Iceland has a long literary history, going back to the time of the Settlement. Vikings told stories and poems which were passed on from generation to generation through this oral tradition. Towards the end of the 12th century these words were painted onto calfskins and the written word took the place of oral storytelling. Since then, Iceland has seen the printing of many literary works ranging from the historic Eddas to medieval texts of the Icelandic sagas and the popular mystery crime novels of today.
While Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, was renowned for his Prose Edda and Heimskringla, relaying both the Old Norse mythology and history, Halldór Laxness can be seen as the father of modern Icelandic literature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. His incredibly diverse oeuvre spans an enormous range of literary forms, although he is best known for novels such as Independent People and Iceland´s Bell. With the ascent of Laxness and the advent of technology, Icelandic writers have joined the world shelf of literary achievements.
Today, there are a great many works by Icelandic authors that have been translated into different languages. Sjón is a celebrated Icelandic poet, novelist, lyricist and a playwright. He is known for his unusual and quirky style, such as in Skugga-Baldur (The Blue Fox) that has been translated into several languages and awarded the Nordic Council´s Literary Prize. In crime fiction, Arnaldur Indriðason is one of Iceland´s most celebrated authors, and has written many stories, such as Mýrin (Jar-City) that was adapted into a film in 2016. Another well-known writer is the award-winning novelist Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, known for her crime and ghost stories. Her novel, Ég man þig (I Remember You), has been made into a feature film which was released in May 2017. Renowned book shops in Iceland sell translated versions of many Icelandic authors. To celebrate this historical literary tradition, the city has hosted the Reykjavík Reads Festival since 2012, to celebrate reading for all ages.
Two international literary festivals are held in Reykjavík, the Reykjavík International Literary Festival and the International Children‘s Literary Festival Mýrin, both biannually.
A Novel Christmas
In Iceland, the traditional gift of a book for Christmas has created a printing frenzy of literary works just before the festive season. This is when most Icelandic authors will publish their books and when the Icelandic public will buy them. Given the darkness of this time of year, it is no surprise that a book, a box of chocolates and comfy couch are popular items at Christmas time in Iceland.