The land where one in ten people will publish a book

Halldor Laxness

There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach”.

One in ten Icelanders will publish one…

Special saga tours – saga as in story, that is, not over-50s holidays – show us story-plaques on public buildings.

Dating from the 13th Century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country’s Norse settlers, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th Century.

Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups. Each geyser and waterfall we visit has a tale of ancient heroes and heroines attached. Our guide stands up mid-tour to recite his own poetry – our taxi driver’s father and grandfather write biographies.

Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit…

So what has led to this phenomenal book boom?

I would say it is due to a crop of darn good writers, telling riveting tales with elegant economy and fantastic characters…No wonder JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney were entranced and Unesco designates Reykjavik a City of Literature.

Solvi Bjorn Siggurdsson, a tall, Icelandic-sweater-clad novelist, says writers owe a lot to the past.

We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do,” he says. “Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity…”

An enjoyable read, too brief.

But, then, I have always loved Iceland. Even the first time I stopped over, changing planes from one Icelandic Air flight to another, followed by 2 FBI agents because I was on the way to Scotland to visit a friend doing post-doc cancer research and liaison between Madame Binh of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and American activists opposing the US War upon the people of VietNam.

The salmon fishing is also phenomenal if you know how to cast a fly in a gale. 🙂

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