Raise a glass to fREADom

Pretty sure Lin-Manuel Miranda would forgive this...

Recently I woke with altered lyrics running through my mind:

"Raise a glass to fREADom
Something they can never take away"

...cuz it's Banned Books Week, and that always gets me feeling grateful for our freedoms, and also concerned that some people wish to abridge the freedom of others. 

So... if you feel like exercising your freedom to read, here's a list from the ALA of frequently challenged books. And then there's the list of banned & challenged classics

See some favorites there? Yeah, me, too.  

What's your favorite banned or challenged book?

That time we went to Iceland

So even though Iceland's all literary (the libraries! the bookstores!)...

...the reason we visited was the natural beauty. 

The place has got it all goin' on. It's got...


Rainbow waterfalls


Waterfalls you can walk behind


Steam puffing out of the earth

Lava fields

Recently active volcanoes(!)

Troll houses

 Charming fishing villages and all those islands

Lovely city scenes

Geothermal pools

Historic sites that are stunningly beautiful 

And tourists who attempt to figure out the selfie stick

And there it is: best vacation ever.

So, traveling readers... What's the most beautiful place you've ever visited? (We might want to go to there!)

A Gentleman in Moscow delights a lady in the U.S.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

3 words: gracious, engaging, triumphant

I was pretty sure I’d love this book, given the way I felt about Amor Towles’s debut novel, The Rules of Civility.

And then when I heard him speak about this new novel at BEA, that completely clinched it. (And I spoke to him, and he was gracious!)

So when I actually started reading, it shouldn’t have surprised me -- but did -- that I loved it so very much.

And all of these things happened despite the fact that I don’t like novels set in Russia. And I don’t like novels of political imprisonment. And I’m not all that very much into historical fiction, though I wish I were.

And this book is all of those things, but it won me over almost immediately.

Here’s how it did it…

Count Alexander Rostov is the central figure in this book, and the dude is witty, cultured, good-humored, and positive to a degree that’s seriously impressive.

If there’s anyone on earth who would not like this man, I hope I never meet that person.

So we have a delightful main character whose charm and humor and approach to life create an atmosphere that’s like breathing fresh air.

Then you plunk him down in a luxury hotel in Moscow, where he’s been ordered to live out his days. In a tiny attic room.

And so it begins…  this story of a man whose life has been turned into a miniaturized version of itself, who responds by expanding his world within those hotel walls and creating a family from those who work and stay there.

And then there’s the author’s writing style, which perfectly matches its subject. It’s sophisticated and wry and urbane and witty, and it’s smooth and smart and polished, and it makes a person feel very comfortable. The author is like a fine host who caters to his guests.

I read most of this book on the flight home from Reykjavik, and I truly felt like I was soaring. 

So now I'm doing that thing, where I dart around telling everyone about this book. (If I see you in person, prepare yourself. This book's coming up in conversation.)

Fellow readers... what book are you pushing these days? 

Bookish Tourist: The books about Iceland

Since the Iceland trip was in the works for more than a year before our departure, I had some time to read up. 

Beyond the many guidebooks I perused, I also hit the fiction and memoir categories. Granted, I didn’t hit them hard -- it was more like I swatted them. 

Here's what I read before we visited... 

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
3 words: somber, classic police procedural, character development
This one made me nervous, because: psychotic killer. Then I reread the real-life Icelandic crime statistics and calmed myself. This is the first in a series, and it’s a fine example of the contemporary Scandinavian police procedural. By which I mean: this sucker’s pretty grim. 

Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer by Tim Moore
3 words: light-hearted, irreverent, stunt nonfiction
Super grateful our travel plans didn't involve bikes or backpacking or a ship’s passage from England. This guy did that stuff, so the rest of us wouldn't have to. Moore retraced the steps of an old-timey rich dude who was an adventurer, with hilarious results.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
3 words: frank, lyrical, expatriate
The book that gave us the alert about the Yule Lads. (Party game: Pick which one is most like you!) Moss lived and taught in Iceland for a year, and her expat perspective was fascinating. She also interviewed Icelanders who are experts in various topics (elves, trolls, volcanic eruptions, social issues), which added some nice depth. From this book, I also was inspired to bring a hat and gloves on our trip, which turned out to be a very good idea.

