Our Top 5 tips for literary treats in Iceland
Literature is big business in Iceland. Despite the country’s remoteness and small population – some argue, thanks to it – Icelandic literature, old and new, has influenced Europe and the world and enjoys a popularity out of all proportion to its size.
No visit to Iceland would be complete without some contact with the country’s literary heritage, since it is such an integral part of the national psyche, soul and outlook.
A useful overview of Icelandic literature by Dagný Kristjánsdóttir, Professor of Modern Icelandic Literature at the University of Iceland, can be found here.
We have put together a few ideas for literary and literature-inspired activities to add to your Icelandic bucket list:
1. The Saga Centre
Icelanders were writing novels before novels even existed. The Icelandic sagas are a collection of prose narratives focusing of the life and struggles of early generations of Icelandic settlers (9th-11th centuries). This medieval body of works is universally recognised as a cornerstone of European literature.
The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur, South Iceland, offers visitors the chance to explore the fascinating world of the sagas and the romantic, conflicted world of Iceland’s early Viking settlers.
Related article: Mapping the Icelandic sagas
2. The Þórbergur Centre
Further east along the coast of South Iceland, is the Þórbergur Centre – dedicated to the life and works of author Þórbergur Þórðarson (1888-1974), who was born at the site.
Þórðarson produced a series of poetry works and biographic and autobiographical novels, and is widely considered one of Iceland’s most original and imaginative literary figures of the 20th century.
He was also a dedicated Esperantist, and many of the signs at the Centre are in Icelandic, English and Esperanto.
Gljúfrasteinn, in Mosfellsdalur (east of Reykjavik), is the former home-turned-museum of Iceland’s literary superstar Halldór Laxness.
Halldór Laxness was born in Reykjavik in 1902 and published his first novel at the age of just seventeen. His prolific literary career saw him produce a number of important novels, plays, poems, essays, and even translations. Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.
The author’s best-known work is Independent People, an epic novel in the social realism tradition, dealing with the life and times of sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson and the destructive effects of his personal struggle for independence and self-reliance.
Guided tours are available through the museum, whose walls are adorned with pictures from famous 20th Icelandic artists.
Related article: Laxness exhibition at National Library
4. Nonni’s House
Located in the northern town of Akureyri, Nonni’s House (‘Nonnahús’) is a memorial museum dedicated to author Jón (Nonni) Sveinsson located in his 19th childhood home.
Sveinsson wrote children’s book in German about his childhood in Iceland – including the Nonni and Manni books – and has been translated into over forty languages.
The museum is open to visitors during the summer season and by appointment in the winter.
5. Reykjavik Literary Festival
The Reykjavik Literary Festival is annual event offering guests a diverse and exciting programme of literary events featuring authors from Iceland and overseas.
The event has been organised annually since 1985 and took place in early September last year. Organisers serve up literary discussions, literature-themed events and a sparkling festival-close ‘Literary Ball’, ensuring there is something for everyone.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing literature in Iceland.
How about browsing through medieval manuscripts at Reykjavik’s Culture House? Or buying vintage books by the kilo at the Old Bookshop in Flateyri (West Fjords)? Or simply walking the streets of urban Reykjavik and immersing yourself in the atmosphere that serves as a setting for Iceland’s booming modern crime fiction?
It’s as easy as opening a book…