I just returned from a 10-day, phone turned off, bucket list, adventure vacation in Iceland. My sweetheart husband stockpiled our credit card points and a lovely Icelandic woman named Birnir rented us her air b&b apartment, both making the whole thing possible. I’ve wanted to visit Iceland for close to a decade. I admire their progressive politics–the first democratically elected female president in the world; gay friendly; universal healthcare; and a university education for everyone. I am awed by their breathtakingly beautiful and other worldly landscape of volcanoes, snow capped mountains, glaciers, lava fields, waterfalls, and green farms. I’ve been intrigued by their mythology of “hidden people,” the midnight sun, rumors of mystical power places. And I feel a kinship to a culture that centers around books: In a country of only 300,000 people, Iceland has more writers, more books published, and more books read per capita than any other country. Public benches have barcodes to scan to listen to stories while you sit. The weeks preceding Christmas are known as the “jolabokaflod,” or “Christmas Book Flood,” when most books are published and everyone receives a book as a gift. They even have a Nobel Prize-winning author in literature to their credit. As for me, I don’t think I can write about the trip yet. It amazed me, moved me, and ultimately changed me. The trip of a lifetime. For now I will try to share it with you–as we always do–with a recommended reading list.
My Five Favorite Icelandic Reads
1) Lonely Planet: Iceland. This will seem pedestrian, I know. Especially considering everything mentioned above. But this was the guide we used in our travels and we found it to be very helpful but also very interesting and informative in regards to history and culture, and I loved the obviously deep appreciation the writers had for this place.
2) Independent People by Halldór Kiljan Laxness. This novel clinched the Nobel prize in literature for Laxness. This story of Bjartur, an Icelandic sheepherder, is the masterful telling of one man’s life–sardonic, clever, strange, and what many consider a masterpiece.
3) The Tricking of Freya: A Novel by Christina Sunley. A contemporary Icelandic coming-of-age debut novel about a young woman whose story begins with the summer she first meets her mom’s family in the
Icelandic-Canadian village of Gimli. Sunley beautifully pays homage to Iceland’s rich language and cultural lore.
4) The Sagas of Icelanders. These crazy medieval stories describing the Norse men and women who first settled Iceland are classic Icelandic literature reminiscent of Homer and Sophocles in terms of their epic scope and historical significance.
5) The Blue Fox by Sjon. I don’t usually look to Bjork for book recommendations but when in Rome… Sjon is a celebrated Icelandic poet and novelist who also happens to write lyrics for Bjork. His work is quirky, lyrical, often comical, and ultimately extraordinary–everything I found his homeland to be.