The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

Click-Bait, and Other News

October 17, 2013 | by


  • College Humor improves bestsellers with click-bait titles (although we would have said Eat, Pray, Love was doing okay already).
  • The rough guide to why Penguin Classics is publishing Morrissey’s autobiography.
  • The most specific niche calendar ever created: “Tattooed Librarians of the Ocean State.”
  • Herewith, famous books from every state.
  • One in ten Icelanders will publish a book. As one young author tells the BBC, it can indeed get competitive. “Especially as I live with my mother and partner, who are also full-time writers. But we try to publish in alternate years so we do not compete too much.”


    Andri Snær Magnason, Reykjavik, Iceland

    August 9, 2013 | by

    A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.


    This is my window. Or my windows—the view from my living room, where I sit and write. Might not seem very inspiring. I wish I could offer green mossy lava, roaring waves, a glacier mountain top. I do have other spaces—in an abandoned powerstation, a favorite fisherman’s cafe by the harbor, a summer house on the arctic circle—but this is my honest view, what I really see most of the days. This house was built in the 1960s when people were fed up with lava and mountains; they were migrating to the growing suburbs to create a new view for themselves. The young couple who dug the foundation with their own hands dreamed of a proper garden on this barren, rocky strip of land. They dreamed of trees, flowers, shelter from the cold northern breeze. What is special depends on where you are, and here, the trees are actually special. They were planted fifty years ago like summer flowers, not expected to live or grow more than a meter. The rhododendron was considered a miracle, not something that could survive a winter. It looks tropical, with Hawaiian-looking pink flowers; Skúli, the man who built the house and sold it to me half a century later, took special pride in it.

    I am not a great gardener. We are thinking of buying an apple tree, though they don’t really thrive in this climate. I would plant it like a flower, not really expect it to grow, and hope for a miracle. —Andri Snær Magnason



    Sjón, Björk, and the Furry Trout

    May 16, 2013 | by

    iceland landscapeLARGE

    Photo courtesy of the author.

    When Icelanders talk to Americans about Iceland, sooner or later talk is going to turn to fairies, or hidden people, or elves. And while it seems many Icelanders do truly believe in those things, often you’ll get a response like the novelist Sjón gave Leonard Lopate the other day: “If you actually lean on an Icelander, most of us will confess to believing that nature has the power to manifest itself in a form understandable to humans. So the hidden people, you know, we would say, ‘Well of course I don’t believe that there are actually cities inside our mountains, but it’s possible that nature has a way of manifesting itself in a human form to, you know, have an interaction with the humans.’”

    Similarly, when Americans talk about Iceland, sooner or later (probably sooner) we’re going to start talking about one specific fairy, or hidden person, or elf. And despite my not having any photos or videos to back it up, you’ll have to believe me that last week at Scandinavia House, the sprite-like Reykjaviker you’re thinking of did indeed manifest herself in a striking, stiff, white-and-purple dress for a ten-minute interaction with book-reading humans on behalf of her longtime friend and collaborator Sjón.

    It’s a young crowd, trendy, expectant, giddy even, though I’m surprised to see so many empty seats. It turns out Scandinavia House closed their RSVP list weeks earlier, almost immediately after announcing the event, grossly botching the numbers and no doubt needlessly turning away scores of would-be attendees. But it’s no matter to those of us here—in fact it makes the evening feel all the more intimate.

    It’s a coming-out-from-under-the-mountain kind of moment for Sjón himself. Although a well-known writer in Iceland, if Sjón’s name rings a bell at all in the States it’s been as Björk’s frequent lyricist—notably on her Biophilia album, her 2004 Olympic theme song, and Dancer in the Dark, her Lars von Trier film. Things have changed for him in a hurry though, as Farrar, Straus & Giroux sent the poet/novelist on a U.S. tour (Seattle, Portland, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and New York) to promote the three simultaneously released books: the full-length From the Mouth of the Whale and the novellas The Blue Fox and The Whispering Muse. Move over Blue Lagoon, Americans are about to have a new second-favorite Iceland reference.

