Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’


Ahhh travel … Honestly, when we are not doing it, we are dreaming about it. When we are not dreaming about it, we are reading as much as we can about far away places. So for today, we review some of our favorite books for inspiring future travel and/or for taking you away without leaving home.


Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey Cover ImageThe River of Doubt by Candice Millard (2006) – After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to take on the most punishing physical challenge he could find — the first descent of an unmapped tributary of the Amazon (River, not the retail behemoth). Like Fleming, in the previously reviewed book, Roosevelt’s cast of adventurers is ill-prepared for the hardships ahead. Almost immediately, they lose their canoes and supplies in the whitewater rapids. This loss is followed by starvation, Indian attacks, disease, drowning, and murder; Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. This nonfiction tale held my then 10-year-old and 13 year-old boys and their father in rapt attention as our family read-aloud when we were privileged to explore the Amazon River portion of my youngest’s native Colombia.

A Moveable Feast Cover ImageMoveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1960) – We now move from South America to Europe with Mr. Hemingway’s classic memoir of his time in Paris. Read it to capture what Paris meant to American ex-pats in the 1920s. Or, read it just to enjoy fabulous writing and a glimpse into history. This book vividly renders the lives of Hemingway, his first wife Hadley, and their son Jack. It also includes irreverent portraits of their fellow travellers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford, as well as insight into Hemingway’s own early experiments with his writing.

Burial Rites Cover ImageBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). While the people Agnes encounters are memorable, perhaps most memorable is the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character too. As with anything written by the incredible writer Halldor Laxness, Burial Rites is for anyone planning a trip to this spectacular country, wanting to go there in their imagination, or wanting to revisit a trip they took there long ago.



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Summer often means reading lighter, just-for-fun, books.  This does not mean you need to pick a book that insults your intelligence with sloppy writing or poorly plotted themes.  However, it does often mean thrillers.  And now that we have a “go-to” author for four of the five Scandinavian countries, we thought we would devote a post just to this genre.  Yes – we say genre – one with dark winters and brief, sun-filled summers, problems with immigration, and bad guys who are usually people everyone knows because the population of the respective country is just too small not to.  The buzz may have started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it is now so much more.  So today, a day just barely past the summer solstice, we toast these gorgeous countries of the midnight sun with a salute to some of their literature.


The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2012) – Mr. Adler-Olsen has created a series based around a group of detectives – headed by Detective Carl Morck –  in Copenhagen’s Department Q.  Dept. Q resolves unsolved cases, and as detectives in novels tend to do, Q runs into resistance from other departments, and from the Danes they investigate.  In this installment, the group looks into the unsolved murder of a young brother and sister from decades ago. In the process, they gain insight from a trivial pursuit game, pursue Denmark’s ruling elite and search for an elusive homeless woman who holds all the answers.  You, as the reader, learn about the Danish landscape and people, and can travel a bit through the northern tip of Europe.  FYI – The first book in this series, which we have not yet read is – The Keeper of Lost Causes.


OK, Finland is the country we are missing, and we decided to post today even without a Finnish selection.  However, we are still looking and would love any suggestions.


Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (2010)We were lucky 1) to be in Iceland and 2) to find Ms. Sigurdardottir’s books in the Reykjavik airport.  Turns out she is known as Iceland’s premiere mystery writer; yes, they have more than one.  In this installment, Thora, the heroine lawyer, is juggling her own kids, her son’s live-in girlfriend and their young son, and a client who, of course, is innocent of the crime he is accused of committing. He is also innocent of four similar unsolved murders buried in ash when one of Iceland’s volcanoes erupted and disrupted everything (including solving crimes). Or is he?


Any mystery by Jo Nesbo. Seriously, we enjoy spending time with Mr. Nesbo’s severely flawed inspector  – Harry Hole – in any of his novels. We also love living among the fjords and towns of Norway briefly for the duration of each book.  And since his first Inspector Harry Hole thriller – The Bat – is released in the USA in July, you can get started from the beginning if you have not yet discovered this author.


Although after the block buster movie, it seems like most people on this planet have already discovered Mr. Steig Larsson, we still like the books by the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  So if you haven’t yet started this riveting “good for a beach read or plane ride” trilogy, featuring Lisbeth Salander, one of the best known characters in literature, and her journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist, we suggest that you do.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

We are thrilled to welcome Scottish-born writer Margot Livesey to the Book Jam. She is the best selling author of six books, including Eva Moves the FurnitureThe House on Fortune Street and her newest, a “retelling” of Jane Eyre,  The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012) which is set between Scotland and Iceland in the 1960’s.  Ms. Livesey is also the current Fiction Editor at Ploughshares, a renowned literary journal, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. She has taught writing at many institutions such as Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, WIlliams College, Tufts University, and The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. For more information about her reading on Wednesday, March 14th or to reserve a seat, please contact The Norwich Bookstore at (802) 649-1114. This promises to be a very special event.

1) What three books have shaped you into the author you are today, and why?

The terrible novel I wrote while travelling round Europe and North Africa at the age of twenty-one, because it made me realise that I’d entirely failed to be influenced by all the wonderful novels I’d read.  Jane Eyre because it is such a wonderful example of a passionate first person narrator and it made me think about how to create a heroine rather than a woman character.  It’s also a fabulous example of the importance of setting in a novel.

2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

George Eliot.  In its scope, ambition and accomplishment Middlemarch is one of the great novels.  I don’t think Eliot would be a particularly easy person to have coffee with – I can imagine awkward silences and then rather long rants – but I do think she’d have something interesting to say about almost everything.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, Alan Shapiro’s wonderful debut novel Broadway Baby, Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints – another debut novel that recreates the 80s with amazing vividness, and Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal which is set in an all girls school and is so beautifully and intelligently written.

