Iceland: A Weird (But Well-Read) Country

Iceland is a weird place. REALLY weird. There are 325,000 Icelanders in total, and all of them are cool with the fact that they live on a volcanic island. In winter, they spend most of their day in the dark — and at the height of summer, the sun never sets. There are these eerie green lights that dart around in the night sky, and “hidden people” (a.k.a. elves) living in the underworld below Iceland’s rocks and hills. You can learn about them at Elf School. In the 1950-70s, the nation was legitimately involved in a dispute over fishing rights known as the Cod Wars. Reykjavík elected a comedian for mayor in 2009.

Even their horses are weird:


Like a regular horse, only condensed.

But for all their weirdness — or perhaps as part of that weirdness — Icelanders have some pretty interesting traditions when it comes to literature. There are more books published per capita in Iceland than in any other country in the world. One out of every ten Icelanders will write and publish one of their own. Books are the most popular gift at Christmas time (the season is known as the Christmas Book Flood), and people spend the holidays reading. They even have a TV show dedicated to books.

Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel laureate, began his career as a monk before devoting himself to writing. He went on to pen poetry, plays, short stories, novels, and travelogues, and he is credited with giving Icelanders the courage to write their own stories.

If I had to choose which Icelandic cultural export I’d want to take hold here, and I were being totally honest, I’d choose the elves, obviously. But the literary spirit is a close second. Iceland has found the formula for happiness, and books are it. The only thing left now is to teach their emo horses how to read…