Richard and Judy Book Club

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend have been selected by Richard and Judy’s Book Club for their autumn 2016 list.

Richard about the book:

Sometimes when you read a debut novel you feel as if you’ve come home. You know you’re listening to a voice speaking inside your head that’s a very welcome new visitor.

Katarina Bivald’s quirky, charming story is one of those. This is a book about books, and it doesn’t so much grab you from the start as slip a warm hand gently into yours and lead you insistently into the world she has created. And that’s doubly remarkable because not only is this a first novel, it’s a translation from the original Swedish.

And Judy:

It’s a wonderful tale and if you don’t fall for Bivald’s storytelling charm, I’ll eat the paperback.

Although I can’t help noticing that she didn’t offer to eat the hardcover.

You can read more about the book club and the other amazing books selected here

Inspiration. Of a sort.

It is a sad fact in life that in order to write a book, you have to sit down and, well, write it.

Normally I don’t really mind it, but there are so many things that can distract you from it. There’s the paralyzing self doubt, the voice in your head that whispers that it doesn’t really matter whether you write because naturally your idea is trivial and the characters clichés, and besides, you know full well that you can’t write. Or the opposite, the kind of inspiration that borders on and then crosses the line to full blown hybris and makes you want to walk around, laugh to yourself, marvel at the sheer brilliance of what you’re doing but not exactly sitting down and doing it, not right now anyway, because besides you need more coffee and oh no, you’ve thought of another scene, and then another, and you definitely need more coffee now and then you can’t really sit still because you’re high on madness and caffeine.

For those times I have two photos to remind be to get back to business. One is a photo of Agatha Christie, sitting behind a typewriter and looking up at two enormous piles of books on both sides of her. For all I know it might not even be all the book she ever wrote, perhaps just a selection of them, looming high over her.

I keep that photo as a sort of taunt to myself. You think you’re a writer, that’s what the photo is telling me, mocking me. You can’t even write two books and one play a year. Get over yourself.

And then I have a photo of Patricia Highsmit of the later years, after the women and the booze and the difficult relationshop with her mother had turned her from a beautiful tomboy to what mostly resembles a lesbian axe murderer. She’s glowering at me in a slightly menacing way, and smiling, terrifyingly enough. She’s wearing a lumberjack shirt, of course, and I’m quite sure that there actually is an axe in the background.

That photo tells me to get back to writing, “or else…”

Hopefully it’s not also telling me to hit the whisky.

My bookshelves

Having written a book about a woman who re-arranges a bookshop into new categories, I am often asked the all important question: how do you organize your bookshelves?

And I always wish I had a better answer. I’m thinking something like the man in High Fidelity, who organized his music collection auto-biographically, so that in order to find any specific lp or cd he had to remember when he bought it. But the truth is, having worked in a bookshop, I know how very much work it is to re-organize a bookshelf. Books are heavy. Books are dusty. Any type of re-arranging will involve sweating and sneezing. And chaos. And once you’ve decided, you have to stick with it or do it all over again.

For example, years ago I decided to organize at least my fiction shelves in a traditional alphabetical order. I was young and ambitious, if I had known the dewey decimal system I would probably have gone for that too. So now when I buy books I have to sort them or leave them in piles laying around waiting to be sorted.

“Why do I have so many books?!” I asked my sister in desperation a few weeks ago, and then of course I had to go and wash my mouth with soap and stand in the corner.

The thing is, you see, I’m not really good with the alphabet. In order to find the placing of a specific letter, I have to start at the beginning every time. So there I was, walking around muttering for my self: “a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m – ah, m comes before n.” It is increadibly boring. The alphabet gets very repetitve after a while. And then of course I sneezed. And if you’re really unlucky, you find the m-shelft only to discover that there’s another Macdonald already there, and then you have to start all over again with a, b, c, etc. to find out whether or not Helen comes before or after. And sneeze again.

And do I sort the books not yet read, or will they disappear in the bookshelves and be lost forever?

And then it struck me. Do I really have to organize all my books alphabetically? Could I, perhaps, just have a more chronological To be read-shelf? I need hardly add that I meant an entire bookcase, not just one shelf. I already have more than four shelves of unread books.

Or would I be haunted by the ghosts of angry librarians who would extinguish my reading light at the very moment when I was reading something incredibly scary?

But I did it. Which brings me to the original question about how I organize my books.

My bedroom looks very much like a library with a bed in it, which is exactly the way I want it, except that I am running out of walls. Every bookshelf I buy, I promise my sister to be the last, and naturally it never is. Here I keep most of my fiction; literary and commercial and crime a like. There’s almost an entire shelf of Dick Francis, and then there’s my collection of beautiful old books by Remarque, a few Nobel prize winners, mostly Saramago, because I read his Blindness when I was young and fell in love with it. Michael Connely and Lee Child of course, and my first edition Helen Hanff on a special shelf, and my book perfume (it didn’t smell like books, but it was worth a try), post cards of Dewey the Library Cat, piles of Jane Austen and Shakespeare’s comedies but not his tragedies. And one, tiny, lonely empty shelf for future books bought…

Then there is the kitchen. I have used a kitched cupboard for my cooking books, and I have two cute shelves right in front of where I work at the kitchen table. The shelves in the kitchen are for reference books about writing. I have too many, because when I get stuck I tell myself that reading them is almost like writing. My favorite is How not to write a novel. Even if you aren’t a writer, you can read it just for the sheer fun of it.

In the living room, there are as many bookcases as my sister allowed, which is three. And a half. I sort of snuck the half one in. But I share it with my sisters books. I am generous, that way.

