Iceland: Where 1 in 10 People Will Publish a Book

Iceland is experiencing a book boom. The island nation of just over 300,000 has more writers, more books published, and more books read per capita than anywhere else in the world. There’s a phrase in Icelandic: “ad ganga med bok I maganum” — “everyone has a book in their stomach.” It’s hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik, as 1 in 10 Icelanders will publish a book. So, does it get competitive? Icelanders try to publish in alternate years so they don’t compete with one another too much. Dating from the 13th century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country’s Norse settlers, who began to thrive on the island in the late 9th century. Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups, on just about anything Icelanders can get their hands…..and pens….on. Public benches even have barcodes so you can listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit. As for what writers write, they write everything from modern sagas and children’s books to literary fiction and crime novels. In fact crime novel sales figures are staggering, double that of any of Iceland’s Nordic neighbors. So, what has led to this phenomenal book boom? Quite simply, it’s due to a crop of good writers, telling riveting tales with elegant economy and fantastic characters. No wonder JRR Tolkien designated Reykjavik a “City of Literature.”