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Katarina Bivald: "There Should Be No 'Should's' about Reading"

Amazon Book ReviewKatarina Bivald's novel The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a funny, fresh story of a Swedish former bookseller named Sara who comes to America to visit a pen pal and decides, once she's here, to open a bookstore. The Amazon Books editors selected The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend as a Best Book of the Month for January. We said: "Garnished with plenty of book and character references from popular books such as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Bridget Jones's Diary, this charming fish-out-of-water story will remind you why you're a booklover."

Here, Katarina Bivald answers our questions about books, writing, when you should kill off a character, and what she's reading now.


Amazon Book Review: Your love for books shines through every page. What led you to become a voracious reader?

Katarina Bivald: I don't know. I can't remember a time when I wasn't either reading or listening to stories or making them up myself.

Amazon Book Review: Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa, knowing only one person, and then it turns out that person has died, leaving her in a small town with no friends and no plans. What inspired that opening-chapter scenario?

Katarina Bivald: I hold my sister responsible for killing Amy. In my first draft, Amy was still alive when Sara got there. So this was the general story: Sara traveled all the way to Iowa to meet Amyand did. She had looked forward to spending quiet evenings alone together, talking about books and life. And they did. In fact, the only other thing that ever happened was that they drove places. My god, did they drive places! Back and forth, forth and back: no scene was ever too boring to drive to, or from. One evening I was talking to my sister about it, telling her the problems I had with the beginning of my book (and with beginning, I mean the first 150 pagesthere was a lot of driving and sitting around talking). I don't really remember how it came about, but some time during that evening we sort of just looked at each other and said: "Amy has to die" "You have to kill Amy."

Amazon Book Review: Each character in Broken Wheel has their own hurts that need healing. Who was the most difficult character for you to write and why? Who was the most fun?

Katarina Bivald: Caroline was the most fun to write, I think. Amy was the easiest: all her letters seemed to write themselves. The most difficult thing with all characters was giving them enough problems. You have to be incredibly sadistic as an author.

This is true also of cozy, feel-good novels. Take Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, perhaps the best feel-good novel ever written. It contains, in no apparent order: several deaths, both natural and violent; racism; alcoholism; men's violence against womenand cannibalism.

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendAmazon Book Review: There's a scene in the novel where the residents of Broken Wheel are trying to pretend that they have more elevated reading tastes than the more "sophisticated" residents of the larger, neighboring town. Sara sets up a shelf in the bookstore with the label "The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend," and fills it not only with "every unreadable book she could find, alongside every Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel Prize recipient, and nominee for the Booker Prize" but also with Sara's favorite more literary works. Sara thinks about how she throws herself into reading projects designed to improve her reading education, "but it was boring to think of books as something you should read just because others had." Do you think that there are must-read books out there?

Katarina Bivald: No. There should be no "shoulds" about reading. The fun part is trying to convince people that they want to read a book, not that they ought to have read it.

Amazon Book Review: Some people read the same book over and over again. What are those books for you?

Katarina Bivald: Almost any good book deserves to be read several times, I feel. Or perhaps "deserves" is the wrong word. It's just having once met and fallen in love with a book, how can you resist going back to it? It's like having and old and dear friend, completely reliable, you know she's not going to let you downand then say to yourself: "Nah, I don't think I can visit her again."

Some of the books I return to: anything by Terry Pratchett, particularly with witches. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. All novels by Lee Child; most by John Grisham; all novels by Jane Austen, although I have now read and watched Pride and Prejudice so many times that I know most of the lines by heart. Agatha Christie, of course. Bridget Jones. Well, the list really does go on and on.

Amazon Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was your first novel. Are you working on another novel?

Katarina Bivald: Yes, I am. My second novel was published in Sweden this fall, taking place in a fictional small Swedish town. It's called Life, Motorcycles and Other Impossible Projects and is about a single mom who starts taking motorcycle lessonsamong other thingswhen her only daughter moves to another city to go to college.

At the moment, I'm working on my third novel, which takes place in Oregon. All other details are still very sketchy, but I have a strong feeling it will be another small town, almost certainly fictional.

Amazon Book Review: What are you recommending now to people who are looking for a new book to read?

Katarina Bivald: I always try to get people to read this great nonfiction book, but so far I haven't been very successful. The conversations usually go like this:

Me: "Oh! I've read this amazing book!"

Friend: "Really? What's it about?"

Me: "The plague."

End of conversation.


Friend: "What's it called?"

Me: "The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time."

Friend: "How...nice."

But it is brilliant. On a lighter side, I bought Girl Waits with Gun on my last visit to an American bookstore, and it is as great as the title, which I think says a lot. And I'm really looking forward to read American Housewife: Stories, which I found through Amazon's Best Books of the Month.


Katarina BivaldKatarina Bivald is a former bookseller and the author of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, which the Amazon Books editors selected as a Best Book of the Month for January. It was also named an Indie Next pick and is a New York Times bestseller. Bivald lives in Sweden, and this is her first novel.


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