    The five-city, three-book, one-author tour culminates in the event at Scandinavia House, where Björk treats the assembled to the kind of intimate, I-knew-him-when introduction usually reserved for siblings at wedding parties. Then again, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a sort of brother-sister camaraderie between the two. Read More »


    Happy Dagur Islenskrar Tungu!

    November 16, 2012 | by

    Jónas Hallgrímsson. Self-portrait (1845). Pen and ink

    Today is Icelandic Language Day (literally, “day of the Icelandic tongue”), a festival designed to coincide with the birthday of Jónas Hallgrímsson.

    As well as an accomplished poet, author, and naturalist, Hallgrímsson was a committed Icelandic nationalist and founder of the journal Fjölnir. He died in 1844 at only thirty-seven, but to this day is considered one of Iceland’s most beloved poets.

    It is said that Hallgrímsson’s poetry, which dealt often with Iceland, its landscapes, and its people, resists easy translation. Nevertheless, even in the following translation, the themes come through.



    A Toast to Iceland

    Our land of lakes forever fair

    below blue mountain summits,

    of swans, of salmon leaping where

    the silver water plummets,

    of glaciers swelling broad and bare

    above earth's fiery sinews —

    the Lord pour out his largess there

    as long as earth continues!


    In 1945, Hallgrímsson was at the center of a rather bizarre controversy. A fan, one Sigurjón Pétursson, spearheaded a campaign to move the poet’s body from Copenhagen, where he died, to his childhood home of Öxnadalur, Iceland. The Icelandic government disagreed: they wanted him reburied at the national burial ground at Þingvellir. Undaunted, Pétursson raised the funds himself, supervised the excavation (which involved digging up four other bodies), and escorted the coffin, defiantly, to Öxnadalur. Once there, however, he couldn’t get any priest to perform the service, and the coffin stood in the church for a week before the government had it moved to Þingvellir, where it was buried and remains to this day.

    The poet’s legacy, however, is a happier one. Every year, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award is given to someone who has contributed to the language.


    A Panorama of ‘Gunnar’s Daughter’

    May 10, 2012 | by

    A ten-foot-tall panel illustrating the 1909 Norwegian novel by Sigrid Undset. Now largely forgotten, Undset won the Nobel Prize in 1928. I think her books deserve more attention. Gunnar’s Daughter was published a century ago but takes place in the Middle Ages and has all the great dark and bizarre appeal of Icelandic legend recycled for an Edwardian audience ready to be shocked. Click in and scroll down for the whole story.

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    Staff Picks: Bear Circus, The Jungle Effect

    February 25, 2011 | by

    A surprise discovery at my local library’s book sale: our own William Pène du Bois’s 1971 children’s tale, Bear Circus. Koala bears discover the supplies from a crashed pink circus plane and put on a show to thank their friends, the kangaroos. Highly recommended for the juvenile set. —Nicole Rudick

    Sometimes, I don’t know why, I want to read short stories—but like, a bunch of short stories. This week I’ve gone back to Joy Williams’s Honored Guest and sampled Justin Taylor’s first collection, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. —Lorin Stein

    Nathan Heller has a beautiful essay in Slate about stuttering: “At 3, those sentences first met with some resistance on my tongue, the way a car moves off asphalt, onto dirt—and then, finally, across rocks that jolt the tires and make it hard to track where you are headed. Today, I am still being jolted, and the jagged terrain behind bears the track marks of my own innumerable small humiliations.” —Thessaly La Force

    I started the week with this fantastic piece of reluctant Hemingway-ese by Libyan novelist Hisham Matar and then felt compelled to reread his rueful, angry, but ultimately dignified sliver of memoir, from last year, about his father’s abduction. His consummate poise attests to an extraordinary imaginative stamina in the most difficult of circumstances, but there are moments from that earlier piece where he almost anticipates the tumult and excitement of the past few weeks: “This is tremendous news. Tremendous in the way a storm or flood can be tremendous. Uncanny how reality presses against that precious quiet place of dreaming. As if life is jealous of fiction.” That new novel can’t come quickly enough! —Jonathan Gharraie

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