I believe that literature is the real Icelandic heritage. That is the one thing that has been preserved throughout the ages, unlike most of the stuff the tourist shops try to pass off as traditionally Icelandic. About 10% of Icelanders have published books (myself included, in fact). Icelandic literature is a source of great pride for us.
So here are a few recommendations for books that you might enjoy. The list includes great examples of classic Icelandic literature and some modern stuff as well. These should be available in any decent bookstore in Iceland.
Hugleikur Dagsson – the funniest (and rudest) comic books in Iceland
Hugleikur is my good friend, and he is one of the funniest people I know. His comic books are very popular in Iceland and all over the world. Everybody in Iceland knows his hilarious stick figures doing and saying awful things, and his books have know been translated into many languages. Be warned! His stuff is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you don’t mind a little (or plenty) rudeness, crudeness and vulgarity in your comedy, this should be right up your alley.
Click here to check out some of Hugleikur’s work!
The Sagas of the Icelanders
The Sagas are our medieval heroic tales of the vikings. They are about 1.000 years old, and the stories are really amazing. No one knows who wrote them, and mostly they were passed around through word of mouth, down the generations, through the Icelandic tradition of sitting around at night and telling stories. So these are really like epic long folk tales.
If you are interested in reading exciting, fast paced stories about love, betrayal and vikings hacking each other to bits, you can not do better than the Sagas. This is a collection of several of them, but there are a lot more out there. This is a must for any literature buff.
The Icelandic Nobel Prize Winning Author
In the early 20th century Iceland had a few outstanding novelists who were able to capture the essence of the nation with their prose. None was better at this than Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, who was given the prize in 1955, one year after Ernest Hemingway received it. Coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) Laxness translated some of Hemingway’s key works into Icelandic, including Farewell to Arms.
Laxness has written some truly timeless and genious works of literature. I specifically recommend Sjálfstætt fólk (Independent People). This epic novel is arguably the crowning achievement of Iceland’s Nobel Prize-winning author, Halldór Laxness. It is set in the early twentieth century, and harkens back to the Sagas in a way, but ultimately it is a novel of struggle and pride that provides unique insight into rural Iceland, a century ago. If Bjartur of Summerhouses, the book’s protagonist, is an ordinary sheep farmer, his flinty determination to achieve independence is genuinely heroic and, at the same time, terrifying and bleakly comic. This is quite a read, but it truly is a magnificent work of art. There is a reason why Icelandic junior college students all read this novel. It’s a big part of the cultural psyche of Icelanders.
Icelandic mystery novels are extremely popular. Writers like Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are among the most popular in Iceland, outselling most others every year. If you enjoy a nice mystery novel, you should visit a bookstore in Iceland and ask about the Icelandic crime writers. Their work is available in translation in multiple languages, and some have been adapted into films and TV series that have been popular all over the world. If you like Scandinavian crime fiction, don’t miss out on the Icelanders.
The Poetic Edda
This is a collection of epic poetry from the mythology, which have become a very big part of the Nordic culture. Many words of wisdom from these poems have become natural sayings in the Icelandic language. This is great poetry, and some fantastic stories about the Nordic gods. This collection includes a few different works, including Þrymskviða, a story we retell on our tour. So if you’ve done the tour and you want to read that story right from the source (and see everything we got wrong), this is the place.
I’m a book guy. I can’t help it. If you are too, hopefully you’ve found something here that you might enjoy. There’s plenty of other stuff, of course, so I recommend a visit to a bookstore during your visit to Iceland.
Has this been helpful?
I hope this list has been helpful and has given you some ideas for your visit to Iceland. If you need any information, do not hesitate to get in touch. If this has been useful, I hope you will consider booking your tours, accommodation, flights or activities through this web site. It won’t cost you any extra, I make sure to only list the very best partner companies I can find, and it does help me to run this site and market my tours and activities. I appreciate you and hope you have a great visit in Iceland.