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'There was noone doing it': The story behind Oslo's only English bookstore

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
'There was noone doing it': The story behind Oslo's only English bookstore
Indigo Trigg-Hauger at the opening of Prismatic Pages in December 2023. Photo: Prismatic Pages

Six months after launching Oslo's only English language bookstore, Seattle native Indigo Trigg-Hauger doesn't regret a thing.

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"I really love it. I love that I can finally use my communication skills for something that is purely my own and I just love being in the store, meeting new people, and getting to recommend books," she tells The Local. 

Prismatic Pages, in the happening Oslo district of Grünerløkka, is already building up a steady following both among English speakers and readers and among Norwegians, with its packed schedule of events like book swaps, book clubs, and silent reading evenings.  

"The English speaking and reading community in Oslo in general is becoming more and more aware of it, and I have some repeat customers who are really spreading the word, which is amazing," Trigg-Hauger says.

"But it's sort of a slow burn. Even though all of our events have been standing room only, there are still people coming in every day who say 'I didn't know the store was here', or, like, 'someone just told me about this', so I can see that we still have a lot of potential people to reach." 

Trigg-Hauger inherited her fascination with Norway from her mother, who studied in Oslo as an exchange student and still speaks rusty Norwegian. 

"I always had the impression that we were Norwegian when I was a very young kid, and then I grew up and realised 'oh, actually, no, she just loves Norway'." 

She studied Scandinavian Studies at The University of Washington, came away from her year-long exchange year at the University of Oslo with a Bachelor's degree in History, and then returned to Oslo a year later to do a Master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. 

"I learned Norwegian pretty quickly after I arrived, just because I had a little bit of a basis and I did an intensive course as well, so I am fluent and I have dual citizenship now," she says. 

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These language skills, together with the journalism she'd been doing on the side throughout her studies meant she fell on her feet on graduation, getting a job in communications at the prestigious Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) almost immediately, and then moving on three years later to a similar job at Norfund, Norway's state development finance institution. 

"After only a year, I realised, this just isn't for me anymore," she says of the Norfund job. "I'm really good at communications, but I was tired of only doing it for other people's projects and not my own. I think I'm very creative and independent. So I needed to do something a bit more flexible and something that was more driven by me." 

Around this time, during coffee with a friend, she mentioned that she had worked in a bookshop in her home town, Leavenworth, for a year between studies. 

"I said, 'that's the only job I've ever really enjoyed', and she said 'well, you should just open a bookstore'. To which obviously I said 'that's crazy', but then I actually did start to think about it." 

Indigo Trigg-Hauger ran a book stall in May 2023 as part of her market research. Photo: Prismatic Pages

What helped push her to actually do it was a new scheme run by the local Grünerløkka city area called Lokalstart, where those accepted receive three months of free training followed by continued mentoring to start a business. 

"That really just, like, pushed me to do it," she remembers. "Part of the course that for me was very helpful was that my course leader and my mentor encouraged me to do some market research. So I actually started in, just about a year ago, in May, I started doing just a table at a local market and I was seeing, like, quite a bit of enthusiasm."

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She realised that while Oslo had several independent bookstores, such as a queer bookstore, and an anarchist bookstore, there wasn't an English-only one, and certainly not one which did what independent bookstores do in the US. 

"There was no one doing what I wanted to do, which was used and new mixed together and buying used books from customers, which in the US is pretty common for independent bookstores," she said. 

So last August she handed in her notice, although she worked until the end of the year, and in December she finally opened Prismatic Pages, raising more than 60,000 kroner through the Norwegian crowdfunding site Spleis.

"I ran a crowdfunding campaign, which was also very helpful because I could both market the business and kind of get people's buy-in, literally."

She wanted Prismatic Pages to feel more open as a space than more traditional bookshops that she feels can be claustrophobic and worked with an interior designer friend to select the right colour scheme, furnishings and layout. 

"A lot of my inspiration just comes from the bookstores I grew up going to in Seattle, where I'm from, and also the store that I worked at, which was in a small town called Leavenworth, where we would also have small events. It really was like a community space where, of course, we had a lot of tourists and visitors, but also a lot of repeat customers. I was a repeat customer before I was an employee." 

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As for the books, she likes it to be an eclectic mix: something for everyone but still curated. 

"When it comes to books, I think humans are the best algorithm. Of course, some of it is personal taste, but I try not to let that get too much in the way of my selection. It's a complicated mix of new releases, classics, maybe overlooked releases from the past. And then things that customers tell me about, and I just try to read up a lot on what other people are reading, you know, articles that recommend different lists of books."

"Of course, sometimes there are themes, like, for example, Pride Month is coming up. I already have a queer literature section, but I'll be beefing that up a little bit for June, and with the Easter crime season, we had a lot more crime in." 

Prismatic Pages is already, she feels, a social space of a sort that is unusual in Oslo, particularly when the store holds events when people bring their own books and swap with one another.

"I love that people really start talking to each other," she said of those events. "It's kind of rare in Norway for strangers just to talk to each other. But they'll start picking up each other's books and discussing them, and that's really nice." 

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The constant stream of customers also suits her sociable nature in a way her largely desk-bound communication jobs did not. 

"I've always been really social anyway. So I'm really active in many different activities. So it's very nice that a lot of people come by from different areas of my life, all the way back from, like, 10 years ago, when I was an exchange student, up to my most recent jobs. I guess it's good for my socially extroverted self to get to see new and old faces."

What remains to be seen, she admits, is whether her new profession of bookseller will be work in the long run. 

"Time will tell if it is financially sustainable," she says. "I do pay myself something, but it's not really quite enough yet. So, you know, I don't want people to think, 'oh, it's all just been rainbows and butterflies'. Because, you know, opening a small business is a huge challenge." 

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