In Iceland, one out of ten people will publish a book. An astonishing 93% of the population read a book every year (roughly 75% of Americans will.) They have the most bookstores per person, and for its size imports and translate more literature than any other nation. Its mark on literature is indelible.
The Sagas of the Icelanders by various authors – The Sagas tell the stories of the early Icelanders that came from across the Norse world, from Norway to Sweden to Ireland. The sagas are generally realistic, with some fantastical embellishment, and tell of feuds, romances, and voyages into unknown lands. Eiríks Saga Rauða tells the story of the first European discovery and settlement in North America. The word “Saga” today still is used to describe epic literature.
Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson – The most complete accounting of European pre-Christian religion comes from these medieval writings from Icelandic poet, politician, and historian Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda tells us of Thor, Odin, and Freyja, and Snorri’s other writings were also instrumental in later centuries for establishing Norwegian and later Icelandic national identity as they struggled for independence from Denmark.
Independent People by Halldór Laxness (Born Halldór Guðjónsson) – Halldór won a Noble Prize for literature in 1955, and picking just one of his works is a tall task. Independent People is a tale of the desperate poverty many Icelanders lived in during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The book tells the tale of a sheep farmer, destitute and struggling, but still proud and resilient.
Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason – Part of the popular Detective Erlendur series, Arnaldur is perhaps the most well-known contemporary Icelandic author today outside of Iceland. He writes compelling crime fiction, mostly taking settings from the Icelandic landscape. His novels often examine issues of racism, sexism, environmental issues and the underworld of Icelandic society.
Lewis Parsons is a librarian in Research and Information Services at the Sawyer Free Library.