The Best Book in the World, by Peter Stjernström

Review published on October 1, 2013.Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Let’s start this review at the very beginning, with a look at the title. It is an incredibly smart title for a book of course. I dare any reader to stumble upon this book somewhere and not take a closer look at it out of pure curiosity. How could you possibly not investigate a book with a title like this? A title like “The Best Book in the World” warrants a closer look at the blurb at the very least. And what makes this title extra clever is that the label does describe the contents exactly. This is a book about the best book in the world.

During a literary festival two authors get drunk together. One is the young, popular, successful and charming poet Eddie X. The other, Titus Jensen is older. He has a successful career as an author of literary fiction behind him and now spends his time, mostly drunk, reading outrageous passages from obscure books at festivals. Titus is well on his way to becoming a washed-out has been. During their drunken conversation Titus comes up with the idea of writing a genre-transcending book:

“A single book that is all the other books at the same time.”

Titus Jensen knows that The Best Book in the World is his last chance. If he can’t write it he’ll be an alcoholic has been for the rest of his life. If he can’t sober up now he’ll never be a serious writer again but be condemned to making a fool of himself at festivals forever.

Despite this idea having sprung from a very intoxicated mind, Titus enlists his publishers’ assistance, and proceeds on a very strict writing regime. His life style is changed, alcohol banned and his writing monitored. And much to everybody surprise Titus makes great progress with his project about:

“an overweight and charismatic detective chief inspector who has cracked an important slimming code and will change the world’s view of leadership. On top of that, he has a polished serial killer, a frightfully tasty pizza and the best artist in the world throughout the ages, his soul mate Salvador Dali.”

But, as Titus writing goes from strength to strength he can’t help worrying about Eddie X. He told the young poet about his idea and he is convinced that Eddie is not only working on a similar project but also trying to get his hands on Titus’ work in progress. And that is a very worrying prospect because:

“The best book in the world can give eternal life. But only to one of them.”

The race is on!

In many ways this is a very clever book. In order to write a book about an author who tries to write a book that encompasses several, if not all, genres Peter Stjernström had to write a book that covers several different genres. So, while we have a fascinating and at times very funny novel to enjoy here, we also get a lot of non fictional information about pizza, art, Sweden, and writing, among other topics. And for the most part the balance between story-line and other information is very well struck and fits the story perfectly. The one thing I was less happy about was the final part of the book. It is only a few pages long but manages to put everything that has gone before on its head. I can’t help feeling that Stjernström was trying to be a bit too clever there and am convinced that this book would have been as good, if not better, if that last part had been left out.

Those last few pages not withstanding, this was a very enjoyable and anything but predictable read. And while a book that holds so many different facets might sound like hard work for the reader, this is in fact a surprisingly easy to read story. The narrative flows nicely, factual insertions never take the pace out of the story and although there is an awful lot going on – there isn’t a dull moment in this book = the story-line is easy to follow, until you get to those last few pages.

There is a lot to be found in this book for those who pay attention, with a recipe for the perfect pizza as one of the highlights. The writer doesn’t shy away from kicking a few hobby horses while he’s at it. The publishing industry is given a closer look and a not too subtle dig at Paulo Coelho may well offend some of his numerous fans. And I can’t help wondering – with a big grin on my face – how many authors, like Titus in this book, have wished they could put something like the following in their foreword:

“…and now I demand of you, you pathetic clown of a reviewer, that you read this magnificent book with the most open attitude that your withered and poisoned brain is capable of. May you burn in hell if you are incapable of appreciating the magnificence of this innovative work of literature.”

This may not be the best book in the world; it definitely is a very original and enjoyable way to spend a few of your reading hours.

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Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

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The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje

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