Published January 13, 2016
Growing up in an isolated fishing village (Ísafjörður, pop. 2,500) on Iceland’s northwest corner—at the edge of the Arctic Circle—I developed an immense curiosity about the world beyond my fjord and family as soon as I became aware of its existence. Deeply invested in learning everything I could about this world and its workings, yet frustratingly unable to experience any of it firsthand, I greedily and indiscriminately imbibed every potential source of information within reach, seeking glimpses and hints of what lay in store beyond the looming mountains that framed my reality.
Early investigations involved picture books and television—the recent advent of VCRs ensured there was always something to watch, or re-watch. It’s hard to say what, if anything, I learned through these initial efforts; however my excessive TV regime resulted in me being able to speak a second language, English, by the time I turned five. This might explain why I sound like a cartoon character whenever I speak the language.
In first grade, patient adults taught me and others how to read. What good fortune, what a gift. My curiosity reached a boiling point once I fully fathomed that learning to read had granted me access to a whole new world of information. Subsequently, I would spend entire days at the library, carefully inspecting its seemingly infinite collection of books spanning every conceivable topic. Based on my investigations, some careful consideration and a lot of guesswork, I surmised that the combined knowledge contained in all the library’s books was conclusive and all-encompassing, in the broadest sense. As far as I was concerned, those books represented the totality of collected human knowledge of and ideas about the world. By systematically reading all of them, I would thus be able to conceptualize a fairly comprehensive idea of the whole world without ever leaving Ísafjörður, I reasoned—thereby sating my growling curiosity.
Being a kid is busy work. There are many distractions, and there is much to explore and investigate, even within the confines of a narrow fjord on the edge of nowhere. My interest in the outside world remained strong, but I soon forgot my plan to read everything in the library. Biking around town with my friends was also important—as was searching for treasure and breaking car windows down at the dumps. I also liked doing my homework, since it pleased my grandmother, and standing around on the harbour to see the boats come in, and watching TV. And reading books. Just not all of them.
I decided to try newspapers and magazines, thinking they might offer a different type of information about everything. I read them all. A few were published by political parties—the conservative one, the socialist one, the centrist one—then there was the tabloid, and some weeklies and glossies. I instantly liked all of them, even though a few were mostly boring, and others had zero stories that interested me. Here’s why: each of them felt like its own, unique universe, each represented a certain worldview or philosophy or mode of thought. The words and images they brought felt secondary to the unique character that accompanied each of them, a great source of the sort of information you can’t well convey with words. The different characters didn’t have a specific placement or indicator. I would glimpse him in certain words or letters, in images, in the way the stories were arranged, and sometimes creeping on the margins.
I was surprised to find that the act of reading a newspaper or a magazine felt almost categorically different from reading anything else I had come across. They demanded a different kind of attention, and yielded a different sort of reward. I wondered why, or at least to what end. Then, I sort of understood. Their central purpose was not to inform or educate or mediate, regardless of their makers’ intent. They formed the basis of a club, a shared idea of an intangible space for socializing and engaging with others of a similar mind. A nod to the tribes and clans of our forefathers, or maybe a giant country club of the mind. They helped us position ourselves and provided a vague sense of family or community. No wonder they started being a thing around the time of the Industrial Revolution—we look to them to replace whatever we lost when our traditional communities dissolved and we all became individuals.
Necessarily disposable and impermanent in nature, The Newspaper’s aim is to evoke in its readers a sense of active participation in the world, granting them a stake in the events and movements they deem significant, while forging a comprehensible narrative out of reality’s dark chaos. This promotes a sense of belonging and comfort for The Readers, who share a temporary community centered around the world as outlined by The Newspaper, in accordance with the readers’ conscious, or subconscious, wishes.
I was fascinated, enamored. Providing a space, granting a stake, forging a narrative—building community!—for those of us who felt lacking, and sought them out. What noble goals! What a fun project!
So I kept reading, and wondering.
The Reykjavík Grapevine’s first issue of 2016 is as usual dedicated to pondering the year we just left behind. As usual, we’re hoping that that accounting for where we’re coming from might help us discern where we are, which might in turn give us an idea of where we’re headed. Perhaps you’ll find some sort of narrative in here that helps you make sense of all that dark chaos. Perhaps some of the music that we’re lauding will provide solace or new ideas. If nothing else, it should be good for a chuckle or two.
PS: Thanks to Kwaku at 1919 Hotel! <3