Bookish Tourist: The books about Iceland

Since the Iceland trip was in the works for more than a year before our departure, I had some time to read up. 
Beyond the many guidebooks I perused, I also hit the fiction and memoir categories. Granted, I didn’t hit them hard — it was more like I swatted them. 
Here’s what I read before we visited… 
Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
3 words: somber, classic police procedural, character development
This one made me nervous, because: psychotic killer. Then I reread the real-life Icelandic crime statistics and calmed myself. This is the first in a series, and it’s a fine example of the contemporary Scandinavian police procedural. By which I mean: this sucker’s pretty grim. 

Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer by Tim Moore
3 words: light-hearted, irreverent, stunt nonfiction
Super grateful our travel plans didn’t involve bikes or backpacking or a ship’s passage from England. This guy did that stuff, so the rest of us wouldn’t have to. Moore retraced the steps of an old-timey rich dude who was an adventurer, with hilarious results.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
3 words: frank, lyrical, expatriate
The book that gave us the alert about the Yule Lads. (Party game: Pick which one is most like you!) Moss lived and taught in Iceland for a year, and her expat perspective was fascinating. She also interviewed Icelanders who are experts in various topics (elves, trolls, volcanic eruptions, social issues), which added some nice depth. From this book, I also was inspired to bring a hat and gloves on our trip, which turned out to be a very good idea.

Gloves and some serious layering

Frommer’s Iceland
3 words: informative, helpful, organized
I looked at all of the Iceland guidebooks I could find (Lonely Planet, Marco Polo, Moon… you name it) but the Frommer’s is the one I took with us on the trip. While it’s a little out of date (2011 publication date), it held up quite well. The only stumbling block (and it’s a tiny one) is that the restaurant that supposedly had on its menu the lamb dish served to Reagan and Gorbachev… that item ain’t on the menu anymore. Such is the extent of our troubles. (Did I mention? Best vacation ever.)

Caught reading! It’s the Frommer’s…
The Dear Man presents… the Hofdi House!

The one I was supposed to read, and couldn’t: Independent People by Halldor Laxness
I know. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature and all. But it’s a novel about a sheep farmer living a hardscrabble existence, and I just couldn’t do it. (I checked it out twice. Or maybe three times. It just wasn’t going anywhere for me.) The whole time we were there, I was terrified an Icelander would learn that I was a librarian, ask if I had read Laxness, and then judge me. Fortunately, I dodged any such conversation. International literary incident: avoided.

In honor of Halldor Laxness: sheep. (I promise: they’re there.)

What’s up next: The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland by Bill Holm
I started reading this one the day before we left, and I wish I’d read it sooner. But also glad I didn’t, because it’ll help me extend the experience of the trip. 

Dear readers, tell me… Do you prefer to read about places before you visit them, or afterward?

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  1. Well, Unruly, now I have to try Laxness and see if I can get through him. Off to the online catalog! A book blogger turned self improvement blogger, Jessica Denham, wrote a book about backpacking in Iceland.

  2. I like to read about places before I go…and sometimes while I'm there. But often, I find myself continuing to read about them even after I come home. Have you ever read Yrsa Sigurdardottir? She's an Icelandic author of a very good series of mysteries.