Books To Read Before You Visit Iceland

Iceland books
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Part of the fun of visiting a foreign country is the pre-trip reading, the learning about a new place. Whether your taste is for history, classic literature or contemporary thrillers, here are a few of the best books to read before you visit Iceland.

Guidebooks, History And Culture

For a good basic guidebook look no further than Lonely Planet’s Iceland which has lots of background information and tips to help you plan your trip. Also from Lonely Planet is Experience Iceland, a more immersive guide with insider tips, itineraries and cultural insights from locals.

One of the most recommended general histories of the country is A Brief History of Iceland by Gunnar Karlsson (2012), spanning the period from the 9th century to the present day. Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland is a memoir by Sarah Moss, describing the year that she and her family spent living in Reykjavík in 2008: it is an interesting outsider’s account of the quirks of Icelandic culture and the effects of the economic collapse.

Another book that I really enjoyed was The Museum of Whales You Will Never See (2020) by A Kendra Greene, an idiosyncratic description of some of the country’s 265 museums. It was this book that inspired me to visit some of Iceland’s small museums for myself!

Classic Icelandic Literature

Classic Icelandic literature begins with the sagas, heroic narratives from the 13th century. One of the most famous is King Harald’s Saga, recorded by the medieval writer Snorri Sturluson. Modern collections include Hrafnkel’s Saga and Other Icelandic Stories and Comic Sagas and Tales from Iceland.

The most famous author of the 20th century is the Nobel prize winning Halldór Laxness. He describes a vanishing way of life at the beginning of the century, a time of extreme suffering and hardship, leading to stubbornness and superstition. Independent People (1935) captures the conflict between economic independence, capitalism and increased materialism. Whereas The Fish Can Sing (1957) is a slightly eccentric coming of age novel.

Novels Set In Iceland

Because the Icelandic language is spoken by very few people, many contemporary novels are written with a view to translation for the international market. Thrillers seem to be a popular genre, with the result that – given that Iceland is a very low crime country – there are probably more murders in the pages of books than there are in real life! Whether you enjoy crime stories or not, these books do give you an insight into everyday life in Iceland.

Arnaldur Indriðason has written several crime novels – Jar City (2009) is the first of his series featuring Inspector Erlendur. Or try Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, beginning with Snowblind (2015).

For something quite different read Butterflies in November (2014) by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. This is not a crime novel, but a quirky black comedy about a woman’s voyage of self discovery as she takes a road trip around Iceland with her best friend’s deaf-mute child.

Children’s Books About Iceland

A good introduction to the country for children aged between 9 and 12 is A Kid’s Guide to Iceland by Jack L Roberts. Or you could try Here is Iceland by Linda Ólafsdóttir.

The same age group will relish National Geographic Kids Everything Vikings by Nadia Higgins (subtitled All the Incredible Facts and Fierce Fun You Can Plunder) and The Story of Rolf: A Viking Adventure by Allen French. For some traditional Icelandic folklore have a look at Hildur, Queen of the Elves and Other Stories, a collection of folk tales by J M Bedell.

Older children and teenagers will enjoy Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which is based around an expedition to the volcano Snæfellsjökull in western Iceland.

Most of the books on this list are available via my Amazon Storefront.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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