Icelandic Language Blog

Icelanders love books! Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

Another eventful week just went by so quickly I hardly noticed the time passing. Some of it was spent in research, some in language study, and some – just by reading books I did not need to read. Fellow book lovers will understand: just because some books aren’t on your course list does not mean you cannot waste valuable studying time in their company instead.

I blame the annual Bókamarkaður (= book market) of Perlan (= the pearl)for this. Perlan is a former hot water storage tank made into a landmark building, hosting f.ex. a Saga museum, one of the fanciest restaurants of Reykjavík and a cafe with the best ice cream ever. Combined with the amazing view this building is definitely worth a visit, even if it’s a little bit to the side of downtown.

The view from above. I caught a less busy moment with my camera, because fate will always have it that whenever I need to queue for something the queue will be at its longest and whenever I want to go see something interesting everyone else got there first. 😀 

There were more tables to the right of the picture and the used books section was somewhere further below this view.

Every year Perlan hosts a gigantic book sale called Bókamarkaðurinn and Iceland being Iceland it’s very popular. Of course the national stereotype has it that a typical Icelander is both an avid reader and an author to at least their own autobiography (that includes the autobiographies of their forefathers at least five generations down), but walking in the crowd of people elbowing their way to Life of Pi* makes it suddenly seem… not so far-fetched after all. Everything is cheap, all genres are presented. There’s even a used books section which naturally is my personal favourite because you’ll never know what you’ll find there. I was not disappointed this time either. The haul includes three books – Nordenskjöld by Sven Hedin, Katrín Mánadóttir by Mika Waltari, and Tvö ár á eyðiey by Jules Verne. This one might be better known as Two Years’ Vacation, or Deux ans de vacances and because it’s one of my childhood favourites I quickly lost myself in it.

From the used books section they had brought in bookshelves and not just tables. It made browsing a little more time consuming but I agree it’s the best way to treat old books.

The Icelandic translation has its quirks, of course. I was amazed to find out that both of the French boys had all but disappeared, and been replaced by two Danish brothers, Knútur and Hans. Nobody else’s nationality had been changed, so it’s anyone’s guess as to why this was done in the first place. I tried asking one of my professors if she could think of a logical reason but she was just as amazed as I was. Perhaps this is just a translator’s preference, or his attempt at making the book more easily approachable to Icelandic children – who knows.

Most importantly these are all amazing books and cost about as much as a coffee each. Tvö ár á eyðiey lasted me two days, but I’m sure that Katrín Mánadóttir will take me a bit longer. After that I’ll still have Nordensjöld – it’s lucky that I managed to cram almost all my university homework into last week as well since it now means I have all the time in the world, at least for a little while.

A very typically Icelandic feature are the family books: thick volumes that collect one’s family tree down the generations. See those two in the middle, both marked as the first volume? The whole series might take several metres of the bookshelf, depending on how old one’s family line is.

Inspired by one reader’s wish of hearing more Icelandic read out aloud I recorded myself reading a couple of snippets from Tvö ár á eyðiey. I’m really sorry for my voice, my cold’s better but I’m left with an annoying cough that made recording my voice a little bit challenging. 😀

That reminds me: since many of you may be studying Icelandic while having little access to hearing the language, if there’s any way I can help you I’ll gladly do it. For example if there are words that you aren’t certain of, pronunciation-wise, sentences or small clips of text etc. I can record them for you. Alas, at the moment I can only promise myself as the reader, but if at all possible I’m going to add some Icelanders speaking as well.

A geysir -influenced fountain. There’s another fake geysir outside of Perlan and a little way down the hill, definitely worth a visit!


*An important note though: elbowing is almost a national sport in Iceland and while everyone agrees it’s annoying, there’s no way of convincing an elbower to stop elbowing. Most people seem to just put up with it by malicious glares and insults hissed at the perpetrator’s back.

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!