Utopirama: Hygge – Living the Danish Way

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If ever there was a time that needed a bit of added cosiness and sheltering from the winds of doubt and division, I think we can all probably agree that that time is now.  We see ourselves as contributors to the peace and unity of the world here on the Shelf and to that end, allow me to introduce you to Charlotte Abrahams new offering, Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way.  Don’t be alarmed though, for this is not another quick-fix, self-help, de-clutter-and-you-will-be-happy sort of book – quite the opposite in fact – but an exploration of the Danish concept of hygge and how it may contribute to the fact that Danes often top polls about the happiest nations on Earth.  We received a copy from Hachette Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Candlelight is hygge; the smell of freshly brewed coffee is hygge; the feel of crisp, clean bed linen is hygge; dinner with friends is hygge. ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, is a Danish philosophy that roughly translates to ‘cosiness’. But it is so much more than that. It’s a way of life that encourages us to be kinder to ourselves, to take pleasure in the modest, the mundane and the familiar. It is a celebration of the everyday, of sensual experiences rather then things. It’s an entire attitude to life that results in Denmark regularly being voted one of the happiest countries in the world.

So, with two divorces behind her and her 50th birthday rapidly approaching, journalist Charlotte Abrahams ponders whether it’s hygge that’s been missing from her life. Is it a philosophy we can all embrace? In a society where lifestyle trends tend to centre on deprivation – be it no sugar, no gluten, no possessions – what does cherishing yourself actually mean? And will it make her happy?

In Hygge, Charlotte Abrahams weaves the history of hygge and its role in Danish culture with her own attempts, as an English woman, to embrace a more hygge life. In this beautifully written and stylishly designed book, she examines the impact this has on her home, her health, her relationships and, of course, her happiness.

Light a candle, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready to enjoy your more hygge life.

hygge

Quick Overview:

Hygge is simple, hygge is person-centred, hygge is conscious enjoyment of things we find life-giving.  Hygge dispenses with guilt and deprivation in favour of full enjoyment of an experience while it is happening.  Given that this is a book exploring the Danish concept of comfort, cocooning and design that contributes to a happier life, I can only think that the author and publisher must consider it a success that I found the reading experience to be remarkably hyggelige indeed!  Even the cover of the book, which features some delightfully tactile felt trees reflects the mindset that happiness involves enjoying the moment – and if the moment you are in currently involves reading a book, why not make that book inviting to hold, to physically demonstrate how a simple, everyday thing can be turned into something special and pleasurable?

Abrahams is an Englishwoman researching the concept and lifestyle of hygge and therefore is an outsider, looking in on a practice and mindset that is intrinsic to being Danish (it appears), yet foreign to the rest of us.  In that respect, she has done a wonderful and accessible job in laying out the ideas behind hygge and its physical manifestations, given that we don’t even have a word for the conceptual whole she is describing in the English language.

The book is divided into a series of sections relating to the different aspects of hygge, beginning with the people-centred design behind many Danish objects – from furniture to lampshades to public spaces – and moving on to ways in which hygge manifests in peoples’ social connections and guilt-free indulgences.  In between examples of the ways in which Danes create hygge in various situations are interludes in which Abrahams examines her own life and describes her attempts to make small changes here and there to bring about a cumulative and conscious experience of heightened happiness.

Given that the Danes experience weather that is practically polar opposite (literally, I suppose) from that found in Queensland, some parts of the book relating to cosiness and retreat from raging frost and snow seemed a bit unattainable for Australian climates (which is probably why Australians didn’t come up with the concept of hygge), however Abrahams has done a great job of laying out the concept in a way that allows the reader to apply it to their own situation.

As I mentioned, reading the book – slowly, chapter by chapter – felt really hyggelig to me.  Even though reading multiple books is something I do every day, I don’t necessarily take the time to consciously note and enhance my reading experience if I happen to enjoy a book.  Inspired by Abraham’s small efforts, I ended up finishing this book while swinging in a hammock on the deck of a Queenslander, while jacarandas bloomed in front of me and a light breeze ruffled my stony ears.  Hygge! Australian style!

