Reading for Iceland

Prior to my trip to China in the autumn of 2013, my immediate aspirations were to focus on getting a stable 9-5  job, paying off my Canada, Ontario, and Quebec student loans, moving into my own bachelor apartment, getting a dog named Giles, and saving up for a down payment on a small house. China changed all that.*

I now have the travel bug.

It dawned on me while I was munching away on minced tarts with Nicole one snowy day this past January. She was home for the holidays and her family was having party. She looked at me across the table at me, saying with a smile, “You’ve got the travel bug now, don’t you?” Looking down at my minced tart I blushed with the realization. Nicole asked where I wanted to go next to which I answered with a long list from Prague to India. It was then Nicole perked up and asked, “What about Iceland?” and immediately my head was filled with all the beautiful pictures of glaciers I’d seen online. “Yes! I’d love to go to Iceland!” I declared with enthusiasm, although it had never actually entered my mind before… and now I am totally obsessed.

Ever since that discussion, I have been spending my spare hours at the library looking at books about Iceland, reading travel blogs, collecting images on Flickr and Pinterest, and interviewing peers who have traveled there recently. One of the greatest joys has been reading the many wonderful books on the history and culture of Iceland. I can’t remember the last time I read this much outside of school. Iceland has rekindled my love of reading!

Nell’s Reading List for Iceland


Cup of green tea on a copy of Wasteland of Words

Wasteland with Words: A Social History of Iceland

This is a very approachable book on the social history of Iceland equipped with many photographs and anecdotes sourced from diaries and letters written by working-class and middle-class Icelanders and visitors to the country. The book deals mostly with the 1700’s onwards and left me wondering “Why?” at many times as there were blanks in some places as to theories on why cultural shifts occurred or why certain practices were in place. However, all in all it is a very interesting book that was a pleasure to read.

Link to Wasteland with Words on Amazon

Inside pages of Iceland Imagined

Iceland Imagined: Nature, Culture, and Storytelling

This book had me feeling very impressed by the writing style, the wealth of history it covers, and the graphical layout of the book. It has very detailed notes which makes the academic in me very happy (1/3 of the book are Notes). The only downside is that the ending felt abrupt. I would have appreciated a bit of a conclusion to the whole book rather than to the topic being discussed within the final chapter. However, all in all, I loved this book!

Link to Iceland Imagined on Amazon

Cover of Meltdown Iceland

Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt Island

Meltdown Iceland is an easy read, slipping between real-time accounts of the author’s visit to Iceland and important historical events that contributed to the growth and demise of Iceland’s economy. All are written in a very approachable story-telling technique, and are seamlessly woven together with vivid pictures painted in the reader’s mind. It cover the areas of Iceland’s history and culture that other books fell short or stopped at.

Link to Meltdown Iceland on Amazon

two books on the history of iceland

Insight Guide: Iceland & The History of Iceland

I’ve grown to quite enjoy the Insight Guides as they are like the Coles Notes of a country, just with a lot more pictures. This is a great little book to pick up now and again.

Insight Guide: Iceland on Amazon

The History of Iceland is a very approachable academic read, full of quotes and sources on the history of Iceland. I suggest this book, especially if you are looking to delve into early writings on Iceland. I am currently reading this book and find its short chapters ideal for commuting to work.

The History of Iceland on Amazon


Print volume of The Sagas of Icelanders

The Icelandic Sagas

This is one hefty book. Its may look very sexy on one’s bookshelf, but if you actually plan to read it outside of the home, I suggest the $3.99 e-book version on Amazon. It is well worth the read, especially when one considers the cultural significance of the sagas. The bible and the sagas were both instructional and a form of entertainment to Icelanders, having a lasting affect on their culture and identity. It is well the read.

Link to the Sagas on Amazon.

Travel Guides:

allpaper Guide to Reykjavik sitting on a cushion with red text.

Wallpaper Guide to Reykjavik

This travel guide was a huge disappointment. For a city known to be a cultural hub, Wallpaper makes it look and sound like a rather boring place. On the bright side, it looks quite nice next to my Wallpaper Guide to Shanghai (a place I didn’t make it to during my trip to China – hopefully Iceland wont fall to the same fate).

Link to the Wallpaper Guide on Amazon.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland next to a plate of toast in the sun.

Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland

I usually find travel guides impossible reads, but this one is clear, not overwhelming, and holds information that I feel will be useful in planning my trip. It gives one an idea of prices, the climate and daylight at certain times of the year, and is full of maps and short descriptions of places to visit. I’m definitely planning on buying this book to take on my trip!

Link to the Lonely Planet Guide on Amazon.

Learning Icelandic

Handout from Icelandic lessonsIts always wise to know a bit of the native language of a place you are visiting, even if most people speak English. I enrolled in Icelandic language lessons at the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto, where they use a great course book with audio accompaniment that you can download for free online from Tungumalatorg.

I am also a huge fan of Memrise, which I used in preparation to my trip to China in 2013. Memrise offers free educational games for a multitude of languages, including Icelandic.


Any other resources to recommend? Feel free to share them below! Thanks.

*I’m still driven to acquire all these things, but now putting money towards a trip to Iceland this year is far more appealing than the student loans that will take me 25 years to pay off. Iceland is much more awesome than debt.

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