I am going to Iceland: Preparation!

February 10, 2010

A stray inspiration from Autumn last week turned into a full-fledged planned exodus: The Pencils are going to I*eland. That is, both Iceland and Ireland (and also France (and also the UK (well, me at least (David is going back to the US earlier than I am)))).

About this Iceland development: I am beside myself. Whether my image of Iceland is more of a illusory, stark, elf-ringed, aurora borealis-flickering fantasy or whether it reflects some sort of romanticized reality—puffins?! geysers?! Skodas?! The only remaining Scandinavian language with the thorn (Þ) character?!—I have a reckless love for this land I have not yet seen.

We are going in late May. The prices on non-stop Icelandair flights out of Seattle seem too good to be true. David’s round-trip ticket was $553.67. Mine was costly enough that I’m embarrassed to disclose the total: I’m flying first class.

The area of Iceland I’m most excited to visit could technically be described as being in North America. The mid-Atlantic ridge, the boundary of the tectonic plates that define America and Europe, runs through Iceland—this is the only place it is exposed on dry land. The Westfjords region in the country’s northwest expanses is on the west side of this line. It also boasts a total population of 7,000 humans. I would describe the area as: abandoned shells of tuna factories, arctic foxes, moor-like broad sweeps of grass, fjords, sod houses, and a kind of brushed-clean light-bleached rockiness. I’ve heard (this is perhaps an exaggeration) that the sun doesn’t set there in June.

To prepare, I blew a couple of $25 gift certificates at Amazon. Here is what I got:

Icelander by Dustin Long Icelander by Dustin Long

This weird novel by McSweeney’s cohort Dustin Long looks like it might be too clever for its own good (the protagonist appears to be referred to consistently as “Our Heroine” and there are rather groan-inducing David Foster Wallace-ish footnotes everywhere). But the cover is unrelentingly charming, Booklist mentioned Nabokov in their review, and it claims “Nordic lore.”

Teach Yourself Icelandic Complete Course Audiopack by Hildur Jonsdottir Teach Yourself Icelandic Complete Course Audiopack by Hildur Jonsdottir

I got this because I am masochistic, and I also love languages. Icelandic is reputed to be a highly-inflected, essentially impossible language to learn. But I’d like to at least understand the syntactic and phonetic underpinnings.

The Sagas of Icelanders: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by The Sagas of Icelanders: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by

There are a few insane things about this collection of Icelandic sagas. One: the preface was written by Jane Smiley, who I kind of totally love. Second: there is a quote by Seamus Heaney on the cover. Third: it is nearly as thick as it is wide—this thing is a tome. It scares me in a way that I want to be scared. The Penguin compendium is nicely bound, with deckle edges and a smorgasbord of figures, family trees and asides. A good value.

Iceland Road Map (Country Road & Touring) (English, Italian and German Edition) by Freytag-Berndt Iceland Road Map (Country Road & Touring) (English, Italian and German Edition) by Freytag-Berndt

Here’s the most important thing: a map. I can read maps like novels, staring at them for hours. This one seems detailed enough and robust, but the Amazon reviewer’s comment about the icons is true: the iconography is so chunky that the icons themselves sometimes obscure details of the map. This map is in three languages. None of them is English. But how hard is it to figure out the meaning of wasserfall?

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

Confession: I already own this. I scored it as an Early Reviewer book from LibraryThing about 18 months ago. It’s super. It’s Iceland-ish. It’s sweet and everything I want Iceland to be. Here’s my review.


  1. autumn says:

    hooray hooray hooray! i am so delighted this is going to happen!!

  2. So happy to hear that you’re going to Iceland! I am also going there in late May, for an Iceland book tour. The Icelandic version of The Tricking of Freya is out — it’s called Freyjuginning. Thanks again for your review, and have an amazing time. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. We’re also looking at the West Fjords to visit — I’ve never been — the bird life at the time of year will be insane. And yes, the sun will barely set…

  3. andrea says:

    wow – this sounds like a huge trip for you in many ways… exciting! I’ll be looking for your photos from the trip!

  4. It sounds like a great trip… I could tell you were quite enthused when you showed me your pile of books today :)

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