Well, not really, but I am fairly certain that was he.
When Fredrik Backman the novelist walked up to the stage and took a seat, I exchanged a look with my husband. What’s with him? No author, hosted by Barnes & Noble for a book reading, wears a do I really have to do this look. He settled uncomfortably in his chair, asked if he could speak without the mic (Khalid called out ‘mic is better) and he sighed. Now he had this OK so I am here, what else do you want me to do look. And I was wondering if this was going to be what made me come to this event evening.
So what did make me come to the book reading? Well, a friend had emailed me saying that she is going to drop off a book with my doorman, that she knew I would like, and mentioned that the Swedish author was doing a book reading that week at B&N. Now that I have my own book reading coming up, Khalid and I have filled our calendars with book readings, a sort of learn-by-osmosis attempt. If I listen to enough authors, maybe I will be able to pull mine off without embarrassing myself. So off we went.
Now I wasn’t so sure it was such a good idea.
It was the best book reading ever.
They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ (unless it is titled ‘Threading My Prayer Rug’). I say, ‘don’t judge an author by your first impression’. And that goes for me too. Hear us out, or rather, read us out.
By the time the evening ended, I was ready to adopt who I saw as awkward-ish, socially uncomfortable, un-smiling, looking tired, mid-30s-year-ish Swedish fella, as my only third son. Not because he was funny—he was funny; not because he casually handed out gems (I have his writing tips pasted on my fridge); not because of his depth of understanding of human relationships (deficiencies in marriage are like heavy furniture, you don’t change the setting, you just get used to it); not because he was so totally honest about himself (I am not sure I could live up to that); it was his humility.
Now this man is a million-copy bestseller. He wrote his books in Swedish, and the English translation became a New York Times bestseller, and A Man Called Ove is now a motion picture. His second book became a bestseller too. He has a wow career. Yet, here he was, answering every question by first taking a jab at himself.
Q: What made you write….( or maybe it was ‘why do you write’)?
A: Because I am very bad at communicating. Because when I write, I can edit and fix it.
Q: How is the movie about the book coming along?
A: Very well. Because I had nothing to do with it.
Q: How are the book readings going?
A: Cambridge has a population of 800. 250 people came to the event. That is because the city has limited entertainment.
Got it? What I got was 60 minutes of lessons in humility. Plus the entertainment value.
The next morning, I curled up with my friend’s copy of A Man Called Ove.
OMG! This Ove character, this is no fictional character.
Ove is the grumpiest man, who believes everyone around him is an idiot, who is so obsessive compulsive and fixated on rules, he will patrol the neighborhood every morning to make sure no cars had come into the no-car-zone, who will snarl at you if you ring his doorbell, who has such a disproportionate response to everything that doesn’t go his way, and just try to cheat him out of a nickel—just try. By the end of the story, Ove had not changed one iota. But my perception of him had changed—like heavy furniture in a marriage. This man with a gentle soul, generous of spirit, who would run into a burning house to rescue a child while his own house burnt down; who would nickel and penny you, but spend his precious savings to buy an iPad for the little girl across the street; and who hated animals and human company, yet takes in a stray cat and stragglers who rang his doorbell at an ungodly hour.
I got to like Ove—a lot. And I think I got to see him out-of-the-book.