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Suggested Reading: Four Icelandic Books Posted by on Mar 31, 2017 in Icelandic culture

In my language studies in German, Russian, and Icelandic, nothing has been more valuable to me than reading a book to bolster my skills. I am always frustrated early on in my studies, and sometimes I throw in the towel (Russian is on hold at the moment). But when I force myself to read a book in a new language (and I do mean force), I find myself getting frustrated quite easily. But by the end of the book, I can’t imagine why I was so stressed out in the beginning.

Strategy suggestion: If you’ve reached a threshold (between beginning and intermediate) level of fluency, my suggestion is to not look words up. Beginngers: look up words minimally. Write down important words or phrases for review later, maybe in a Memrise course. But do your best to push straight through. Have a look at the Common European Framework Reference for Languages (CEFRL) to see which category you might fall into.

 

 

  1. Benjamín Dúfa (‘Benjamin the Dove’) by Fríðrik Erlingsson (Beginner-Intermediate)

Benjamín Dúfa is a coming of age story. Benjamín and his three best friends, including the new kid in their small neighborhood, decide to become crusaders of justice. They dress up in full knight’s regalia, standing up for the weak. When the house of the kind old woman in the neighborhood burns down, the boys think creatively to find a way to rebuild it so that she can come home.  The text is aimed at ages 7+, but it can be a bit rocky at times, so be patient. Still, I recommend it for level A2 readers (upper beginner) on the CEFRL.

 

 

 

 

  1. Blóðhófnir (‘Bloodhoof’) by Gerður Kristný (available in trans. Rory McTurk) (Intermediate)

You may have heard of this one. It’s Gerður Kristný’s, one of Iceland’s most notable poets, retelling of the old Norse poem Skírnismál, in which Freyr, the god of fertility, spies a beautiful giantess named Gerður from his seat on Óðinn’s throne. Freyr’s messenger Skírnir promises to bring Gerður back to him, to become his bride, in exchange for his horse and sword. He sets off to woo her, offering her precious gifts that she refuses, only accepting once he threatens her and her family. I recommend this in bilingual edition, available from arcpublications.co.uk, because the language can be tricky, especially because this story is a full-length, but spare collection. Some pages are only a few lines long. That means they’re dense, packed full of meaning. I recommend this for a B1 Icelandic reader, for the challenge.

 

  1. Tími kaldra mána (‘Cold Moons’) by Magnús Sigurðsson (available in trans. Meg Matich)(Intermediate)

 

“Tími kaldra mána” is Magnús Sigurðsson’s award-winning poetry book, translated into English this year. The poems are sparse and complex, but the way he uses language isn’t unusual. He uses more complex wordplay – the kind where, when you get the pun, you let out a long sigh and smile. And you will get it, with enough persistence. The subject matter is the environment; his vocabulary is expansive, but he repeats several key words throughout the book, leaving handholds for his reader to understand his logic. I recommend this book for B2 readers who are ready for a challenge. Available in a bilingual English-Icelandic edition from Phoneme Media.

 

  1.  Hundadagar (Advanced) by Einar Már Guðmundsson

This is a thick book for a beginner, so I recommend it only for intermediate to advanced readers. Hundadagar is the story of the Dog Days King of Iceland, Jørgen Jørgensen, who proclaimed himself ‘protector’ of Iceland and took power for a few months before being chased out. The novel is hilarious, clever, charismatic. Einar Már’s humor is serious, but playful – teasing almost, as he travels with us through the various escapades of JJ. This might be the best novel you read this year. (Recommended for B2-C1 readers–only available in Icelandic – English translation is underway).

 

 

Other Suggestions:

    • Ævar Þór Benediktsson (Anything! He is wonderful. A2 and upward)
      —Also, check out his Bill Nye-esque kids’ science show
    • Jón Gnárr’s Sjóræninginn (B1 – for comedy)
    • Auður Ava’s Ör (B2 – complexity) ‘
    • Steinunn Sigurðardóttir’s YoYo (B2 – emotional, clever, crisp)

 


Happy Friday the 31st!

Meg

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About the Author:Meg

Hi, I'm Meg! I'm a former-NYC-now-Reykjavik-based translator and I'm here to help you learn Icelandic, the language that I love the most. Hæ! Ég heiti Meg. Ég er þýðandi frá Bandaríkjunum og ég ætla að hjálpa ykkur við að læra íslensku, tungumálið sem mér þykir mest vænt um. (If you have questions or comments on my entries, you can write them to me in the comments in either English, German, or Icelandic.)


Comments:

  1. Helen:

    Hi Meg,
    Thank you for this advice in Icelandic. As a retired language teacher I can almost hear myself saying this again to my own students!
    Unfortunately I’m not sure about my level in Icelandic. I’m self taught and continuing on with Icelandic Online. I’m on level 5 but I’m sure it doesn’t reflect my stand alone level, especially in spoken Icelandic! I haven’t found any tests to evaluate myself either. Could you suggest anything that I could use to test myself?
    I will be looking at these books for sure even though I am fully aware of the frustrations involved!
    Takk fyrir!

    • Meg:

      @Helen Hi Helen! I was just away in Belgium, but am back home now. I’ve reached out to several colleagues to see if there are any self-testing resources out there. 🙂 I’ll let you know about this. – M

  2. Eve:

    What a great topic for a post! And the suggestions look wonderful. I’m interested in buying the first book on the list. Can you provide any suggestions for how best to buy a book like this for shipment to the US? Thanks so much.

    • Meg:

      @Eve Hi Eve,
      It can be quiet expensive to have them shipped. BUT here is the link to the book:

      https://www.forlagid.is/vara/benjamin-dufa/

      And instructions on how to buy:
      https://www.forlagid.is/how-to-shop-here/

      When I order from US publishers these days, I often request a pdf in lieu of the physical book (because of the cost of shipping to Iceland). The people at Forlagið are very nice and may be open to working something out along those lines.

      Ebay, Abebooks, etc. may also be good places to look – and, depending on how extensive your local library is, definitely check there!

      Good luck!
      Meg


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