Books replace travel: Icelandic short stories

When I thought of what I wanted to do this year and things were still normal, I decided that it’s time to visit Iceland. One of the options was to go with a photography group straight from Malta. One or another way, the pull of this magical island seemed irresistible. But as we know, travel has been disrupted around the world, and I prefer not to contribute to increasing avoidable risks just for pleasure. What about my old dream to visit Iceland? Well, Project Gutenberg came to the rescue.

Among its many wonderful ebooks and story collections, there’s a book of seven Icelandic short stories. Obviously, this is not the Iceland I know from the media, travel blogs, football successes, world-renowned music, or comments by journalist friends who investigate corruption. This is the pre-rich Iceland, where people still make a living by fishing and farming. The stories speak of their remarkable resilience and individuality in an effort to carve out a place to call home and a niche to be accepted. The characters are relatably messy, full of quirks and mysteries that they may or may not share with others, including the reader.

And then, of course, there are landscapes. Sometimes only implied. The stories reveal how the island’s volcanic land is rich, but the sea is a place of more abundance. Neither parts with its creatures willingly – both expect hard work. Then there is travel – from crossing a stormy bay to ferrying around Scandinavia. The pace of these stories gave me a sense of what it is like to cross land and sea – something that is easy to forget when planes become the standard means of travel.

Obviously, it’s not exactly healthy to introduce another sedentary activity, extra reading, where hiking and walking would have been. But I strongly advocate reading more books during this difficult time, and learning to connect to faraway places differently. We have been to spoilt to think that these places can be packaged and consumed over a weekend break. Each of them offers a wealth of books, music and art, accessible online and waiting to offer us a deeper connection.

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