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Literary culture

Iceland – country of fire, ice, and books.

January 28th, 2013 by Kristin Funk | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Iceland – country of fire, ice, and books.
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Not only does Iceland have the most stunning landscape, its literary culture is truly fascinating as well. Kristján Jónasson, head of the Association of Icelandic Book Publishers, once said “Iceland is an island far up North, it is hard to get away – except through reading and writing”. Literature seems to indeed be a passion on the island in the North Atlantic. 93 percent of the population read at least one book a year, 40 percent read more than five. Even though only 340,000 people live in the European country, approximately 2.5 million books are sold annually. In recent years, Iceland has been struggling with a severe financial crisis. However, book sales have not suffered.

Crime novels, especially those of Icelandic and Scandinavian authors, are among the favourites of Icelandic readers. The Christmas season is the most beneficial time for book sales. Giving books as a Christmas present has been a tradition in Iceland since the 1950s when import articles were rare. Today, nearly every Icelander will find a book under the tree come Christmas Eve.

The most famous Icelandic literature are the over 600 years old Sagas of Icelanders. Written in the 13th and 14th century, the sagas tell stories of survival, honour and love. To this day, the authors of the sagas, and how much the stories represent the truth, remain a mystery. The sagas are part of the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme, and they are still a presence in the mind of Icelandic people. One can find the names of the saga heroes in product names, and some of the old saga phrases are still being used in today’s Icelandic language.

The Nobel laureate in literature, Halldór Laxness has a very special place among the Icelandic citizens. The house that he resided in until his death in 1998 is a museum now, and a very popular destination for excursions. Another greatly interesting museum is the Þórbergur Center. Its exhibition is dedicated to the author Þórbergur Þórðarson (1888–1974). One side of the building is shaped as a row of two-metre-high book spines – making it a piece of striking architecture.

No other country on earth has as many authors as Iceland percentage-wise. The rise of the internet encouraged the Icelandic passion for writing even further – nearly every Icelander has their own blog today. In times of great uncertainty in many other parts of the world, Iceland seems to be an example of a great literary culture that cannot be disturbed by technology or economical difficulties.

– Kristin Funk