Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

Gerður Kristný

gerdur-kristny-1About Gerður

Gerður Kristný was born on 10 June 1970 and brought up in Reykjavík. She graduated in French and comparative literature from the University of Iceland in 1992. Her BA dissertation was on Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 volume of poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal.

After a course in media studies at the University of Iceland from 1992-1993 she trained at Danish Radio TV. She was editor of the magazine Mannlíf from 1998-2004, but is now a full-time writer.

Gerður Kristný proved herself as one of Iceland‘s most interesting poets with her first book and has since then published several books of poetry, as well as short stories, novels and children‘s books. She also wrote a book about the Westman Islands Festival in 2002.

Awards for her work include the Icelandic Literature Prize and a nomination for the Nordic Council Literary Prize for Blóðhófnir (Bloodhoof), the Icelandic Journalist Award for her biography Myndin af Pabba – Saga Thelmu (The Picture of Dad: Thelma’s Story), the Icelandic Children‘s Book Award for her book Marta Smarta and the Halldor Laxness Literary Award for her novel Bátur með Segli og Allt (A Boat with a Sail and All).

Her poetry and short stories have been included in school textbooks at both elementary and secondary levels, as well as in anthologies published in Iceland and overseas. Ballið á Bessastöðum (The Bessastadir Ball) was made into a stage-play that premiered at Iceland‘s National Theatre in February 2011 to great acclaim.

Gerður Kristný lives in Reykjavík with her husband and two sons.

Thoughts on Jólabókaflóðið

Deck the Halls with Books

It is the time of year when I wake up as early as five o‘clock and find my mind travelling out of the bedroom, through the living room, down the stairway and down to the doormat where the morning papers lie. There is no way I can go back to sleep. I might just as well step out of bed and follow my thoughts. The reason for my sudden interest in the papers is that I am waiting for some reviews about my newly published novel, The Lake, or about the works of my colleagues.

There is much at stake for us now since the majority of all books published in Iceland appear on the market in the few weeks preceding Christmas, from early October until the middle of November. The authors give readings around the country, interviews are done and sometimes it seems as if the whole country revolves about literature. I must admit that I love this time of the year and so do the many book lovers I get to meet during my travels. Many of them start the season by buying themselves a book by their favourite author under the pretext that they have to know if it qualifies as a present for their loved ones. People do try though to distribute the most interesting titles around the family so that they can get access to them when the owner has read them.

The tradition of buying books as Christmas presents initiated during World War II, when Iceland was occupied by the Allies. Its populace did not directly suffer from battles or bombing, but since traditional supply routes of gift items were cut off because of the war, books became the most desired object, as paper could still be imported from America. Ironically, Icelanders were flush with money during this period, as the allied troops needed the local workforce and paid in pounds sterling and later US dollars. So people had money, but not much to buy, except books. The book production rose dramatically in just two years, so by 1950, 10% of all inhabitants of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, worked in printing, publishing and bookselling.

This tradition stayed despite many flattering products that have arrived on the market in the past decades. The Clairol foot fixer, the Soda Stream-machine or even the iPad haven‘t managed to change the preference for the book as a good gift. I have always been given books for Christmas. I remember vividly being an 11-year-old getting nine books that year! Looking at the pile I felt very grown up. Among those books were three volumes of Icelandic folk tales, a book from ‘The Famous Five’ series by Enid Blyton and a gem by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, Seacrow Island. It is a story about children that spend their summer in a cabin getting into all sorts of adventures. Whilst the girls in Mrs Blyton‘s books get to prepare the tomato sandwiches for the boys and maybe hand them the occasional bobby pin when a door has to be unlocked, the girls in Lindgren‘s book take the role of the leader showing both courage and strength. Even the men get to show their emotions freely. They get afraid and shed a tear. Seacrow Island taught me the valuable lesson that if you sing in the morning on an empty stomach you might cry before night.

