My favorite book ever. EVER.

July 28, 2013 | 41 comments

Wow. Posting on weekends is hard. But my yeoman work to get one final post up for the 7 for 7 challenge is well worth it, because I’m going to tell you about a book that you’re going to cherish forever.

I have not yet mentioned this book on the blog, nor in social media, because it seemed like such a high-pressure endeavor. “What if I make a passing comment about it once, and then I do a more thorough review later, but people don’t listen to the second one because I’d already mentioned it once before?!” I’d think. But then I’d start to write a post about it, and I’d realize that the English language simply does not have the words to capture how much I love this book. And so, since this daily blogging challenge is forcing me to overcome Overly Analytical Writer Syndrome and just write things that I’d normally contemplate until I had no time left to post, I’ll just say it:

Your life isn’t complete until you read The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson.

Joe's birthday is tomorrow,  and this is his gift (wrapped in paper decorated by the kids).

Joe’s birthday is tomorrow, and this is his gift (wrapped in fancy paper created by a local artist).

I stumbled across this gem completely by random. Actually, I think it was a gift from God. Out of the blue, I was hit with an inspiration that I should get a book about the year 1000. I didn’t care if it was fiction or nonfiction; for whatever reason, I was just dying to read something set in that period. I listlessly scrolled through some Amazon recommendations, but nothing felt right. Then I found this one. I’d never heard of it, but the reviews looked good. I bought it to read on my tablet, thinking that I’d probably give up after a few pages. Little did I know that I was in for the most delightful read ever. (Don’t you love it when that happens?)

My one complaint about The Long Ships is that it’s only 600 pages. When I reached page 280, I wanted to cry when I saw that I was almost half way through. A book like this should be no less than 2, 000 pages. And, yeah, if you’re short on reading time it’ll take you a while to get through it. But that’s fine, since you won’t ever want to read anything else anyway.

The book is an epic saga in the classic sense of the term. It covers the adventures of a Viking named Red Orm, from the time he’s a young man until he’s older. It’s a swashbuckling tale of Viking culture around the time that Christianity first made its way that far north. Reading the book is less like turning the pages of a manuscript, and more like sitting around a fire with rowdy Northmen, drinking ale and listening to them loudly chronicle their exploits.

Also, it’s hilarious. All throughout the book there is a dry, understated type of humor that often had me laughing out loud at one o’clock in the morning. Some of my favorite parts were watching well-meaning Vikings try to be good Christians. During a Christmas feast, Orm and a man named Sigtrygg have a disagreement about whether Orm stole some of his property. They couldn’t agree after hashing it out for five minutes, so, of course, the only option was to duel to the death. The other guests at the feast thought that that sounded like a lovely plan:

Everyone in the hall was happy to see that there was a good prospect of an armed combat; for a fight between two such men as Orm and Sigtrygg was sure to be worth the watching. Both King Sven and Styrbjörn expressed their opinion that this would add pleasant variety to the Yuletide drinking.

Most of them were newly Christian, and they weren’t sure whether or not swordplay at Christmas dinner was 100% in line with their new faith. They turned to the King for guidance, and after considering it carefully, he replied:

“It is lucky that the Bishop is ill in bed, for he would never permit this to take place; still, I do not see that the peace that we have come here to celebrate can be said to be broken by anything to which I give my assent; nor do I think that Christ could have any objection to a contest of skill, provided it be conducted with due propriety and the correct formalities.”

I’ve been thinking hard about whether I can honestly say that everyone will love this book. Maybe most people wouldn’t care for it at all. Maybe some people don’t like Vikings, or ale. Maybe it says something troubling about me that I’m so enchanted with a book about a culture whose solution to every problem was violence. But something tells me that everyone can appreciate a good saga, especially one that is also hilarious, and that pretty much anyone with a heartbeat will find this rollicking yarn to be an utterly delightful read.

At the beginning of the foreword, author Michael Chabon wrote:

In my career as a reader I have encountered only three people who knew The Long Ships, and all of them, like me, loved it immoderately. Four for four: from this tiny but irrefutable sample I dare to extrapolate that this novel, first published in Sweden during the Second World War, stands ready, given the chance, to bring lasting pleasure to every single human being on the face of the earth.

Make that five for five. And then, when you read it, it’ll be six for six.

(Thanks to everyone who participated in the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge! I hope you had as much fun as I did!)


  1. Steph

    You had me at Micheal Chabon.

    LOVE Micheal Chabon.

    If he is a fan and you are a fan – well that is all the info I need.

  2. Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader

    This sounds like just the sort of book I love. I am so happy you shared about it, and so happy to discover that my library has it. 🙂

    And thanks for the 7-for-7 inspiration. It was fun, even if this morning had me almost regretting signing up for it.

  3. MelanieB

    Putting it on my wish list now….

  4. Sue

    It’s hard finding good Christian books, but I admit, Vikings don’t sound fun to me–I’m not that big on guy humor or gruffy-ness–however, if this is deemed child worthy, I’d love to get it for my teen?? Anyone know if this is clean enough for a young teen to read?

