1. Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi
You may never make it up to Pajala (a tiny city in the far northern reaches of Sweden), but this comical coming-of-age story is worth seeking out nonetheless.
Popular Music is about a young boy growing up during the 1960s. Rock and roll swings into his provincial town, changing his life forever. The linguistic nuances of the characters' Finnish-influenced Swedish get lost in translation, but the stories and cultural insights are alive and well.
2. Stockholm: City of My Dreams by Per Andrews Fogelstrom
There's nothing like a good period drama. This saga, which recreates 19th-century Stockholm, has all the makings of a BBC miniseries: a fact-rich setting, class struggle, and, of course, longing for love. The first in a series of five novels, Stockholm: City of My Dreams will give anyone on a walking tour of Gamla Stan much fuel for the imagination, serving up the Old Town's essence "on a silver tray, extended like a gift."
3. and 4. Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA by Carl Magnus Palm and ABBA: The Book by Jean-Marie Potiez
What would a book list on Sweden be if it didn't include the nation's biggest cultural export of the 20th century? With a title about as catchy as an ABBA tune, Bright Lights Dark Shadows covers everything a fan might want to know about the quartet, from the pre-fame days to the lives they created after the spotlight moved on. Those with a slightly less fervent passion for details may wish to opt for Jean-Marie Potiez's ABBA: The Book, a glossy coffee-table read.
5. Mio, My Son by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Ilon Wikland
Astrid Lindgren is considered a national treasure in Sweden. We've all heard of Pippi Longstocking, that loveable redheaded adventuress and Lindgren's best known creation. However, Lindgren wrote a staggering number of children's stories, more than 50 of which have been translated into English. Mio, My Son is about a young orphan boy named Bosse. He discovers his true identity as the son of the king of Farawayland and leaves Stockholm and his cranky foster parents behind on a life-changing mission.
6. A Hedonist's Guide to Stockholm by Scarlett Stapleton
Sure, you may be a Cheapo when it comes to certain things—saving money on accommodations, for instance. But that doesn't mean you don't have a taste for the finer things. This is the book for anyone who wants to be clued-in on arrival. With listings of hip drinking holes, nouveau Scandinavian restaurants, and sleek Swedish boutiques, you'll have no problem stylishly spending all the Swedish kronor you saved by booking your hotel on EuroCheapo!
7. Words of Love and Wisdom by Selma Lagerlöf and illustrated by Diane Heusinhueld and Robyn Laughren
In 1909, Selma Lagerlöf became the first Swede and the first woman to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Lagerlöf's portrait is featured on the 20-kronor note, along with a quote from her novel Gösta Berling's Saga and a scene from the children's book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. Words of Love and Wisdom harvests the most compelling quotes from her bibliography and may help you impress a Swede next time you drop a 20.
8. On My Swedish Island : Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being by Julie Catterson-Lindahl
American Julie Catterson-Lindahl, a self-proclaimed ex-jet setter, fell in love with Sweden (and a Swede). Eventually she moved to a small island in Stockholm's archipelago. Her non-fiction book eschews what she terms the "Nordic-Inspired Science of Life." Essays, anecdotes, and general observations promote a slower-paced, nature-filled life. She also doles out some fascinating instructions on how to make household products from pine needles and sap.
9. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood
While modern day Swedes are known for being polite, über-liberal peace-lovers, it's fun to read about their racier ancestors. There's no dearth of material on Vikings. Should you wish for something more easily digestible than a Nordic tome, try Penguin's Atlas. It's sure to unleash the inner map-lover in you.
10. In-Flight Swedish: Learn Before You Land by Living Language
Ah, language—that great cultural key. It's true that Swedes are phenomenally fluent in English, but learning a few words of svenska could at best open the doors and hearts of the Swedish people, or at least make sure you don't sound like a clueless foreign prat. Technically, In-Flight Swedish is not a book. It's part of an audio series. You can download it onto your iPod and "study" all the way to Stockholm.