ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- You know when you find that amazingly quirky and unexpected book, and then you want everyone to know about it? This is that book for me so far this year! Iceland apparently has more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world, and most of them only came into being since the 90s. Often they are small and single-focussed, and the result of an individual or a small group of friends who decide that such-and-such a collection should now be made public. Sometimes they started as a family joke (The Phallological Museum - yes, phalluses) or a longstanding habit (Petra's museum of stones - she collected a stone on her daily walks for decades) or as a memorial (the Bird Museum dedicated to a local who drowned). Then there's the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery, or the one on Sea Monsters, or the one dedicated to the Herring Era - and many more. This is not just a travelogue of Iceland (though it does describe the landscape and people she meets) nor a history (though it does explain Iceland's past) and it's certainly not one of those tiresome books where the author is all I-me-I-me - it's a beautifully written meditation on collecting, what is deemed worthy of keeping, why people are driven to keep and treasure things no-one else even notices, and the art of curation. Really, a fabulous book about something you didn't even know you needed or wanted to read about, but one that will certainly be worth reading and one that will stay long after you've put it down and started planning a trip to Iceland yourself... Lindy Jones
Welcome to Iceland, a very small nation with a very large number (two hundred and sixty five) of (mostly) very small museums.
Founded in the backyards of houses, begun as jokes or bets or memorials to lost friends, these museums tell the story of an enchanted island where bridges arrived only at the beginning of the 20th century, and waterproof shoes only with the second world war. A nation formerly dirt poor, then staggeringly rich, and now building its way to affluence once again. A nation where, in the remote and wild places, you might encounter still a shore laddie, a sorcerer or a ghost.
From Reykjavik's renowned Phallological Museum to a house of stones on the eastern coast; from the curious monsters which roam the remote shores of Bildudalur to a museum of whales which proves impossible to find, here is an enchanted story of obsession, curation, and the peculiar magic of this isolated island.