  5. Mandi @ Messy Wife, Blessed Life

    I just wish listed it on my PaperbackSwap account. I hope it comes up soon! I have a goal to read 40 books before I turn 30 (10 per year) and half have to be fiction. I need some fiction suggestions I’ll be excited about and this is a good one!

  6. Roz

    Anyone devoted to Michael Chabon should certainly read the delightfully unconventional bio on his web site. It contains gems like the following: “Discovers Monty Python’s Flying Circus while high on Demerol following emergency appendectomy (5/74)”.

  7. Martha

    Ordering it. I was just wondering what to read next. Sounds like you’d be a big Chesterton fiction fan. He is incomparable, if you’re into his style of dry humor. The scene you mentioned smacked of GKC’s The Ball and the Cross. Two men are going to duel to the death (an atheist and a Christian) in England over an affront to Mary, but since dueling to the death is illegal, they must keep running from the authorities in mid-battle. I promise you’ll love it, and will be devastated when you’re done, and then be elated to know that he has dozens more that are just as hilarious, like The Flying Inn and The Man Who Was Thursday, Innocent Smith… 😉 Pure awesomeness.

  8. Angela Bashaw

    I’ve added it to my reading list.

    And thank you for the Challenge. I have successfully accomplished it, and that is saying a lot because otherwise this year I only 20 posts from January through June. Plus, my last post is the first part of my conversion story. I still have to write the final part, but this part at least gets me into The Church.

    Thanks again for the challenge.

  9. TheReluctantWidow

    It sounds really wonderful and a book much like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth or Edward Rutherford’s two-book Dublin Saga (The Princes of Ireland and The Rebels of Ireland). The latter doesn’t portray St. Patrick as congenially as how we Catholics like to view him, but all three of these books were riveting and I was so sad when they ended.

    • TheReluctantWidow

      I also wanted to mention that I am generally not a fan of this time in history because it seems like people were always getting their heads chopped off and placed on spears or hung, then drawn and quartered or something uncivilized like that. It seemed like such a brutal period in human history and I am a wimp.

  10. Joan

    Jen, I have to laugh at how unappealing this book sounds to me : ) However, it has my husband’s name written all over it! A great gift idea for him. And… I just may read the first few pages to see if I can expand my mind and somehow find interest in it – you never know. Thanks for the suggestion.

  11. Joni

    Just bought it for my nook. Sounds like one of my all time favs, The Odyssey  by Homer. Don’t know why, but I’ve always loved that story. Looking forward to the read! Thanks for sharing that!

  12. Chris


    Could you let me know how (in)appropriate this is for kids? Mature situations, for example, wink wink?

    Sounds like my 11 yo (your scorpion eating road runner correspondent) would love it.


  13. Ellen

    It seems to me that you are ripe to read “Kirsten Lavransdatter.” 🙂 You won’t regret it….

  14. Jesabes

    Yay! My library e-book system has it so not only can I read it for free, I can start right this minute!

  15. Sarah Smith Bartel

    SOUNDS AWESOME! Aaaaand survey says, my local library system has it. Cha ching! Thanks!

    So, if you want something along those lines as a read-aloud for the kids, might I suggest The Tale of Rolf and the Viking Bow, by Alan French. Great story, gripping adventure, well-written (though there were some typos in the edition we read), great social-cultural-religious history stuff for us homeschoolers, Important Lessons on Character, and some extremely funny parts. My oldest two girls were 8 and 6 when I read it to them, and they relished it. Phrases from the book have become family inside jokes.

    Yes, I also think this sounds like a great warm-up for Kristin Lavransdatter! I am pretty sure you would love it, though it is more feminine, with less ale and violence and more woman’s life stuff in it (romance, household management, raising kids, working on marriage . . . but epic nonetheless!). It offers an excellent look at Christianity, not just breaking into a culture, but redeeming one person’s life. Another great historical novel that I think gives an above-average honest look into the life of a woman and at how Christ is present in that life is Until We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis.

    Let us know if you ever want to have an online book club!

  16. Nicole

    I just ordered the book! I needed something new to read. Thanks for hosting the blog challenge. I’m excited to take what I learned in the past 7 days and apply it to my little blog.

  17. nancyo

    I am going to order that book pronto, thanks for the glowing recommendation. And thanks also for the 7 in 7 Challenge. I just finished, although half of my posts ended up being posted after midnight on their assigned days. It was an easy week for me to find topics, except today’s post is a bit wimpy.

  18. Tori

    I’m getting it! Always on the lookout for my next book. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Natstelle

    Also wondering if this book would be a read aloud for kids? Saving this whole post and comments as an awesome reading list – thanks !
    I discovered you by googling “how to talk to an atheist”. Would it be a good book for an atheist ? this far I simply pray for her and be who I am and do not hide my faith. But she is moving on soon as I’m afraid what if I never share the gift of faith with her ? But how to plant the seed ?

