When I traveled to Ireland in 2007, I thought I had arrived in the most literary country on Earth. Irish novelists, poets and playwrights were widely celebrated and honored; there were numerous tours to the homes and haunts of these famous writers.
As it turns out, I may have been off by a letter… and 890 miles. According to the BBC (via FishbowlDC), Iceland might be the most literary country on the planet. The article states that about 10 percent of the island nation’s population has published a book; their motto is, “everyone gives birth to a book.” It also quotes Agla Magnusdottir, head of the new Icelandic Literature Centre, which offers state support for literature and its translation. She states, “Writers are respected here … They live well. Some even get a salary.”
Wow. An actual salary. Catch me; I’m swooning.
The article goes on to say that the most popular genre is crime fiction, with sales figures “double that of any of its Nordic neighbors.”
The funny thing is, the conditions that make both countries havens for writers are similar. First, they are both small islands in the North Atlantic, chilly and treeless, with epically long winter nights. Both islands are inhabited by the descendents of peoples with strong storytelling traditions. And both have contemporary governments that prioritize and support writers and artists.
Time to dig out my passport…