This article was printed as the introduction to our December 2016 edition: The Literature Issue. You can use the links to explore our articles on Iceland’s literature scene.
Iceland is, famously, a literary country. Deprived of the means to create music or art for centuries by colonial overlords from Denmark, early Icelanders instead took to channeling their imagination into words. Thus, we have the Sagas, Eddas and skálds, a rich tapestry of monsters, magic and mythology, Rímur—the chanted rhymes that emerged in the 14th century and survive to the present day—and, most recently, a resurgence of rap.
The tradition of storytelling laid the foundations of a rich literary culture. Today, Icelanders publish more books (per capita, of course) than any country in the world—five books a year per 1000 people, or roughly double that of the aforementioned colonial overlords. In 2011, Reykjavík became a UNESCO-certified City of Literature, and each Christmas time, the publishing industry goes into a frenzy each year for the “jólabokaflód”—the Christmas book flood. Everyone gets a book or two for Christmas, and word of mouth on the best new titles is intense.
With that in mind, welcome to our Christmas Literature Issue. From a beginners guide to Icelandic literature, to interviews with outstanding Icelandic authors Sjón and Oddný Eir, to Vala Þóroddsdóttir’s young writers to watch, to a list of our contributors’ very favourite Icelandic works—we hope you find something interesting to read in these pages, and then perhaps outside of them, too.
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