From Iceland — Books To Read Before The Endless Summer Days Rob Your Sanity

Books To Read Before The Endless Summer Days Rob Your Sanity

Published June 16, 2021

Books To Read Before The Endless Summer Days Rob Your Sanity
Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick / Various

It’s that time of the year again—the time of maddening light and endless days that mess up your sense of time completely. Yes, you guessed it, it’s summer! And what else is there to do during these overwhelming hours than to read something utterly stupid, or better yet, incredibly brilliant?

It’s true that Icelanders, like most Scandinavians, aren’t very fond of writing about summer. Most Icelandic authors seem to prefer something gloomier—usually a desolate farm that’s fallen to despair, with a storm on the horizon and rogue sheep. However, you need not despair, for here’s a selection of jolly and bright Icelandic novels to take you through the next toasty months.

‘Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night’ by Jón Kalmann

This is the book that made Jón Kalmann an overnight superstar. In fact, right now he’s probably the most beloved fiction writer in Iceland—one of those guys that you’d like to send a friend request to on Facebook and ask him over for a coffee. (Not that I’d do that, but Jón, if you’re reading this…)

“These are thoughts you might not even say in a tight group of friends while drunk by the campfire when everyone’s cell phones are out of battery.”

Yes, I’m a fan boy and will proudly admit it.

‘Sumarljósið, svo kom nóttin’ (‘Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night’) is a beautiful poetic effort that is both incredibly wise and insanely funny. The book is compiled as a series of short stories over one summer in a small Icelandic fishing town, with each story connected by a strong thread. The protagonists include an odd astronomer, boys in a haunted warehouse and a police man who can’t seem to man his son up before he commits suicide. Notably, nobody dies in this odd village. In fact, the town doesn’t even have a cemetary. In my view, the book is a masterpiece, and what’s important here, it happens over the summer, so it’s totally relatable to you, who we’re sure are also odd astronomers in small, eerie fishing villages.

‘Here We Are’ by Kjartan Ragnarsson

From a master to a newby. ‘Here We Are’ is the debut poetry book from Kjartan Ragnarsson and it’s quite promising. Not only is it beautifully written, but it was also originally written in English—targeting an international crowd—which is a remarkably unique feat in the Icelandic literary world. It’s also, I must add, a refreshing one.

Each poem in the book is part of a larger story of a city and Kjartan’s poems allow the reader to dive into each character’s thoughts, revealing their inner connections. Of course, I must admit that the effort does bear some of the unavoidable characteristics of a new writer, but it’s ultimately a surprising, worthwhile read.

‘The Sagas and Shit’ by Grayson Del Faro

I can’t go on without mentioning one of the funniest books in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s definitely not one I have any personal connection to. No way.

Grayson Del Faro’s epic ‘The Sagas and Shit’ began as a regular Grapevine column. It was quickly discovered, though, that it was something special. Grayson, who is a scholar of the Icelandic sagas, has a deep understanding of these complex stories and his summaries were not only enlightening, but also extremely funny. See, Grayson doesn’t approach these cultural holy grails with the same dustry attitudes as most scholars. No, he draws out the core meaning and messages and puts a modern twist on them. Think intrigue, drama, and sex jokes you really don’t want your gradma to see.

Warning: This is one of those books that will make you accidentally piss yourself while screaming and laughing at the silliness of these insane vikings, who, like you, went completely mad in Iceland’s endless summer nights.

‘666 Jokes’ by Hugleikur Dagsson

We’ve now reached the infamously dark and twisted humour of comic artist Hugleikur Dagsson. Where to start? First off, it really is insane that this humorous genius hasn’t been cancelled by an angry mob yet. Truly mind-boggling. But I think the answer is simple—the man is so talented that even though his humour is as depraved and dark as it gets, he still manages to entertain, shock and showcase his brilliantly sarcastic messages to the world. It’s a delicate line, but he treads it.

In ‘666 Jokes’, Hugleikur showcases the best and worst of Icelandic humour. These are thoughts you might not even say in a tight group of friends while drunk by the campfire and everyone’s cell phones are out of battery. Hugleikur makes fun of everything—and I mean everything. Only the bravest of the brave should read this book, for Hugleikur is like a lovely Icelandic summer festival—filled with unruly madness, riot, burning tents and crappy folk music.

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