Wednesday, January 3, 2018

I've thought for a while that Iceland might be my true home - this confirms it

Forget hygge. This is the word we book lovers are interested in - Jolabokaflod. I just read about it here.

There's an article here from a few years ago. Still another here.

Imagine living in a country of readers. Imagine living in a country where, when you are selling your house, the realtor does not suggest you take your books off the shelves. (Yes, I've heard of this)

And then there is this article from here. Sets me dreaming, I'll tell ya.


Iceland: Where one in 10 people will publish a book



Woman reading in Reykjavik


It is hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik. 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 10 Icelanders will publish one.
Iceland is experiencing a book boom. This island nation of just over 300,000 people has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.
"Does it get rather competitive?" I ask the young novelist, Kristin Eirikskdottir. "Yes. Especially as I live with my mother and partner, who are also full-time writers. But we try to publish in alternate years so we do not compete too much."
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.


Two visitors to the Reykjavik International Literary Festival

Reykjavik is rocking with writers. It is book festival time. Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai and Generation X author Douglas Coupland rub shoulders with Icelandic literary superstars Gerdur Kristny and Sjon. Sjon also pens lyrics for Bjork, Iceland's musical superstar.
"Writers are respected here," Agla Magnusdottir tells me. "They live well. Some even get a salary."
Magnusdottir is head of the new Icelandic Literature Centre, which offers state support for literature and its translation.
"They write everything - modern sagas, poetry, children's books, literary and erotic fiction - but the biggest boom is in crime writing," she says.
That is perhaps no surprise in this Nordic nation. But crime novel sales figures are staggering - double that of any of its Nordic neighbours.


Bookfair in Iceland

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.



Iceland's black lava riverbeds, its steaming, bubbling earth, with its towering volcanoes and fairytale streams also make it the perfect setting for stories.
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."
Siggurdsson pays homage to Iceland's Nobel Literature Laureate, Halldor Laxness, whose books are sold in petrol stations and tourist centres across the island. Locals name their cats after Laxness and make pilgrimages to his home.
"When Laxness won the Nobel prize in 1955 he put modern Icelandic literature on the map," Solvi tells me. "He gave us confidence to write."


Graffiti on Landskankinn sign 2008

A combination of ash and the crash also put Iceland on the map.
The financial crisis - or "kreppa" - of 2008, which helped trigger the world economic crash, came first. The ash cloud from one of Iceland's many active volcanoes created a second in 2010.

"It made us less complacent and gave artists a creative shot in the arm - as Thatcher did for Britain," he grins. "We address politics too - it is not all about sagas."
Hallgrimur Helgason - comedian, painter and writer - tells me the kreppa brought Icelanders down to earth.
But some fear a book kreppa, too. Iceland has so many writers there is huge pressure on publishers.
This time of year sees the "jolabokaflod", or Christmas Book Flood, when most books are published.
About now every household gets a book catalogue through the door. They pore over it like a furniture catalogue. Everyone receives books as Christmas presents - hardback and shrink-wrapped.
"Even now, when I go the hairdressers," Kristin Vidarsdottir, manager of the Unesco City of Literature project, says, "they do not want celebrity gossip from me but recommendations for Christmas books."


Bjork

But it is a lock of blue hair which alerts me to the presence of Iceland's most famous celebrity. The singer Bjork attends several of the festival events.
"It is great to see you supporting writers," I say to her.
"It is a small place. We have grown up together," she replies. "We support each other."
If Bjork was, once upon a time, Iceland's biggest cultural brand, she is today joined by a whole bokaflod of authors.

32 comments:

  1. I loved Iceland when we visited several years ago. When I, too, heard about Jolabokaflod this year, I bought myself a Christmas present -- themed pjs from Out of Print.

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    1. When was it you went? I remember bookmarking the page of pictures, etc. and I never got back to it. I'm thinking the grandchildren may have come along then? Anyhow, it has never left my mind and I still want to come over and spend time visiting Iceland with you. I'll have to check out pjs. I got that catalogue this year.

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  2. I've heard of Icelanders tradition of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. Sounds like a great tradition. I didn't know about the other bookish things like the benches having a barcode so you listen to books on your phone.

    Sounds like an awesome place to live!

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    1. Think of it. Getting a book and sitting right down to read it. That hardly ever happens to me. And the benches! It really is a book lover's heaven, methinks.

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  3. I've *always* wanted to go to Iceland. I think it started when I read a book by Anya Seton as a teenager where a Viking girl got kidnapped and taken to Iceland. Fired my imagination no end. Like you, I'm certain it would be my kind of country. One of the Marigold Hotel programmes recently had four of the 60 year olds going off to Iceland... I was glued to the set. It's SO beautiful there.

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    1. Oh, I saw the first one in India, which is another one of my loves, but the grouchy women drove me nuts.

