- Nita Bajoria
Book Lover's Island
The Icelanders suffered a lot in their past. Be it by the foreigners who ruled them or natural disasters. But they survived those times of adversity due to their heroic sagas. The sagas gave them a sense of national identity and pride. The country was intensely poor and people lived in small turf houses, all huddled together. The winters were long, dark and harsh, and folks had to spend many hours indoors. This was when a tradition developed in the evenings called a kvöldvaka. This was storytelling, to keep people awake and entertained while they worked.
The tradition is not a requirement now and might have been forgotten by most Islanders, but the love for stories and books are still ingrained in them. And this is evident by the fact that Reykjavik, designated a UNESCO City of Literature, has a large number of book stores, libraries and book festivals. The country is, no doubt a treat for literature lovers.
This is Iceland’s largest chain of bookstores. Their stores are all over the country, but the one in the heart of downtown Reykjavik and the one at Akureyri are the best. There is an excellent selection of titles in English. One of the great things about Eymundsson Austurstræti is the coffee shop. At both the stores, you can enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate while reading a book of your choice.
Reykjavik City Library
The City Library is a great place to spend your day amidst a great selection of books, fiction and nonfiction, in Icelandic and other languages. Popular films, documentaries, music, comic books can also be enjoyed there.
There is a children’s section designed for the small ones where they can enjoy reading, board games, putting together a jigsaw puzzle and playing. The library organizes various events for children during the winter months and Sundays like storytimes, arts and crafts, family mornings, competitions etc.
At the centre of Grundarfjörður, there is a friendly family-run coffee shop that has a small library inside it. The street view is nice, and the Café offers hot soups, delicious home-baked cakes and beverages. The ambience is lovely and there is a museum too.
Gljufrasteinn is a beautiful house, where the writer and the Nobel prize winner Haldous Laxness, lived. Laxness wrote his first book when he was 17. He wrote about 60 books and some books formed the basis for movies. There was a vast collection of nearly 3000 books, spread in several rooms and especially in his study. I loved the simplicity and good taste of everything about the house.
Icelanders witness two of the most famous festivals, the Reykjavik International Literary Festival and the International Festival of Children’s Literature. The former has played host to authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Isabel Allende, J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster and takes place twice a year. International Festival of Children’s Literature is also a biannual event that features readings, panels and workshops for children.