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Books to Read Before Visiting Iceland

I really enjoyed writing my books to read before visiting Egypt post, so decided to do the same for Iceland. Iceland has a very strong literary scene so it was a challenge to just pick a few for this post. After visiting a bookshop in Iceland, I ended up adding even more books to my TBR list, so I’ll need to come update this once I’ve read them! I’ve gone for a mix of books I’ve read, and books I want to read.

Icelandic Sagas

I can’t make a list of books to read before visiting Iceland without mentioning the Icelandic Sagas. They are based on historical events happening from when Iceland was settled and follow various characters; both in Iceland and on adventures abroad. It’s hard to choose which ones to recommend as I want to read them all! I settled on picking one I’ve read, and the one I plan on reading.

The best thing about the Icelandic Sagas is that they are all in the public domain so you can read them for free. Not all of them have been translated to English, but the popular ones are all available.

Eyrbyggja Saga

This is the book I’ve chosen to read while in Iceland. My reason for choosing it? It’s quite a small paperback so will take up less space in my bag! It focuses on a feud between two chieftains in Iceland and has lots of information about Icelandic Folklore. I ended up only managing to read the introduction while I was there, but that made it sound very interesting!

The Vinland Sagas

So this is actually a collection of two sagas: The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Erik the Red. Both sagas focus on the discovery of America, and are both quite short. I read these quite a while ago, back when I was a student, and I really enjoyed them both. Despite describing the same events, the accounts are slightly different: having both in the same collection lets you compare and contrast the two tales.

Books by Icelandic Authors

As part of my reading challenge, my goal is to read books set in the country, by authors from that country. Luckily, Iceland has a thriving book industry and there are so many books to choose from! I’ve kept it short at just three books for now, because I want to be able to come back soon and update this after reading them!

The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason

This book is on my Icelandic reading list for one very simple reason – it’s available on Kindle Unlimited. When looking up books to read, I heard good things about Woman at 1000 Degrees. I looked the author up and then found this. Woman at 1000 degrees sounds really good though, so if I enjoy this then I’ll make sure to check it out too.

The book follows a failed hitman who flees New York and ends up in Iceland. It’s described as dark, yet funny, so hopefully I enjoy it!

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón

This is a book I read as part of my Read Around the World challenge for Iceland. I personally wasn’t the biggest fan of this story; however it has a lot of very good reviews. It’s a “fly on the wall” type story, following the life of Mánni, a 16 year old queer boy in 1918. The book covers quite a bit of Icelandic history, such as the outbreak of the Spanish flu. Be warned though that there are some graphic sex scenes in the book. I would be willing to give the author another try though. If I read something else by him then I’ll probably come back and switch to recommending that instead!

The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness

Halldór Laxness won a Nobel Prize for Literature, so of course I need to include him on this list. The book I chose was The Fish Can Sing as it is available at my library. Saves me having to make a decision! All his books looked interesting, though, so if this doesn’t sound appealing then maybe a different one will.

Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason

Arnaldur Indriðason is a profilic Icelandic author of crime fiction, so again I have to include him on this list. I’ve not read this yet either, as I’m currently on hold at the library. The Inspector Erlendur series is very popular though, and this was the first one translated into English.

Books by non-Icelandic Authors

Usually I like to stick to recommending books by people from the country/culture I’m visiting. However, I loved this book so much that I had to include it.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book is a historical fiction novel, featuring the last execution in Iceland. It’s been nominated for several prizes, including The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 2017, I read every book shortlisted for that prize and really enjoyed myself. Ever since then, any book that has been nominated for it tends to end up on my TBR. This is the book that I read on the plane to Iceland and it was so engrossing I could barely put it down.

Have you read any of these books? What suggestions would you make on books to read before visiting Iceland?

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