Bookish Tourist: Iceland and all the books

Today we continue our tour of Icelandish bookishness!

We’ve already talked about the libraries, so today: bookstores

And also: words everywhere. Words we could not decipher. 

We begin with The Bookstores. 

The biggest bookstore chain in Iceland is Penninn Eymundsson, and their stores are pretty great. Their displays are tantalizing, and they have a tempting selection. 

If you’re ever in Reykjavik and have time for only one bookstore visit, here’s the place to go: the Penninn Eymundsson at Austurstraeti 18. It’s right downtown, on a wonderfully walkable street (near the public library!) and they have level upon level upon level of books, plus a coffeeshop at the top floor. 

Here’s a crummy photo I took that fails the capture the charm:

While we were there, the Dear Man took the opportunity to study up on local customs.

We also visited Mal og Menning on Laugavegur, one of the main shopping streets in downtown, which had some enticing displays.

 And we stopped by Bokin, a used and rare bookstore just off Laugavegur. 

And the bookishness raged on, people! 

At the Culture House in Reykjavik, they did wonderfully clever things like reinvent the guestbook as a card catalog. 

I’m not even kidding. 

They provided index cards, and you got to sign the card, date it, and then alphabetically file it in the appropriate drawer! 

I was so excited, I almost fell over.

Filed under my first name, because: Iceland

And everywhere (everywhere!) there were words — poems and literary quotes on the walls and the doors and the floors… at the airport and the library and hotels…


…which all makes sense, given that Reykjavik has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature. 

Iceland: the place is full of our bookish brothers and sisters!

The other thing that the Dear Man and I both noticed repeatedly, is that the Icelandic language is not the easiest thing in the world for the uninitiated. 

We were presented with words like these:

And as we were driving (he was driving [I was “navigating,” heaven help us]), I was calling out place names that I mispronounced so horribly I kept cringing. And I kept decrying the fact that I couldn’t figure out the meaning of the words, and having no data plan, couldn’t Google a translation on the fly.

When I finally realized that the Frommers guidebook contained a glossary of phrases that make up various place names, it was like Christmas morning. I started translating like a fiend. “Hvalfyordur — whale fjord! Hveragerdi — hot spring valley! Laugarvatn — water pools!”

(It’s super fun to travel with me.)

So one of the things that was completely lovely about visiting Iceland was that not only is the scenery lovely, but the culture is Hella literary. 

My fellow bookish travelers… What’s the most literary place you’ve ever visited?


4 thoughts on “Bookish Tourist: Iceland and all the books

  1. The most literary place I've ever visited? Can I count Archer City, TX because of Larry McMurtry's bookstores?

    The second one would be…oh, damn, I'm blanking, but the University of Iowa is there!!

    Clearly, I need a literary vacation!

  2. Brian — I've become hooked on the bookstore & library visits. It's familiar turf even when I'm somewhere completely new and different — and I love seeing the way they do things slightly differently.

  3. Bybee — Archer City, absolutely! When I first heard about McMurtry as bookstore owner, I could hardly believe it. Way too cool.

    Iowa City! (name provided courtesy of your trusty Iowa guide here)

    I think we all need literary vacations… and lots of them.

Comments are closed.