Iceland is veritably tiny, with a population of just under 330,000 people living on its fierce volcanic land mass in the North Atlantic. A tiny part of Iceland (a coastal island) trespasses into the Arctic Circle and its capital Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world.
Perhaps due to their geographical location, their isolation, the long winter nights and cold seasons (as well as those volcanoes and the ice!), Icelanders read and publish more books per capita than most other countries in the world. Reading seems to be inherent to the Icelandic psyche and the country has a literacy rate of a perfect 100%.
I was wandering through the annals of yet another bookshop and had a chance to see a lot of the Penguin Black Classics collection. Celebrating the 80th year of Penguin, there were initially 80 books sold for 80p each. They ranged across a myriad of topics and recently, a further 46 have been added.
Standing in front of them (and adding some to my already full arms..) I got to thinking about the best short books I’ve read and how sometimes, we don’t need a lot of works to make a good point.
I had real trouble coming up with a headline for this one, so let me explain as best I can. You know those books you read that transport you to other places in such a way that you really feel you’re living in them? You look up after a few chapters and realise that you’re still on your couch in your yoga pants and haven’t actually left the room at all? Those books.When words can transport me to another place in a significant way, somehow the book always ends up in my favourites list.
This year, I decided to step outside my comfort zone when it came to reading and challenge myself a little. I decided to go back to the classics. You know, the ones with those beautiful Penguin classics covers, or the ones you can get on Amazon for almost nothing. You know the ones I’m talking about- the sort of book they either made you read in school (resulting in casual resentment) or the ones you struggled through in university (more resentment)- or indeed, the one tome gifted to your parents by Great Aunt Mildred, which your mother has been using a doorstop since the 1970s.
The classics have a bad reputation for being mean, fastidious and immovable beasts of burden. They are vastly the product of male authors (with notable exceptions) and therefore the cultural context they present might be seen as old-fashioned, or even periodic.