How an SFF reader fell in love with Fredrik Backman’s books

If you’ve known me for a while or just browsed the posts on this blog, you probably know that I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy books. I love reading about other worlds and technology, and seeing how people might be different (or the same) in completely different circumstances as the world we live in. I also love a good mystery or thriller, because they’re always full of shocking twists or puzzle pieces that you have to try and fit together as you read. Generally, I read to get my mind off the real world, and I prefer genre fiction because it’s the easiest way to enable my escapism.

So how did Fredrik Backman become one of my favorite authors? This Swedish author writes slice-of-life literary fiction about small towns and the people who live there, it’s the furthest thing from an intergalactic space opera or a fast-paced, mind-bending thriller. I first picked up A Man Called Ove as an audiobook from the library last year because I kept hearing about it. I didn’t know what to expect, I honestly wasn’t expecting to like it that much, but I needed a slower-paced story to keep me calm during the stress of preparing my PhD qualifying exam.

A Man Called Ove started off innocently enough, with a curmudgeonly old man trying to maintain order in his neighborhood, but there was something special about the characters and the writing style. I think one of the most striking thinks about Backman’s books is that they aren’t particularly lyrically written or full of metaphors (and part of this may be because of the translation to English, but I suspect the straightforward prose is kind of the point); before you know it, in the middle of the narration of people’s daily lives, you gain such insight into the characters and grow to love them. All of Backman’s books have been incredibly poignant and I’ve gotten surprisingly emotional given how “low stakes” they usually are (at least compared to the usual “end of the world as we know it” scenarios I’m usually reading about).

Beartown in particular broke my heart, it is by far my favorite book. It is definitely the most eventful of Backman’s books, and it deals with really heavy subject matter, but even at its most heartbreaking, it never feels melodramatic or milked for drama. The book centers the people of the community in a way that demonstrates the ripple effect one person’s tragedy can have on so many lives, and is brutally honest about the world we live in. I thought Backman handled the feeling of being a person of color in a predominantly white community really well, and also wrote about trauma very sensitively.

I was honestly really surprised at how much I could relate to these characters, because that’s not something I often feel when I read books written by (and often centering) white men. The beauty of these books is how quietly diverse they are, and it’s all so understated, as if of course your community has immigrants and poor people and rich people and LGBTQ people. Of course the story of a septuagenarian woman is just as important and equally worth telling as that of a 14 year old boy.

I don’t know how to describe it, but reading these books feels like putting on a cozy sweater. I highly recommend them all!

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