What I’ll Be Reading: Iceland and Beyond

I’m still around, just have been somewhat distracted by other things recently. But I’m still reading (which is not likely to change for as long as I’m capable of it) and want to continue writing blog posts. In fact, after I rather enjoyed last year’s reading challenge, I’m going to do something similar this year – just on my own, and on a somewhat smaller scale, which is why I call it a Reading Project rather than a Challenge.

This one came about through a group reading at Goodreads of William T. Vollmann’s The Ice-Shirt. That novel draws heavily on the Icelandian sagas, in fact is even kind of a retelling of them, so someone suggested we read at least the relevant sagas in preparation for Vollmann’s novel. As I hate leaving books unfinished, of course I ended up reading the whole massive Penguins Classics volume, and rather enjoyed it. And then it occurred to me that besides The Ice-Shirt I own several other novels that are in one way or another inspired by Icelandic Sagas… so why not read them together and compare the different ways they spark off their source material?

So here I am, and here is the list of books I plan on reading and posting about in the next couple of months:

The Sagas of Icelanders, by Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) – post here

The Ice-Shirt, by William T. Vollmann – post here

Vinland, by George Mackay Brown – post here

King Hereafter, by Dorothy Dunnett – post here

The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson – read, but not posted about (yet), due to extended blogging slump

Njal’s Saga, by Robert Cook (ed. & transl.) – post here

That’s not a terribly long list, but at least it’s realistic (and I have already read the first three on that list); it starts and ends with Icelandic Sagas, and has one Fantasy novel and three very different historical novels. I hope that makes for enough variety – I’m certainly having fun reading the books in question, and hopefully the readers of this blog will like reading about them, too.

ETA (February 3rd, 2014):
Well, I read all of them, and actually enjoyed them all, if at slightly varying degrees, the high points having been The Ice-Shirt and King Hereafter – the latter even more fun because it was a shared read with Leander who has been following this whole project with probably even  more enthusiasm than myself, for which I want to thank her very much. It was also Leander who directed my attention to one or two more books which fit in with the theme nicely, so I might be doing some bonus reads, which I’m going to add here as I read them.


  1. What a fantastic idea! I’m not trying to add to your reading load, but I’ve heard good things about Nancy Marie Brown’s book “Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths”, which might help with some of the historical background. I haven’t read it myself yet, but it’s been on my Amazon wishlist for a while.

    I’ve meant to buy “King Hereafter” since the beginning of this year. I need to kick myself to get round to it. Maybe we could discuss it together by email if we read it at the same time? That would be fun! I’m almost done with Robin Hobb so it’ll be good to have something else to look forward to afterwards (though I predict being inconsolable for the next couple of days). 🙂

  2. Thank you, I hope you’ll enjoy the upcoming posts! Also thank you for the recommendation (I’m always happy to find new books, and unless I should live to become 150, I won’t be reading all the books I already own anyway, so a few more won’t matter 😛 ). Song of the Vikings does indeed fit the context and does look interesting, but I’ll be holding back on it until it is out as paperback, so it’s on my wishlist, too, for now.

    And sure, I’d love it if we could arrange a synchronous reading of King Hereafter – the main impetus for me to turn this into a book blog was that I was missing talking about what I was reading with friends, and here I at least have myself to talk to. 😉 – I’m still only halfway through Doktor Faustus and wanted to read another Vollmann novel soon, but hopefully should be able to squeeze King Hereafter between the two.

    As for Robin Hobb, aren’t you still missing the Rain Wild Chronicles? They might not quite live up the other novels in that setting, but are still very much worth reading, I think.

  3. Well, I don’t actually have “King Hereafter” yet, so I think there’s plenty of time if you want to go ahead and read Vollmann while I scout out a copy. 🙂 As for the “Rain Wild Chronicles”… I really don’t know. Not just yet. I’m still bruised from finishing “Fool’s Fate” last night, which left me a quivering wreck – I’d forgotten most of the book and it proved to be even more emotionally destructive than Dunnett’s “Checkmate”. It’s one of the most difficult posts I’ve written, because I simply can’t step back enough from the story to be sensible about it.

    So, at the moment, I feel that these particular narrative arcs have been brought to a close – perhaps not as I would have wanted them to be, but closed nonetheless. Having done this reread, at the moment I have this glimmering sense of how wonderful Robin Hobb is as a writer, and I’ve heard such mixed views about the Rain Wild Chronicles that I would be a little wary, even if they do continue on the story – but it would be the story of the dragons, not of the characters whom I love… And yes, I do know how pathetic that sounds. 🙂

    I need to go and find something completely different for my next couple of reads. Fortunately I’ve got loads of stuff lined up on my Kindle 😀

  4. I still remember the time I read Fool’s Fate, so I can very much sympathise with you. On the other hand, I finished Blood of Dragons a few weeks ago, and I’d strongly suggest giving The Rain Wild Chronicles a chance, at least at some later date – it might not be Robin Hobb at her best, but it’s still Robin Hobb. Hopefully I’ll have a post on the novel next week, I really need to catch up (and not just with writing, but also with reading blog posts – I’m still at your reviews of Liveship Traders. Why can’t days be 72 hours instead of a measly and totally insufficient 24?)

  5. Note to self: write shorter blog posts 🙂

    OK, noted on the Rain Wild Chronicles. I read your post on City of Dragons, which more or less echoed what I’d read elsewhere… But I won’t write them off completely. I promise!

  6. Please don’t! I enjoy your posts just the way they are, and definitely would not want them any shorter. It’s just that I do most of my blog reading (or writing, for that matter) in the office, and whenever I am on vacation or there’s a lot of work (or, like currently, one followed by the other) I invariably fall behind.

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