Utopian Themes:

Guilt-free experience

Mindfulness

Shelter from the storms of life

Companionship

Equal Participation

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

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Five out of five protective bubbles for the liberating experience of telling deprivation-freaks to sod off; that you’re ditching the ascetic, paleo, fun-free dinner out for a glass of whatever you fancy and time spent with people you actually like

Until next time,

Bruce

A Utopirama from the Olden Times: Star Teacher

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Welcome to Utopirama, the place where I suggest books that are guaranteed to uplift the heart or, at the very least, not make you feel any worse than you did before you read them. The point of Utopirama posts is to highlight cosy reads across all genres that are perfect for those times when you need to retreat from the horrors of the world and escape to gentler place. Today’s selection fulfils this brief perfectly and also has the honour of being part of a series from my olden times. In fact, the earlier titles in this series of books can make the amazing claim of being the very first and second entries in my Book Depository wishlist, which now, ridiculously, boasts over 1200 individual titles.

Our book today is Star Teacher, the ninth in Jack Sheffield’s Teacher series, set in quaint Yorkshire village Ragley-on-the-Forest. When this popped up on Netgalley I was stunned to see that this was book nine – I stopped reading after book four, having skipped book three (and all subsequent instalments) due to the fact that our local library system didn’t have them (and I’m a cheapskate and therefore couldn’t possibly buy them). And all of a sudden, here was book nine!

That’s enough of my reminiscing though. Let’s get on with it. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1985, and as Jack returns for another year as headteacher at Ragley village school, some changes are in store. It’s the year of Halley’s Comet, Band Aid, Trivial Pursuit, Dynasty shoulder pads, Roland Rat and Microsoft Windows. And at Ragley-on-the-Forest, Heathcliffe Earnshaw decides to enter the village scarecrow competition, Ruby the caretaker finds romance, and retirement looms for Vera the secretary.

star teacher

Quick Overview:

The wonderful thing about this series (and series similar to it, of which there are many) is that you can stop reading at some point, pick up the lastest release some six or seven (or more) years later and absolutely nothing of substance has changed. It’s a bit like those long-running American soap operas – they of the drawn-out, moody stares and soft filtered lighting – except with fewer fake tans and a Northern accent. I came back to Jack’s life after a significant leave of absence to find things pretty much as they were in Ragley, albeit with a new baby in residence and having finally discovered which of the sisters he was keen on that he actually married.

That’s one of the interesting things about this book – while absolutely nothing of note happens throughout the preceding 200+ pages, the books always finish on a cliffhanger, usually relating to the problem that initially prompted you to pick up the book in the first place. For example, the last book that I read in the series finished on the cliffhanger of Jack making up his mind which sister he was going to pursue. This one, of course, leaves us hanging in the balance while the author strings us along, hoping we’ll buy the next book to find out whether Jack gets to remain as head teacher of Ragley village school.

The other utopiramic thing about the series is the continued references to current events, fashions and developments of the particular year in which each book is set. For example, Star Teacher is set over 1985 and 1986 so you can expect lots of mentions of the new technology of the era (the Commodore 128 computer for example!) and big events of that time (the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, for instance). I always find these references a great comfort, because while the characters are in various states of worry about such things, I, as a citizen of the future, can relax in the knowledge that I know how it all turned out.

As a Utopirama pick, you can’t go past the Teacher series, mainly because absolutely nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. This really is a series revolving around caricatures of the population of a small Yorkshire village (complete with phonetically rendered accents) and the head teacher of its school. On the flipside, of course, is the chance that things can get a bit tedious, because nothing painful, shocking or uncomfortable ever happens. I found that this instalment felt a bit tedious to me – although I will always go back to this series for those times when I need safe, escapist read. Provided the library has a copy of course.

Utopian Themes

Escape to the country

The carefree days of youth

Circle of friends

80s nostalgia

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

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4 out of 5 bubbles for the unsurpassed serenity of a ruminant beast supremely unconcerned with the problems of humanity

Until next time,

Bruce