What better way to get to know a country and its people than diving headfirst into its literary world? This is especially true for Iceland, which has long been known for being an intellectual, supportive community of active book-readers. Around Christmas, the rush for the newest novel is as big as the rush for the newest iPhone. It even has a nickname: “Jolabokaflod,” or “Christmas Book Flood.” The population isn’t daunted by long texts, either. In 2010, the 2,000 page report on the causes of the 2008 economic crisis was one of the top bestsellers, alongside exciting fiction and biographies of every type.
The population isn’t the only thing that sustains the literary lore of Iceland. With a wealth of gorgeous natural wonders from volcanoes, to hot springs, to lush fields, it’s no wonder the country is a top spot for writers. Not only has it produced a wealth of native authors, but it also actively draws authors from all over the world. Take Pulitzer-Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks, for example! Geraldine is a well-travelled author who came to Iceland as a friend of the Iceland Writers Retreat. In an interview about her latest book, The Secret Chord, Geraldine divulged some of her life-changing Icelandic experiences:
“Iceland is the most creatively stimulating place I have ever set foot. The landscape is so other-wordly that it forces you to see with fresh eyes. And being in a culture that’s so rich in literature is remarkable: the depth and breadth of the writing tradition and the modern commitment to literature is breathtaking. Riding amazing Icelandic horses over the lava fields, listening to extraordinary live music in some of the friendliest, chillest bars I’ve had the pleasure to visit, seeing Gullfoss and Geysir, feeling the tingling shock of the hot springs. I can’t mention a highlight because the entire time was a high.”
Click here to read more about Brooks’ time in Iceland.
The Iceland Writers Retreat provides the perfect backdrop to create some some truly inspired stories. There’s still time to register for the 2016 retreat, taking place next April!
So when traveling to Iceland, whether for a writer’s retreat or just a vacation, why not book-shop like an Icelander? In 2011, UNESCO designated Reykjavik a “City of Literature,” making it the perfect spot to highlight literary havens that will surely fire up the imagination. Whether you’re a serious writer, casual book-lover, or just looking for something new, here is a spotlight on three great bookstores to visit in downtown Reykjavik.
Mál og Menning: Translated, “Mál og Menning” means “language and culture.” It’s one of the two biggest bookstores in downtown Reykjavik, with plenty of English selections alongside the native Icelandic ones. The bookstore is huge and can mesmerize any book-lover for hours. It has a great café upstairs, Sufistiin, with walls decorated by local artists. Perfect for when you need a quick coffee break from exploring the endless shelves of classics.
Address: Laugavegi 18, 101 Reykjavik
Ida Zimsen: A great halfway point between a bookstore and a café in a peaceful location near the water. After a brisk walk by the seaside, or perhaps an invigorating afternoon shopping at Kolaportið, what better way to unwind than stopping at this local favorite for a book and a cup of coffee?
Address: Vesturgata 2a, 101 Reykjavik
Bókin: This bookstore is truly unique and a must-visit for those who love antique finds. At first glance, the store may seem small because of the strange way it’s organized – in piles and piles of books. But upon entering, patrons can see just how much is in store for them. There are knickknacks, like framed portraits of movie stars, as well as books in English, French and German, and even a section of books written in actual Old Norse. A must-visit!
Address: Klapparstíg 25-27, 101 Reykjavik
What’s your favorite bookstore in Reykjavik? Let us know in the comments!