Friday, February 27, 2015



For the last few days, I've been falling asleep to the sound of Joe giggling. That's a pleasant way to enter the land of restful dreams. He's been reading A Man Called Ove, which he moved to the top of his reading pile
at my request. I expected him to find the book very, very funny. I also expected him to find the book incredibly moving. I was right on both counts.

Many years ago, when Joe and I were just out of university, we had a long and ongoing argument about literature. We held opposing views. We drank a lot of beer while we argued, often with a passion that those at other tables didn't understand. "Are those boys arguing about books?"

My contention is that most of what we call 'literature' (as opposed to a summer read) is essentially flawed because of lack of inclusion and diversity amongst the characters that people a story. An author, I said, needed to tell a story in a way that reflected the times, the people and the culture in which the story unravels. And as such, deleting people from these stories; people of colour, LGBT people, disabled people,   non-subservient women, inherently diminishes the writer from artist to author and reduces the impact of the story and the relevance to the reader. They may still be great books, but they could have been more. I believed, even then before we talked about 'diversity' and 'inclusion' that it is the job of the artist to open minds as well as to craft a work.

Joe completely disagreed with me. I can't articulate his point well, because I never agreed with it, but essentially he thought that writers were completely free to write what they would in the manner that they wanted (a point we both agreed on) and the determination of a great novel is based on the quality of the story and the excellence of the text alone (a point we never agreed on).

This blog is not about that argument or about who was right or who was wrong. As we talked about this last night, in reference to A Man Called Ove, we laughed about the fact that we were so young as to have the energy to argue about this for HOURS and DAYS. Now our discussions after a movie are often reduced to, you like it? Yeah. You? Nah. Wanna go for lunch?

But A Man Called Ove, I realized, all these years later, is what I was talking about. This book is one of the most inclusive books I've ever read. It is peopled with a community of characters and as such reflects diversity in such a natural way. You never feel that the author is thinking, 'oh better get the gays in now' or 'I can stuff a disabled character in here' or 'now's the time for diversity of faith.' Never. Instead you feel invited in to meet the community of people who live around Ove's house and who people his world.

A Man Called Ove may be one of the best books I've ever read (I won't really know for a year or so, I need to see if it's still with me the way other books from other times are still informing and illuminating my life.) If you are looking for a book that demonstrates the power of community. A book that will make you laugh. A book that will make you cry. A book that you will immediately want to share. You can't go wrong here.

I loved this book.

I loved the people in it.

It moved me, deeply.


Ron Arnold said...

I will put this in my reading list.

An aside (kind of): My wife and I are home educating our children. I have always felt that the way public schools approach history is boring and provides very little in terms of context regarding what life was like 'on the ground' when significant events were occurring in the world. So - our approach is to have the kids read literature from the times we are reviewing in history. Not so much from authors who were writing about a time, but from authors who LIVED in the time. Granted we tweak and translate a bit when necessary, but we want them to understand the backdrop against which the decisions of the day were made. Context is incredibly important - - especially when helping your child develop critical thinking skills. (Also largely lacking in public education these days. In the U.S. - education seems largely about chasing the dollars attached to testing performance.)

I agree with your assessment of literature but I also agree with Joe's. There are merits to both. In the end - for me - the best literature is that which knocks my worldview askew and helps me to broaden my perspective. A good story is a good story, sure - but there's a step up to literature in my own personal dictionary . . . .

Kit said...

I absolutely loved this book also Dave.

theknapper said...

Will phone my local bookstore and order it!!!!! thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Dave. My to-read list is already long, but I'm bumping this one up near the top.

Rosemary said...

I truly loved A Man Called Ove. I have been singing the books praises to my friends but so far none of them have read the book. When I saw your Ove blog post, I was thrilled. The characters in the book touched me deeply.