More books are written, published and sold per person per year in Iceland than anywhere else. One in ten Icelanders will become a published author in their lifetime.
But why is it so?
For starters, long, dark winter nights, a geographical expansiveness that makes trips to, say, the cinema more difficult, a great selection of well-stocked bookshops and a small population are handy for generating the above mentioned ranks and figures. It seems that Icelanders love books, and the tiny population’s passion for books is the closest thing to a universal religion in the nation. Indeed, the annual Christmas book frenzy has to be seen to be believed. In every crisis, economic collapse or volcanic eruption, the Icelander’s first instinct is to hash the matter out in book form, trusting long form text over television or film. Icelanders aren’t generally intimidated by books: the Report of the Special Investigation Commission, a 2,000-plus page official document outlining the causes of the 2008 economic crisis was one of 2010’s bestselling books, despite being available for free online.
Cultural factors are at play here. Unlike British/American societies, which are profoundly and deeply anti-intellectual*, erudition isn’t considered a sign of elitism and snobbery in Iceland, but instead of education and intelligence.
In fact, Iceland is probably the only country where books get a primetime TV show, “Kiljan”, while movies and cinema get relegated to a radio show aired at odd hours.