Gloves and some serious layering

Frommer’s Iceland
3 words: informative, helpful, organized
I looked at all of the Iceland guidebooks I could find (Lonely Planet, Marco Polo, Moon… you name it) but the Frommer’s is the one I took with us on the trip. While it’s a little out of date (2011 publication date), it held up quite well. The only stumbling block (and it’s a tiny one) is that the restaurant that supposedly had on its menu the lamb dish served to Reagan and Gorbachev… that item ain’t on the menu anymore. Such is the extent of our troubles. (Did I mention? Best vacation ever.)

Caught reading! It's the Frommer's...
The Dear Man presents... the Hofdi House!

The one I was supposed to read, and couldn’t: Independent People by Halldor Laxness
I know. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature and all. But it's a novel about a sheep farmer living a hardscrabble existence, and I just couldn't do it. (I checked it out twice. Or maybe three times. It just wasn't going anywhere for me.) The whole time we were there, I was terrified an Icelander would learn that I was a librarian, ask if I had read Laxness, and then judge me. Fortunately, I dodged any such conversation. International literary incident: avoided.

In honor of Halldor Laxness: sheep. (I promise: they're there.)

What's up next: The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland by Bill Holm
I started reading this one the day before we left, and I wish I’d read it sooner. But also glad I didn’t, because it’ll help me extend the experience of the trip. 

Dear readers, tell me… Do you prefer to read about places before you visit them, or afterward?

Bookish Tourist: Iceland and all the books

Today we continue our tour of Icelandish bookishness!

We've already talked about the libraries, so today: bookstores

And also: words everywhere. Words we could not decipher. 

We begin with The Bookstores. 

The biggest bookstore chain in Iceland is Penninn Eymundsson, and their stores are pretty great. Their displays are tantalizing, and they have a tempting selection. 

If you're ever in Reykjavik and have time for only one bookstore visit, here's the place to go: the Penninn Eymundsson at Austurstraeti 18. It's right downtown, on a wonderfully walkable street (near the public library!) and they have level upon level upon level of books, plus a coffeeshop at the top floor. 

Here's a crummy photo I took that fails the capture the charm:

While we were there, the Dear Man took the opportunity to study up on local customs.

We also visited Mal og Menning on Laugavegur, one of the main shopping streets in downtown, which had some enticing displays.

 And we stopped by Bokin, a used and rare bookstore just off Laugavegur. 

And the bookishness raged on, people! 

At the Culture House in Reykjavik, they did wonderfully clever things like reinvent the guestbook as a card catalog. 

I'm not even kidding. 

They provided index cards, and you got to sign the card, date it, and then alphabetically file it in the appropriate drawer! 

I was so excited, I almost fell over.

Filed under my first name, because: Iceland

And everywhere (everywhere!) there were words -- poems and literary quotes on the walls and the doors and the floors... at the airport and the library and hotels...


...which all makes sense, given that Reykjavik has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature. 

Iceland: the place is full of our bookish brothers and sisters!

The other thing that the Dear Man and I both noticed repeatedly, is that the Icelandic language is not the easiest thing in the world for the uninitiated. 

We were presented with words like these:

And as we were driving (he was driving [I was "navigating," heaven help us]), I was calling out place names that I mispronounced so horribly I kept cringing. And I kept decrying the fact that I couldn't figure out the meaning of the words, and having no data plan, couldn't Google a translation on the fly.

When I finally realized that the Frommers guidebook contained a glossary of phrases that make up various place names, it was like Christmas morning. I started translating like a fiend. "Hvalfyordur -- whale fjord! Hveragerdi -- hot spring valley! Laugarvatn -- water pools!"

(It's super fun to travel with me.)

So one of the things that was completely lovely about visiting Iceland was that not only is the scenery lovely, but the culture is Hella literary. 

My fellow bookish travelers... What's the most literary place you've ever visited?


Bookish Tourist: Libraries of Iceland

3 words: excited, exploratory, delighted

As I write this, I’m suffering severe skyr withdrawal. You can get the stuff here in the States, but it just ain’t the same. The skyr in Iceland is light and sweet, and it makes you feel like you’re eating whipped cream for breakfast!

So... Iceland: best travel destination ever?