  20. Tina

    I’m definitely ordering this for myself, and I know my son will love it too. I second the recommendation to read Kristen Lavrensdatter!

  21. TGP

    This book is amazing! I bought it at Powell’s Books (best book store ever) on a whim while vacationing in Portland from Houston. Such a funny and fun read. After finishing it, I immediately lent it to a friend. I especially love the old curmudgeony priest and the fact that Orm is always earnestly trying to be Chistian but can’t help but do it in a very Viking way – with much reproach and eye rolling from his priest. Honestly, this book should be required high school reading – an antidote to angst-ridden drivel like A Separate Piece, Catcher in the Rye, etc. I’ve never posted on a comment board, but this book is worth breaking my silence. Thanks Jen. Read it!

  22. Erika Marie

    Sounds like an interesting book. Have you heard of or read the Kristen Lavransdatter series? It’s an epic saga I’m sure you’d love.
    Thanks for hosting the seven day challenge! It was fun! Even if a bit exhausting.

  23. Donna

    Thanks Jennifer! I need something great to read while I’m laid up after knee replacement surgery. And I love Vikings-they’re my people! Love the history channel series and loved the Kristin Lavransdotter book series-also about Christianity in early Norway (but be sure to get the recent translation).

  24. Mark S.

    Bought an electronic copy. Sounds fantastic. Thanks for the recommendation.

  25. Stephanie Stevens

    I too am dying to know if this would be a good family story! I have a 12yo who’s a voracious reader and loves epic adventures. Too violent?

  26. Kris, in New England

    Will have to add it to my reading list; sounds like a wonderful beach read and we are heading to the beach for 2 weeks in late September.

    Not that you or anyone asked but…I just finished “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and I have to say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. 250 short pages it’s a story of a want-to-be race car driver as told from the perspective of his much beloved dog, Enzo. I connected very deeply with the book for many reasons but just on the face of it – it’s really wonderful.

  27. Eva

    Oh come ON. I’ve only just got my hands on God’s Smuggler- now my reading list stands at 1003 books!

  28. Benedicte

    Thanks for that Jen. I am currently working on a difficult project with a bunch of Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Germans. The hard part of the project is to figure out their ways of doing things (I’m a definitely Catholic-Latin European, French living in Ireland- the Irish are called the Latins of the North, so figuring out these cold-loving descendants of Vikings is tough!). This book might help me!!
    I’ll let you know…We have a meeting in Trondheim in 4 weeks, I’ve got time to fit it in!
    Thanks again,

  29. Lady Birgitha

    The book is great, i have read it. But to assume that vikings were violent after reading this and what has been given in history books about their adventures is like saying that Native americans were primitive savages. Only a hand full of vikings tried their luck as warriors. Most were farmers and some was merchants.

  30. Chris

    Great book rec…will be checking the lib for it! Thank you.
    And thank you, also, Jen, for offering the 7 in 7 challenge. It was excellent for me to come home from a lengthy trip with the family and know that I :had” to blog each day…kept me on track…! I still have many more trip posts to come, but the 7 right off the bat were fun to write and organize

    Be well and God bless!

  31. Tammy

    Considering my last blogpost is a book review, you wouldnt think that finding time to read would be a problem for me, but Im AMAZED (and terribly impressed) that you can read books with your hectic life. I have fewer kids but my husband died so Im a single mother and even reading the book I wrote the review for felt like a monumental event. Maybe its my extroversion…Im so busy talking I dont stop long enough to pick a book up.

  32. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    It doesn’t seem like my cup-o-tea, but I am going to give it a go. How can I pass it up with reviews like that??

  33. Momofthree

    Jen. You must read Kristin Lavransdatter… Year 1350 I think!

  34. Brother Juniper

    Thanks. After reading your review I ordered and finished this weekend. Now I’ve passed it on to my wife. Wonderful story.

  35. Lynne

    I keep mentioning Kristen Lavransdatter, and I see someone above said the same. If you’ve already read it you should say so or I’ll continue to bring it up and you’ll want to hit me. It’s not earth shattering, not funny–just a regular gal trying to live a holy life and often failing…in the 14th century. What’s shocking to me about a book like this (and specifically I think of Teresa of Avila’s or Catherine of Sienna’s autobiographies) is how much we are the same. I expect people from that long ago to be different than me, but that isn’t the case. We moderns don’t have a corner on…much of anything.

  36. Monique

    Howdy from College Station/St. Mary’s.

    Found it, read it, loved it. You were right about the humor. Not-always-bright Vikings matter-of-factly discussing whether or not to kill someone or whether or not it Christ is more lucky than Odin. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Oh, and we got Fr. Johnathan Raia back! Neener, neener, neener!

  37. Andrea

    I finally read this book and LOOOOOVED it! I agree with every word you said about it. I came back to this post to say so and to check the comments for any leads on other books that I might enjoy this much. Thank you SO much for the recommendation!

  38. Kate

    What about Quo Vadis!

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