Icelanders highly value their literature, beginning with their sagas and continuing through the literary scene today. I got the impression that many people have jobs, and in addition to their jobs, are artists. There don't seem to be too many full-time writers, which is often lauded as the ultimate way to be a writer, proving that you are truly committed and you've made it enough to survive without the workaday world. That didn't seem to be the case there. Rather, there seemed an appealing balance of work and art, perhaps derived from the fact that a smaller population means less competition. My impression was that people created art less from a need to profit from it, as they already had jobs. Jobs that did not involve working excessive hours, and did not always have to be full-time because their taxes and the state provided excellent health care and excellent education for all. I realize it's of course not perfect, but it struck me particularly as I am faced with having to return to the wq world (tomorrow, in fact, is the one-year anniversary of the Year of Writing, if you can believe it).
Anyway, so there are a lot of artists in the country, creating really interesting art, and a lot of writers. What I find confounding is how little of it has been translated into english, especially as so many Icelanders are fluent. It almost made me want to go back to school to learn how to do just that, but then I remembered my student loans.
I have found more translated Icelandic detective novels than anything else. It can leave you with the feeling that all Icelandic literature is either saga, Halldór Laxness, or detective novels. I was reading Arnaldur Indridason's Jar City while I was there. One morning over breakfast a waitress ran up to me while I was reading and handed me a map, circled a neighborhood and said "the murder is here." I hadn't had enough coffee to catch on very quickly, but as she went on to say it would give me a feel for the story and pointed again at the neighborhood I finally got it. She rocks! I was so hoping she would show up again so I could thank her for her suggestion, but I never saw her again (perhaps she was a literary hidden person). I walked the gloomy Nordurmyri neighborhood where inspector Erlendur solves a generational crime.
I traveled to Reykjavík for the purposes of personal curiosity as well as research for my novel-in-progress. So perhaps my perspective was already primed for such things, but I was delighted to find quotes from or about literature wherever I went.
|View through a city hall window, with quote|
|Quote by writer in airport bathroom. And my iPhone.|
|In the reading room at the Culture House|
|At the Reykjavík Art Museum|
|And a drive-by of his house|
My own novel research (which was a lot of unscientific observation of what certain streets "felt" like, and note-taking on things like how traffic lights looked behaved [they go from green to yellow to red, then back to yellow, briefly overlapping with the red before turning green. As a pedestrian, you don't want to be in that crosswalk when the yellow appears]) was fun and an interesting way of experiencing a city. As I was trying to see things through the perspective of my main character, it made me pay close attention to the sensory details of the city. At times, however, I got tired of seeing it through her eyes (she's not exactly a bubbly life of the party-type), and had to remind myself to just see it through my own. What I saw just made me want to read more.
|The title needs no translation|
|Public library art|
|The children's story room at the public library|
|I was delighted to find I'd already read 1/3 of these books at the Thingvaller national park gift shop|