Among the hottest items on this year’s bestseller list in Norway, and under many Christmas trees, has been a book on firewood. The book’s popularity has surprised many, but others claim the subject matter simply strikes right at the Norwegian soul.
“He (author Lars Mytting) has hit upon the deepest structural core of the Norwegian people: The desire for self-sufficiency, combined with coziness around the fireplace,” researcher Jørgen Lortentzen told newspaper Aftenposten recently. “I think there’s a surprising number of Norwegians who have a saw standing by, and when you peek around people’s properties, you’ll find lots of stacked firewood.”
The book is billed as offering comprehensive information about chopping firewood, stacking it and drying it, along with the fundamentals of heating with wood fires. It’s called Hel Ved, which literally means pure (not fabricated) firewood but which also is used as an expression akin to “salt of the earth,” ”rock solid” or simply “genuine.” In short, it’s a very positive description that’s also applied to persons viewed as being honest and good.
The book, published early this autumn by Oslo-based Kagge Forlag, has sold an astonishing 129,000 copies and spent 14 weeks on the bestseller list in Norway. The stylish weekly magazine D2, published by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), was among the first to feature the wood-chopping and stacking phenomena examined in the book and newspapers all over the country have written glowingly about Hel Ved, calling it everything from a “feel good” book to “a handsome account of the importance of firewood” in Norway.
“It’s a real bible for us wood-lovers,” wrote local newspaper Trønder-Avisa.
Mytting, an author who lives near the chilly eastern Norwegian valley of Østerdalen, has said he mainly wanted to offer tips on how to chop wood, prepare it and use it for heating, but the project turned into much more. He started looking into the cultural history of firewood in Norway, the various aspects of saws and motor saws, and he talked with those relying on firewood in the country’s coldest areas, researchers and wood enthusiasts.
Because, he notes, using wood as a heating source is more than just about heating. It’s part of the national heritage, Mytting claims, and likely will become more important as a source of renewable energy.
“It’s kind of like our valium,” said Dr Per Fugelli, a professor in social medicine at the University of Oslo. Firewood and the crackling fire represents the safety of home and security, he told Aftenposten.
“It’s also a way for Norwegians to show warmth and compassion,” Fugelli said. “Firewood is wonderfully concrete, when we otherwise surround ourselves with the abstract.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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