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    2. I saw the first series but only the Icelandic one in the second series. I quickly get tired of some these set-ups and yes... grouchy women.

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    3. Miriam Margulies, I think her name is. Lots of swearing, and seemed angry. And I didn't care for the one who ended up being a judge in the Big Family Cooking Showdown (such a hard title for me to remember).

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    4. Yes, Miriam Margolyes. They've now given her a doc. series travelling round America to gauge the state of your nation would you believe. I'm watching because it's America but find her approach slightly off-putting. Not very balanced. I cope with Miriam better than I cope with Rosemary Shrager though. Her constant excitable shrieking drives me mad.

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    5. I saw the series when they were in Florida. That's the thing - people come over here and they go to maybe NYC or California or Florida and think they've found what we're all about. We are such a giant country. My friend Les in Oregon has flowers while we have snow and cold. It's fifty countries here. I hate to think what MM is making of us. And yes to the shrieking. She was a bit more subdued with Mr. Locatelli on TBFCS.

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  4. I neer knew this about Iceland. I've been to the airport twice now to change planes from the states to Europe. May have to spend a little more time there and take a look see.

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  5. Several of my mystery group members have been on tours to Iceland. They have all read mysteries set in that country prior to going. I think we need to do a theme month on Iceland for the group - maybe in August (read cold books in summer). And, yes, perhaps I was the person who told you the realtor/stager for our house in Austin requested that almost all my books come off my living room shelves. She said - shelves are 'not' for books or not very many. I just looked at her incredulously! LOL

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    1. Lucky people. I've read many of the Erlendur books by Indridason and like them better than any of the Swedish ones I've read. I thought it was either you or Les. Sickening, I say. My books are what make this old farmhouse homey!

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    2. My agent didn't tell me to get rid of the books, but we did pack up some in order to move the two bookcases in the dining room to my brother's house. I wanted the dining room to appear a bit more spacious. We still had lots of books in the living room and bedrooms.

      I would love to go to Iceland someday! I know of three couples who have gone and their photographs are breathtaking. I just know I would love it over there.

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    3. So, it was Kay. And you had all those books, and it still sold! Yup, I've dreamed about it a long time. Maybe since the movie, The Girl in the Café.

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  6. Strangers in Iceland, Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss, is an excellent review of an outsiders view of Iceland while living there for a year, as a Professor of Literature at the University. I did write a book review on my blog. I would love to visit Iceland. It must be all those long dark nights of telling tales, that make them want to write a book. Also they are a very travelled people, but I think many Island People are.

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    1. Thank you for the recommendation. I will look for it. That's interesting about people who live on islands. It is a totally new thought to me.

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  7. It was so interesting to look at your blog and see this. My husband told me tonight that he wanted to visit Iceland on our next trip out of the country. I told him I'd start working on it. So excited to read all about Iceland, most of which I didn't know. I had heard they give books on Christmas Eve and then get to read them right then. Now I'm really on board to visit Iceland and must start my reading program.

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    1. Oh, lucky you! And how great he suggested it! What fun you'll have.

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  8. Around Christmas, another blogger whose blog I regularly read explained about this Icelandic tradition of giving each other books. I have not yet been to Iceland myself, but friends have been, and they all liked it very much.

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    1. I wonder if that's where I first saw it - the link at the start of this blog post. Scriptor Senex!

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  9. I need to dig a little deeper into Icelandic culture.
    The reading/books part is right up my alley.
    HOWEVER, if it is any colder for any longer than here in NE Indiana (which is my impression), I'm not sure how I would cope! I will keep an open mind, however.... :)

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    1. For me, that would be another plus! haha

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  10. I didn't know this about Iceland. An acquaintance of ours went there a couple of summers ago. She is a photographer/birder so that was her focus. I will have to ask her about books. If she bought any or saw any bookstores etc. This is an interesting read. Thank you.

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    1. That's a whole other interesting facet - the bird and animal life.

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  11. I've enjoyed several mysteries set in Iceland, but I just read that Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men! Another reason to love this tiny country!

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  12. The only time we were in Iceland was the stopovers to and from France. In fact, my passport has a stamp from Iceland and not from France. There were no books at the airport though, that I noticed.

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    1. Think of seeing books in gas stations!

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  13. I remember I read one mystery by an Icelandic author and remember it was quite dark but I enjoyed the sense of place; I tried to find it on my Kindle list after I read this post yesterday, but I can't (my Kindle list is huge, wow, I didn't realize how many titles I own!) Anyway it was fascinating to read all this information about this very interesting country; I would love to visit , but only in the summer ... which I know doesn't surprise you!!! Thanks for this great post.

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    1. I bet it was an Erlendur mystery by Arnaldur Indridason. And you may have gotten the idea from moi, but maybe not!

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