From Iceland — Picks By Local Authors: Read These Books!

Picks By Local Authors: Read These Books!

Published December 16, 2014

Gabríel Benjamin
Photo by
Natasha Nandabhiwat

Some of our favourite local writers recommend some of their favourite local books (that are available in English) for your benefit!


Hallgrímur Helgason

Award winning author, painter, poet and social critic. Best known for the generation-defining ‘101 Reykjavík’.

‘Butterflies In November’ by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
This was just released in the States. A charming tale, a rainy road trip.

‘Moonstone’ by Sjón
Atmospheric and gay!

Internationell författarscen

Steinar Bragi

Widely considered one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary authors. His latest novel, ‘Kata’, is currently making waves in Iceland. Seek out the English translation of ‘Women’.

‘Blue Fox’ by Sjón
A great writer, beautifully translated by Cribb.

‘Reply to a Letter from Helga’ by Bergsveinn Birgisson
A rather clumsy title in English, but a great novel on love and bestiality. I recommend it even though it’s published by Amazon Crossing, but please, let this be the last coin you put into the black void of BEZOS.

‘The Ship’ by Stefán Máni
An epic book on evil and seafaring, at times so male that it veers into gay erotica, beautifully.

‘Children In Reindeer Woods’ by Kristín Ómarsdóttir
Lyrical in the best sense of the word, playful, profound and humorous. Do it.

‘The Creator’ by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir.
A gripping meditation on dolls and what it means to play with them and make babies with them.


Jónína Leósdóttir

Celebrated author and playwright. Her most recent book, ‘Við Jóhanna’ (“Jóhanna And I”), details her relationship with her wife (and former Icelandic PM) Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and will reportedly be available in English sooner rather than later.

She says: “I think there should be a law that says everyone must get a book for Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a hard-back, brand new or expensive. There are plenty of good, older books to choose from.”

‘Independent People’ by Halldór K. Laxness
Books by our Nobel laureate are an absolute must for anyone who wants to acquaint themselves with Icelandic literature—and this novel is a great starting point.

‘The Little Book of the Icelanders’ by Alda Sigmundsdóttir.
A humorous look at Icelandic society and all our strange quirks—like babies sleeping outside in winter—in fifty miniature essays.

Any crime thriller by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir or Arnaldur Indriðason
Both Yrsa and Arnaldur are excellent crime writers and, for those unfamiliar with their works, just close your eyes, reach out and buy the first one you touch.

‘Flowers on the Roof’ by Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir and Brian Pilkington
A perfect gift for young children, a fun story and fantastic pictures.

‘Does anyone actually eat this?’ by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
A hilarious account of traditional Icelandic food, like sheep’s heads and rams’ testicles, by our best-known food writer. But no recipes, you’ll be glad to hear.



One of Iceland’s most successful and respected contemporary authors. Seek out ‘Moonstone’ (as recommended by his peers on this very page), also, check out our interview with him [hyperlink to it].

‘Silence of the Grave’ by Arnaldur Indriðason
This is Arnaldur’s masterpiece of the Erlendur cycle of novels. The author’s own sense of justice, bordering on rage against the exploiters of the weak in society, is wonderfully channelled through his life-weary but diligent detective. While this novel about domestic violence depicts contemporary Reykjavík in a sure way, it is Arnaldur’s evocation of the city in the 40s, during the Brits’ friendly occupation, that shines and should bring out envy in all of his self-respecting (or is it self-doubting?) colleagues.

‘The Fish Can Sing’ by Halldór Laxness
A funny, intelligent and moving novel about an orphan raised by two old people in Brekkukot, a fisherman’s cot at the south-west end of Tjörnin in Reykjavík. Young Álfgrímur—for that is the orphan’s name, bestowed upon him by his mother as the only thing she gives him before leaving him for good—is discovered to have a voice so lucid that he can reach “the pure note” needed to lament the dead and console the living at funerals, where he practices his art. His counterpart is Garðar Hólm, an Icelandic singer whose fame abroad is endlessly recounted in the newspapers of Reykjavík, where no one has ever heard him sing. But living among the misfits and outcasts that are also sheltered in Brekkukot provides a lesson that he takes with him when he also leaves Reykjavík to sing for the big world.

‘Gaga’ by Ólafur Gunnarsson
A brilliant novella about a meek man who immerses himself in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s pioneering sci-fi novels about John Carter’s adventures on the planet Mars. He reads them to the point of waking up in the Martian capital. The city is cleverly disguised as Reykjavík by its freakish inhabitants. And things start going wrong, horribly wrong. This slender book with its nod to the great Quixote is one of my favourite Reykjavík novels.

Kjartan Yngvi Björnsson

Kjartan Yngvi Björnsson

Kjartan and Snæbjörn Brynjarsson’s teen fantasy ‘Hrafnsauga’ won the Icelandic Children Books Award in 2012, and have since followed it up with the sequel ‘Draumsverð’.

‘The Whispering Muse’ by Sjón
Sjón is one of Icelands more exciting authors in my opinion, and very well established by now. He started out as a surrealist poet before moving into novels, but still carries a strong note of his origins, the surrealism, the poetic, lyrical language and incredible control of the text (I can only hope it carries through to the english versions). The whispering muse is a good example of his work, although underrated in my opinion.

‘Independent People’ by Halldór Laxness
It’s one of the big classics in Icelandic literature and worth reading. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s an important insight into Icelands literary soul, as it were.

The Icelandic sagas. Obviously I kind of have to recommend at least one, and then how you like Iceland. While this isn’t my favourite saga it is the most famous and widely read. It’s a good primer into this fairly unique literary era, and especially because this saga has had en incredible impact on icelandic culture (the name Mjörður, a villain of this saga, wasn’t used for about 700 years in Iceland because of it!).

‘Rosa candida’ by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
There’s a quote from Auður Ava which I think explains her style quite well: “Skáld er útlendingur í eigin tungumáli, það er hlutverk skálda að misskilja tungumálið” (“A poet is a foreigner in her own language, it is a poets lot to misunderstand her own language”). Auður is generally recognized as one of the more exciting writers in Iceland today, and her commanding yet playful style and language certainly makes her worthy of that opinion. This book is a good example of that and definitely worth a read.

‘Bloodhoof’ by Gerður Kristný
Gerður Kristný won the Icelandic literary prize for this book of poetry, and in my opinion quite worthily, as it were. It is an exciting modernization, as it were, of an old epic (Skírnismál) full of sharp and artful use of language.


Andri Snær Magnússon

Andri Snær has works published in over 30 countries. His most recent book, ‘Tíkimakistan,’ won the Icelandic Literary Award, adding to the laundry list of Literary Awards and international recognitions he has received over the years.

‘101 Reykjavík’ by Hallgrímur Helgason
Catching the start of the new emerging Reykjavík, the algae bloom of trends a few years after the first real bars opened after beer was legalised.

‘Children in Reindeer Wood’ by Kristín Ómarsdóttir
Kristín is a magical strange storyteller, a world class artist always on the margin of everything.

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