The annual book sale (bokrea) stretches back to the 1920s, when some bookshops started the tradition as a way to unload large amounts of excess stock. As more and more shops joined the annual sale publishers took notice and by the 1930s the Swedish Booksellers Association had created a set of rules and regulations which coordinates the sale across the country, particularly which day of the year it kicks off. This is to ensure no sale starts too soon, giving an unfair advantage.
Despite some ups and downs over the years the annual sale remains a much-anticipated event, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to dedicated watchers of Swedes. In a country of around ten million people, the literacy rate hovers at around 98%, roughly 50 million library books are borrowed annually, the more than 400 shops defined as bookshops sell more than 40 million books each year, and over 80% of Swedes say they have read at least one book in the past 12 months.
While the original intent of the annual book sale was to shift books that weren’t selling, these days it’s a fantastic mix of classics, special editions of hot bestsellers, and of course, books that are collecting dust on the shelves (which is really where you’re going to grab a gem for next to nothing). Prices are slashed considerably and while the sale is heavily advertised and catalogs are sent out by the bigger shops and publishers, you’re no longer allowed to pre-order, which was seen as cheating.
Once you’ve loaded up on books it’s time to find somewhere to curl up and enjoy them. If you’re in Stockholm try Ritorno. This café is one of Stockholm’s best and also one of its oldest. It’s cozy, a bit beat up, and incredibly hushed, so it’s the perfect place to delve into a great read. If it’s summer head to one of Stockholm’s great parks, find a bench, and lose yourself in a great story. Humlegården in particular is a great spot, particularly since Sweden’s National Library is located at one end, as is Observatorielunden, which is in the heart of the city but incredibly peaceful.
In Malmö try the City Library, which is full of comfy seats and is of course as quiet as it’s going to get. The café scene is pretty bustling so choose one carefully. Hollandia is a wonderful choice, as is the Da Matteo branch in Victoria Passagen. Both have a wonderful ambience and the bonus at Da Matteo is that when your eyes get tired the people watching opportunities are stellar.
To really fill your bibliophile desires explore some of the literary highlights scattered around Sweden’s cities.
Junibacken in Stockholm is dedicated to famed children’s author Astrid Lindgren and although the focus is more on kids, adults will also have fun. You can also visit the Astrid Lindgren Museum and tour her apartment in the Vasastan section of the city—it’s much as it was when she lived and wrote there for most of her adult life. Head down to Vimmerby to tour her childhood home.
The Strindberg Museum is a great place to learn more about the famed Swedish author August Strindberg. You can even tour his library and read letters he wrote to his children. Nearby at Tegnérlunden there is an area with statues, including one of Strindberg and one of Lindgren.
If crime is your bag take the Millennium Tour, which will not only bring you to points of interest from the books but also places where Stieg Larsson wrote them. In Ystad, you can take the Wallender Tour and discover all the nooks and crannies of this legendary crime series.
So come late February, make your way to Sweden and indulge your love of books—and while you may have to fight the crowds it will be worth it. You’ll come away with loads of new reads and having also taken part in some of those uniquely Swedish traditions.