Here are the shelves for the living room:

One shelf for our Terry Pratchett-books
One shelf for biographies about writers (and some musicians)
One shelf for Agatha Christie
One for my books about The Great War (one day I’m going to write a book about it that’s so thoroughly miserable I’m going to have to publish it under psedonym)
One for mostly my sisters books, which I in my head call Male Humour (Christoffer Moore, Carl Hiassen)
Three shelves for my sisters art books (the bottom ones, because they are too large to fit otherwise)
One for our Georgette Heyer-books
Three for general biographies and popular history
Two bookcases (approximately) for my old political books, everything from Simone de Beauvoir to Stonewall to Che Guevara and Malcom X and political science-books about social movements and feminism and race
Two shelves for popular science/, suchs as Gladwell, which I’ve grown amazingly addicted to in later years

What have I forgotten?

Oh, the “office”! That is, the smallest room in the apartment where my printers live. Two bookcases, but at least half of them is full of my sister’s art projects and the material and equipment she needs for it. I do have a couple of shelves, though, where I keep my own book in different language; the author’s copies that regularly arrive from Spain or Taiwan or the US or Brazil or China. I don’t really know what to do with them all, seeing how I can only read Swedish and English. My dad gets one copy of every book. I think he’s starting his own collection.

And there it is. An… organic organization. But it is fascinating with books, how they are sort of archeological layers, telling you the shifting story of your life and interest at a glance.

Sleeping in a library. All completely normal.
Lots of space left
Isn't it beautiful? This is opposite my bed, so that I can look at it while I have my first cup of coffee for the day
Living room
It looks chaotic, but... oh well, it's basically chaos
But look how cleverly I snuck that half a bookcase in. She can't notice a thing.


Autumn has finally arrived in Sweden. I’ve been waiting for it for weeks. The cold and darkness and persistent rain. Nothing says writing like rain. Then again, it also says “what a perfect day to curl up with a good book”. Effectivity wise, it’s sort of a draw.

Autumn also says sentimentality and memories and nostalgia, and what better thing to remember than a magical May in the US and the amazing bookshops I got to visit. I think I left you after Full Circle Bookshop in Oklahoma.

Next stop was Laurel Bookshop, Oakland, a beautiful bookshop I’ve visited before and once spent days looking at while I was “working” on a café opposite the street. Laurel Bookshop has a shelf named “Justice”. I’m not sure if I need to add anything more to show you how great it is.

This was almost at the very end on my tour, and yet strangely enough I did not feel tired. It’s possible that I looked it, but I didn’t feel it. The way I remember it it was just one flight after another, transporting me to glorious bookshops and magnificent books, and if I could have, I would have continued forever. If I had been a more effective writer I could have written a book on the road and then just continued on a tour for that book, whilst writing the next, and so on, for ever and ever.

But at least I had two bookshops left. So I went to Arizona, which is apparently known for the Grand Canyon. I visited a much more important tourist attraction though, the Changing Hands bookshop – with a book bar! Called First Draft! With a logo with a typewriter and a beer. I got a t-shirt, and nowadays I use it as my writing uniform. Changing Hands have two different bookshops in quite close connection. I know this because naturally we got to the wrong one first. “My name is Katarina Bivald”, I said. “I’m here for the event?” and the poor man behind the counter looked completely blanked. Until he figured out we should have been heading for the other store. We were only ten minutes late. The store called and explained. I don’t think the woman who organized it had time to die of nervousness.

If I had a bookshop with a bar close by I would never leave. Fact.

And then, unbeliavably, we’d come to the end of the tour. We flew in through the mountains around Denver to visit the The Tattered Cover Bookstore. It’s a beautiful, winding sort of bookshop, with lots of good places to hide with a book and disappear from the real world forever. “If you can’t find me when the event starts I’ve snuck off somewhere to read”, I told Vanessa, who was my handler at the time. From the Tattered Cover Bookstore I got a personalized book mark that I naturally will never use for fear of loosing. It’s on my bookshelf now, right opposite my bed, so when I have the first cup of coffee in the morning I can look at it and be gladdened by the memory.

And now, the most important part: the pictures!

Laurel Bookshop, and the most important shelf
The wrong Changing Hands or A bonus bookshop!
The book bar
at the right Changing Hands
Look! Isn't it beutiful?

Oklahoma City: Full Circle Bookshop

Full Circle Bookshop in Oklahoma City is that kind of shop you want to disappear into for a while. Or forever. Winding, with lots of different rooms, and shelves that reach all the way to the celing, and sofas and chairs and a classical guitarist playing on Friday Nights – it was a miracle I managed to leave at all!

They also had book ladders, you know, the kind of thing they have in the library of Beauty and the Beast, in what is no doubt the most romantic scene that’s ever appeared in a Disney movie. Usually, I blame Pride and Prejudice for me being single, but now that I think of it – maybe I’m just waiting for someone to present me with an amazing library (with book ladders, I need hardly ask) on our third date. Subconsciously, I might just have sat around there on a perfectly good date with some charming man or woman or beast and thought: “I don’t know, it’s just like… something is missing.”

If so, I can’t imagine a better reason to stay single.

Co-incidently, Julia of Full Circle Bookshop told me that a woman had come in the other week dressed exactly like Belle of Beaty and the Beast in order to take photos on the book ladders. I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped that she had come in dressed exacly like Belle just to sit around and read.

“So, tell me”, I asked the bookseller behind the counter while buying a book (impossible to resist). “Do you get to climb them?”
He looked sort of strange at me and said heistatingly: “Sure… I mean, sometimes.”
I nodded. “It’s a great job.”