Nothing has prepared me better for life than the books I read as a child. They taught me what kind of a world I wanted to live in as an adult and how I could be a part of making it fair and just. They also showed me into worlds I would never otherwise have entered. I spent my childhood swinging on vines with Tarzan and fighting evil with Tintin. Now that I am jumping out of bed in the early hours browsing through the papers I realise that my latest novel is in some ways like my all time favourite children‘s book, Seacrow Island. It’s about a woman who takes her child to a cabin in the countryside and the child gets lost. No sensible food has been taken along, something that Mrs Blyton would definitely not have let happen, but gives all of her admirers a clue that the story will not turn out well.


Ísfrétt [Ice Report] (poetry) 1994

Regnbogi í Póstinum [A Rainbow in the Mail] (novel) 1996

Eitruð Epli [Poisonous Apples] (short stories) 1998

Launkofi [Coffee Wages] (poetry) 2000

Ég Veit þú Kemur: Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum [I Know You Come: National Festival in the Islands] (travelogue) 2002

Marta Smarta [Smart Martha] (novel) 2002

Bátur með Segli og Allt [A Boat with a Sail and All] (novel) 2004

Jóladýrin [Christmas Animals] (picture book) 2004

Myndin af Pabba: Saga Thelmu [The Picture of Dad: Thelma’s Story] (non fiction) 2005

Land Hinna Týndu Sokka [The Land of the Lost Socks] (novel) 2006

Ballið á Bessastöðum [The Bessastaðir Ball] (novel) 2007

Höggstaður [A Weak Spot] (poetry) 2007

Vinir Afríku [African Friends] (young readers) 2007

Skólaþing [School Assembly] (manuscript for Parliament) 2007

Græni gaukurinn [The Green Cuckoo] (young readers) 2008

Garðurinn [The Garden] (novel) 2008

Prinsessan á Bessastöðum [The Bessastaðir Princess] (novel) 2009

Drekadansinn [Dragon Dance] (young readers) 2009

Blóðhófnir [Bloodhoof] (poetry) 2010

Strandir [Tidal] (poetry) 2013

Ljóðasafn [Poetry Collection] (poetry) 2014

Drápa [The Slaying] (poetry) 2014

Dukka [Doll] (young readers) 2015

Hestvík [Horse Creek] (novel) 2016

Smartís [Smarties] (novel) 2017

Sálumessu [Requiem] (poetry) 2018


Prizes won

1998 – Third prize in Vikan magazine short story contest

1986 – First prize in the National Broadcasting Service short story competition

1986 – The Poetry Award Ljodstafur Jons ur Vor

1987 – Third prize in Þjóðviljinn newspaper poetry competition

1992 – First prize in a TV culture poetry competition, the National Broadcasting Service

2003 – Bókaverðlaun barnanna (The Children’s Choice Book Prize): Marta Smarta [Smart Martha]

2004 – The Halldór Laxness Literature Prize: Bátur með Segli og Allt [A Boat with a Sail and All]

2005 – The Icelandic Journalism Award: Myndin af pabba. Saga Thelmu [The Picture of Dad: Thelma’s Story]

2005 – The Icelandic Bookseller”s Award: Myndin af Pabba. Saga Thelmu. As the best biography of the year

2008 – The Icelandic Bookseller”s Award: Garðurinn. As the best children’s book of the year

2010 – The Icelandic Bookseller’s Award: Blóðhófnir. As the best poetry book of the year

2010 – The Poetry Award Ljodstafur Jons ur Vor.

2010 – The West-Nordic Children’s Literature Prize: Garðurinn [The Garden]

2010 – The Guðmundur Böðvarsson Poetry Award

2011 – The Icelandic Literature Prize: Blóðhófnir [Bloodhoof]


2007 – The Icelandic Literature Prize: Höggstaður [A Weak Spot]

2011 – Fjöruverðlaunin – The Women’s Literature Prize: Blóðhófnir

2012 – The Nordic Council Literary Prize: Blóðhófnir (Bloodhoof]

Other information

Poetry translated into 21 languages

English, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Deutch, Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Bengali, Esperanto, Turkish, Indonesian and Arabic.

Readings in

Iceland, The United States, Uganda, China, Colombia, Nicaragua, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, The Åland Islands, Germany, England, Wales, Ireland, The Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania