Nordic crime novels. They have become very popular all over the world. A BBC article on “Nordic Noir” suggests that their popularity has to do with the mix of social commentary and the beauty of the landscape setting, and that readers everywhere appreciate the steady unfolding of the plot that is typical of their style.

An article on why Icelanders are among the happiest people in the world suggested that their love of reading might actually contribute to their high contentment levels.

So besides crime novels, what do Nordic types like to read about, and what does it say about us? I decided to take on a little investigation of my own. I had a look at the CNS Facebook page statistics and ranked the most popular articles. Here are the five articles we’ve posted on the CNS Facebook that have attracted the most interest to date, in reverse order:

5. “New Evidence of Viking Life in America?” The discovery of what appears to be a new Viking site on the southwest corner of Newfoundland excited the interest of many of our Facebook followers. The adventurous lives of the Vikings still calls to Nordic enthusiasts - their hardiness and the romantic idea of setting sail for unknown territories, with all the risks such voyages entailed.

4. “The Icelandic Settlement Disaster in Kinmount, Ontario”. Peter Macnaughton’s article and photos about this little-known chapter in Icelandic Canadian history, posted on November 27, 2015, drew lots of attention. It tells of 352 Icelanders who, exhausted and weakened by illness, arrived at the immigration sheds in Toronto in 1874 and tried to settle in Kinmount, Ontario. After an extremely tough winter in which about 25 people died, many of the settlers moved on in search of a better life. Such stories of Nordic pioneers in Canada persevering through extreme hardship understandably resonate with us.

3. “The Race to a Norwegian Castle Fortress to Stop a Nazi Atomic Bomb”. Here we have the classic story of nine patriots risking their lives to sabotage the only plant in the world, at the time, that made heavy water, with the survival of whole countries hanging in the balance.

“And they were committed, no matter the price, which would likely include their own lives. From the start, they had known that the odds of their survival were long. They might get inside the plant and complete their mission, but getting out and away would be another story. If necessary, they would try to fight their way out, but escape was unlikely. Resolved not to be captured alive, each of them carried a cyanide pill encased in rubber, stashed in a lapel or waistband.

Who can resist such a gripping story of idealism, determination, and self sacrifice?

2. The second most popular article is from Business Insider. A Finn who has been living in the USA for seven years explains “What People Don’t Understand About the Nordic Countries”. It is not that the Nordics are more altruistic than the rest of the world, he argues. “Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: my taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.”

So after all these serious articles about adventure, perseverance, determination, self-sacrifice and political philosophy, which article, you may be wondering, attracted the most interest from our Facebook followers? What single subject really gets to the heart of the Nordic ideal? The article that got the most interest was about… wait for it…

1. Swedish “fika” - the Swedish custom of taking a daily break for coffee and pastry - “Is this the Sweet Secret to Swedish Success?

I guess when all is said and done, the way to a Nordic heart really is through the stomach!

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