Prepare yourselves for some Icelandic bookish posts -- libraries (that’s today's topic), bookstores, and books about Iceland. And if the spirit moves me, maybe some photos of the scenery, since that’s the actual reason we went there. And man! it did not disappoint.
OK. Here's a gratuitous waterfall photo...
Now… Books.

During our visit, the Dear Man and I hit three libraries. (I know. Dorky.)

The first was the most delightful, because it was a public library and it was slightly quirky, and the librarian and library assistant were super friendly. Here's the story...

While we were in Stykkisholmur, we swung by the public library...

...and were greeted by a sign that instructed us to either remove our shoes or don booties.
Apparently the former librarian made this a rule, and they’ve stuck with it. And admittedly, they have some gorgeous hardwood floors in their library, so you really can’t blame them for keeping the place nice.

So we put on the booties and walked in. 

Since the place is small and friendly, we were welcomed right away, and I confessed I was a librarian visiting from the U.S. (I often feel shy about doing this.) 

And then it was like old home week, and the librarian and the library assistant told us all about the library and answered our questions, and it was really lovely.

They have a great English language section…

...and a beautiful layout.

For a town of 1100 people, it was very well done.

We also visited the Reykjavik City Library. 

It’s in a great downtown location, in a multi-floor building that’s very pleasant. Again: large English language section! And I was intrigued by their use of Dewey Decimal Classification, even for fiction. 

The chief difference that struck me was that their libraries aren’t big into providing computer access. Maybe because Iceland has an impressively high percentage of households with Internet connectivity?

Anyway… we fit in one more library visit shortly before hopping on the shuttle to the airport. We swung by the National and University Library of Iceland and walked through. 

There were lots of students studying, and lots of signs we could not read, so often we didn’t know precisely what we were looking at. (Though: a sighting of the National Union Catalog cued me that we were looking at the Reference collection at one point.)

Iceland's known as a bookish society (more on that in the next post), so it seemed fitting that we'd choose to library it up during our visit. At least this was our excuse. 

So, my fellow book nerds... Ever visit libraries while on vacation?


In a shocking turn of events, I Bingo'd early this year!

I've been reading up a storm (it's been heavenly), so maybe that's enough to do it. 

And the weird thing was that Disaster was my last category to complete, despite the fact that I'm all about the disaster books

Here're the books I read:

A story that takes you on a thrilling journey
Frost on My Moustache by Tim Moore

A life story in the person’s own words

Beach Read
Easy escapism

A Book Abandoned  
A book you didn’t finish. This is your free square.
Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Children’s Classic
A time-honored book written for young readers

Compelling Review
When you see an enticing blurb on a book jacket or an intriguing comment on GoodReads… this qualifies as a Compelling Review.

When things go wrong -- a nervous breakdown or a natural catastrophe or anything in between.
The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

Embarrassed to Admit…
Embarrassed to admit in public that I read this. Or, embarrassed to admit I didn’t read it until now.

Endorsed by an Author
A book recommended by an author you recognize. Recommendation could appear in a review, a blurb, or an interview.
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney (recommended by Adriana Trigiani)

Everyone’s Reading It
You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen it, it won’t go away--so read it, already.

A book where food is a key ingredient

A book that evokes a historical period or event

Improve Your Life
Self-help, psychology, religion, or how-to. Any book that helps you pursue happiness.

Written by a journalist, or a narrative written in a journalistic style

Law and Order
Mystery, true crime, a lawyer’s memoir, or a book about the Supreme Court. Any book about the making, breaking, or enforcement of the law.
Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt


A book where music matters
It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

National Book Award
A winner or a nominee, in any category
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Older Than My Mom
A book published before my mom was born
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Presidential election year! A book about a U.S. President or a presidential election, or a book a President has read

A book about espionage or simply a nosy neighbor
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Suburban Ennui
Is that all there is?
The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak

Title Attraction
You love the title of the book.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Dysfunctional families, intertwining storylines, surprising plots, or psychological suspense. Or just a book about knots.
Lexicon by Max Barry

Ugly Cover
Despite its cover, you want to read it, anyway.
The Past by Tessa Hadley

So, my fellow Bingo folks... Any categories that have you stumped? I'd like nothing more than to deal you some books!