Lagom by Lola A. Åkerström
Last year’s bestseller The Little Book of Hygge showed us one Scandinavian aspect of living well and being happy. That book was well-designed and a cozy pleasure to read. Not for nothing are the Danes known as being the happiest nation (read my review of Helen Russell’s The Year of Living Danishly for more on this). This year, hot on the heels of Hygge are a handful of books about the Swedish philosophy of ‘Lagom’. I was keen to find out more when a copy of this book came my way. At it’s simplest, Lagom (pronouced ‘laaw-gum’) is defined as:
Not too little, not too much. Just right.
In the intro, the author is at pains to stress that we all, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, have our own version of what is just right. After the intro, the author then takes us through how lagom can apply to every aspect of our lives, from leisure to business, nature to fashion. Lagom at its simplest promotes moderation, balance and equilibrium, not being overshowy -. as we all see in Swedish design from IKEA, fashion brand H&M and so on. These are merely some of the more visible influences, lagom also embraces sustainability, harmony and consensus at work and home, and even saving when applied to finance.
My problem was that I got the basic concept after reading the intro and the first chapter on Culture and Emotion. I didn’t really need the rest of the book to explain it to me any more and found the rest very repetitive to say the least. Where it was more interesting was in mentioning the negative side of lagom – the idea that seeking moderation and balance can become too restrictive and stifling. I wondered whether the author was being hoist on her own petard in tackling this, but a brief survey of other books about lagom showed that all of them looked at this too, mentioning ‘The Law of Jante’ which was postulated in a 1933 novel. Jante promotes ‘collective unity’ over individual achievement – so, like Communism then? Åkerström takes pains to explain that: ‘Lagom was never meant to denote the word ‘average’ or even ‘neutral’.’
The more I read, the less accepting I felt of lagom’s basic tenets. Indeed, she tells us that Swedes abroad will drop many lagom habits. Why shouldn’t you blow your own trumpet occasionally? Try telling a Scandi-crime author whose books are really grim to be more lagom – or ABBA! Hygge, I can appreciate, but lagom is a much harder concept to love, it all feels a bit passive which, as an introvert is something I have to try not to be.
Åkerström is Nigerian, well-travelled, and has lived in Sweden for some years now. There is some nice photography by the author throughout the book, but I found the little illustrations, many with small figures as on the cover, to be irksome and unnecessary. The old Swedish proverbs dotted through could have been made more of instead. This book was so restrained in its design that between the photographs, it was boring to look at on the page as well as repetitive in its mantra. This wasn’t the lagom book for me. (5/10)
Source: Review copy
Lola A. Åkerström, Lagom, (Headline Home, Aug 2017) Hardback, 192 pages.