From Lisa Christie: While we often do not have the chance to read the latest work by an author before their visits to the Norwich Bookstore, I was able to read Ms. Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy in time for this “Three Questions” post.  Set in Scotland and then Iceland in the 1960s, this book provides an homage to Jane Eyre, while still remaining its own novel.  As a huge fan of both Scotland and Iceland, I truly enjoyed the sense of place she created — I could feel the wind of the moors and the sea and … Basically, this novel is a just a fun read – think of it as a beach read for March, and I think fans of Jane Eyre will be especially intrigued, or maybe annoyed or… So please join the two Lisas of The Book Jam in Norwich on Wednesday, March 14th at 7 pm for Ms. Livesey’s reading and discussion at the Norwich Bookstore.  But, call 802-649-1114 soon to reserve your seat because, as always, seating is limited.

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Iceland Episode (Click to Listen)

We spent a little time traveling to Iceland through literature.  Why?  Well J Lisa C was lucky enough to spend four days in September there.

The books we chose to take us there included two by Harold Laxness.  First, his nobel prize winning effort Independent People and a shorter novel The Fish Can Sing.

Both provide insight into Iceland’s remoteness and its culture. Independent People was originally published in 1946 and out of print for decades, this book is a huge, skaldic treat filled with satire, humor, pathos, cold weather and sheep. Gudbjartur Jonsson becomes Bjartur of Summerhouses when, after 18 years of service to the Bailiff of Myri, he is able to buy his own croft. Summerhouses is probably haunted and is certainly unprepossessing, but Bjartur is a stubborn, leathery old (whatever his age) coot, and he soon has his new bride and few head of sheep installed in a sod house. The Tale continues from there and tells of one man’s attempts for true independence.

The Fish Can Sing provides a poignant coming-of-age tale marked with a blend of light irony and dark humor. The orphan Alfgrimur has spent an idyllic childhood sheltered in the simple turf cottage of a generous and eccentric elderly couple. Alfgrimur dreams only of becoming a fisherman like his adoptive grandfather, until he meets Iceland’s biggest celebrity – opera singer Gardar Holm.

Laxness’s prose is gorgeous and the pictures he paints of Iceland are beautiful and moving.  We highly recommend his works, and are glad we found his novels.

We also both checked out Collections of the Icelandic Sagas which influence the tours of Iceland, Icelandic culture and literature all over the world.

On a “lighter” note, Lisa also read Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – a book she bought in the airport there and describes as a a thriller by an Icelandic version of  Janet Evanovich or PD James.  Last Rituals provides a mystery, insight into modern day Iceland and many references to the sagas and history of the island.

Some items to note from J Lisa’s trip:

The country is a large national park whose landscape has a bit of Scotland’s coast, Ireland’s green, Hawaii’s lava and Montana’s big sky feeling all wrapped in one location.

Crosswalk lights sport smiling and stern faces instead of a walking man or a flashing hand.

Icelanders actually wear Icelandic sweaters, they are not just for tourists.

The place inspires romance as evidenced by the young man Lisa sat next to on the plane. This man was moving that very day to be with a girlfriend he met on the very last evening of his Iceland vacation just 30 or so days before.

Sit back, relax and prepare to be seduced by the equally romantic music of Iceland. We close this episode with a song by the artist Ragenheiour Grondal (punctuation incorrect as we don’t know how to create Icelandic characters and symbols on our American keyboards!).

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Listen now to  BookFeast Sept 20 2010 or download at http://www.box.net/shared/2o52yfet3j

Lisa and Lisa return from a lovely six week reading haitus to talk books and the theme this time is food.

Why food?  Well, Lisa LC is wrapping up a summer with the crepe cart at Vermont and New Hampshire farmers’ markets and J Lisa C has enjoyed bringing her kids to the cart for dinners of buckwheat crepes with delicious fillings.

In addition, both Lisas are heavily involved in organizing BookFeast: read it and eat, a series of events sponsored by the Norwich Public library to get people thinking about books, reading, food and community.

Thus, we seem to be reading books either by design or by accident that have something to do with food or feasts or cooking or taste.  Our discussion led from a memoir (a format J Lisa C ususally avoids and Lisa LC loves) to two pieces of eerily similar non fiction.   From our discussion we have a few food books we would recommend to others:

Spoon Fed: how eight cooks saved my life by Kim Severson —  With this frank memoir, Severson, takes the reader from Alaska to San Francisco and New York and always back home to the midwest of her childhood.  She covers topics as diverse as overcoming her destructive habit of excessive drinking, Italian American kitchens, coming out as a lesbian, and finding love and then motherhood and more love.  She manages to write about herself without seeming self obsessed and it was refreshing to see her mother included with the more famous Marion Cunningham, Ruth Reichel, Alice Waters and others she discusses.  We both enjoyed meeting the challenging, funky, honest person contained in these pages.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender – Lisa LC discusses the magical realism threading in this tale of familial neuroses. The main character can literally taste the emotions of whomever prepares her food, giving her unwanted insight into other people’s secrets.  Bittersweet and not terrific all the way through, this novel is worth looking at, especially in combination with the pick J Lisa C brings to today’s show.

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – J Lisa C LOVED this novel. Seriously LOVED all the aspects — the southern setting, the main character and her unique speech affliction, her beloved great uncle, the changing relationship with her best friend and her mother, her descriptions of both the mundane and profound aspects of life — work together for a truly, truly enjoyable read.  She is truly sad she can never read it again for the first time.

We will leave food behind for books about Pakistan and Iceland and possibly politics. (Why?  Stay tuned for the next shows.)  In the meantime, for additional information about Norwich’s October and November BookFeast: read it and eat, please visit www.norwichpubliclibrary.org.

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