The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend blog tour, plus author interview!
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is Katarina Bivald’s debut novel. First published in Swedish in 2013, it is now available in an English translation. Set in a small town in Iowa, it follows the story of Sara: a book-loving woman in her twenties who is invited to travel from Sweden to Broken Wheel by her elderly pen-pal, Amy. It’s a big adventure for Sara, who has never ventured outside Sweden except in the many books she reads.
But when she arrives in Broken Wheel, she discovers that Amy has recently passed away. In fact, she arrives almost smack-bang in the middle of Amy’s funeral. Despite this unexpected twist, Amy’s relatives insist that Sara stays in her house as planned; Amy would have wanted to show hospitality. So Sara stays in Broken Wheel, getting to know the town’s small population and meeting the people she heard about in Amy’s letters. And she quickly realizes that this decrepit little town, struggling to get by, is in dire need of a bookstore…
Katarina Bivald tells us more about the book, her writing process and her love of reading.
Sara loves books so much that she talks about preferring them to people. And in the author bio for The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, you say that you haven’t yet decided whether you prefer books or people. Where does your love of reading originate?
I’ve had it all my life. I’m not even sure I could say when I started loving books. Harper Lee wrote: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”. And I think that is very true.
I read that you grew up working in a bookstore. What was it like? Was it similar to Sara’s bookstore in the book?
I started working part time in a bookstore when I was 14, so I spent my most formative years there. It was not similar to Sara’s bookstore in the book, at least not to Oak Tree Bookstore. If anything, it resembled very much the bookstore where Sara used to work in Sweden. But I loved it, of course. When I first started there, I could not believe that someone would actually pay me to spend time in a bookstore. Of course, it quickly transpired that my boss expected me to actually help customers, not just stand there and read. I myself, of course, mostly considered customers a rude interruption of my reading.
Sara’s taste in reading is very varied – she enjoys books from Jane Eyre to Bridget Jones’ Diary to Stiegg Larson’s trilogy. Are your reading preferences similarly diverse? Do you have a favourite genre?
Most of Sara’s opinions on books and author’s are my own, except that she is perhaps a bit harsher towards authors than I am since I became one (I do not think Sara would find me a reliable author). I have lots of favourite genres depending on my mood: certain days call for Jack Reacher, others for Elizabeth Bennet, and still others for Idgie Threadgoode and Towanda.
If you could choose one book to take with you to a desert island, what would that be and why?
I refuse to go to any desert island without my library.
You would not, under any circumstances, find me on a desert island with just one book. Even if some accident should befall the airplane I was traveling on, forcing us to land on a desert island, I never travel with just one book.
Should I find myself on a sinking ship in the middle of nowhere and would have to swim to the island, I would never reach it, seeing as how I would be weighed down by at least ten books, which I would refuse to let go off and try to transport over my head, resulting in my tragic death by drowning. The obituary could then state that I died surrounded by my beloved books, which is not a bad kind of death, come to think of it.
Broken Wheel is a small town out in the Midwest, struggling to survive as young people move away to find work. The phrase “small-town America” has so many associations – places with close-knit communities; white picket-fences and mom-and-pop diners; rural locations where family and religion are the main focus. Is there an equivalent phrase in Swedish? And do you have “small-town Sweden”?
We certainly do. In fact, for my second novel, I invented a small Swedish town. I think small towns in Sweden are facing pretty much the same challenges as small towns everywhere: jobs disappearing; people disappearing in search of the jobs; people trying to balance freedom with community and re-inventing community in new ways, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.
I know it is common to think of a sort of small town-mentality in connection to racism or homophobia, and to imagine the larger cities being more open to diversity. While it is certainly true sometimes, I don’t think it’s as true as we think it is. This autumn has seen the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Sweden, trying to escape the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq – and we have seen people in the large cities coming out of their homes to offer help and assistance on the bigger train stations where refugees pass through, as well as people in small towns opening up their homes and welcoming their new neighbors.
I understand that the novel was originally published in Swedish, and that you’re currently living in Stockholm. What inspired you to write a novel set in America? Have you traveled to Iowa, where the novel is set?
I have now, but I hadn’t when I first started writing my novel. It was my first try on actually finishing an idea for a book, and I wrote it solely for practice. Since I only wrote it to amuse myself, I decided to fill it with all the things I myself love in books, and I love books about small American towns, unexpected friendships, quirky characters, love – and books, of course.
I choose Iowa precisely because I didn’t know much about it, because I believe writing a book should be as much fun as reading it. The only thing I know about Iowa was that they once had a library cat named Dewey Readmore Books – and after all, what more do you really need to know?
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is your first novel. Do you have plans to write more, and will they have books as a central theme?
I will definitely write more, and while my second and third novel do not have books as a central theme, I think my fourth might.
What are you reading right now? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
At the moment, I’m reading Sherman Alexis’s Reservation Blues, although I can only read perhaps fifty pages at a time, because otherwise I get too depressed. Not by the book, which is brilliant, but because it is a lowering thought that an author can pack in more brilliance and genius in a few pages than I can in an entire book.
Do you have a preferred routine when you write or a time of day when you most feel like writing?
I’m not really a morning person, but I’ve discovered that I write best during the early half of the day, until lunchtime. Then I get incredibly tired in the afternoon and feel forced to take a short nap on the sofa. It’s not a bad job, if you can get it.
And trees. I have to have trees outside my window in order to be able to really write.
What would you like your readers to know? For example, your interests or hobbies (besides books and reading!), your favorite places in the world, or anything else that comes to mind…
Good God, that is a very difficult question. I would prefer my readers not to know what a very boring life I lead, but perhaps that is not possible.
In the first real interview I gave when my book was published, everything went great right up until the last question: what do you do on your spare time? The interviewer saw the perplexed look on my face and added: “because I’m sure you don’t only read and write?”
“No, of course not”, I said much too quickly while desperately struggling to think of something I did on my spare time. “I… go for coffee with a friend? Usually to a gas station we both like?”
That answer did not really impress her.
“I… I have a driving license for motorcycles?” I added, triumphantly, because that, at least, is surely not boring? (My second novel involves motorcycle lessons, so I took it as a matter of research).
“Yes”, she said. “But do you drive a motorcycle?”
“Not… not very often.”
So there you have it. I am boring.