Day 12, 5th August: you heard it here first!

Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 361 kilos
Sigurðar saga fóts: 67/252

So much to post about, but so much to do! Most of it to do with journal-editing, either Leeds Studies in English or other people’s, so don’t worry, you’re not missing out. But it’s been nice catching up with different folks over lunch and tea as well. I also keep hoping that I might finally get at least one or another of the various bits of actual research I’m doing finished enough that I can at least post about that. But, referring the honourable reader back to my post of days 3–4, I can at least hail the big news of the day: Reykjavík has just been named UNESCO’s fifth EVER “City of Literature”. UNESCO have obviously been reading my blog! Hello UNESCO! Thus Reykjavík joins the world-famous literary powerhouses of Edinburgh, Dublin and, er, Melbourne. And Iowa.

This is bound to connect with another post I’m looking forward to writing about the gay pride weekend that’s just getting underway, which will inevitably involve musing on two Icelandic (or at least Reykjavíktastic) traits, the any-claim-to-fame-is-better-than-obscurity trait, and the any-excuse-for-a-party trait. Not that I don’t take a vicarious pride in Iceland’s claim to being the gay capital of Europe, or a literary powerhouse—far from it. But still, there are some bigger cultural currents being exhibited here. Exemplifying both, the celebratory dregs of a wide variety of intoxicating spirits, no doubt tax-free gifts from scholars visting from around the world, were duly served up at Árnastofnun coffee time. For my part, I participated in Reykjavík’s literary vibrancy by cadging a big pile of childrens’ books off a friend here to feed to my undergrads, and took the opportunity for a free tour of Icelandic vocabulary for domestic and farmyard animals from her three-year-old daughter.

giraffe on Laugavegur

Giraffe on Laugavegur

On which theme (sort of), and temporarily in lieu of a more detailed account of central Reykjavík’s general artyness: a giraffe.

My hunt for children’s books for the undergrads has led me to ask various people for hints and advice. Much of which has been useful, but all of which (whether from Icelanders or Icelandophiles) comes at some point with the recommendation that something is written in ‘good Icelandic’. This is another of those habits that I’ve known about unconsciously for a long time, but which has now surfaced into my conscious mind, and I am rather taken with it. I mean, some children’s books are well-written, in the sense of having a good story or deft characterisation or well-turned phrasing. When I started seeing copies of the Gruffalo appearing everywhere I was, like, pff, I didn’t have any Gruffalos when I was growing up and I turned out alright. But then I actually had to read it to a demanding child and I was, like, blimey, this is great! Great for oral delivery, the punchlines and line-ends working together: good old straightforward high-quality light verse. Whereas having randomly bought some appealingly sci-fi looking, special-offer Octonauts books for friends’ kids, I have discovered that they are potboilers afflicted by some pretty flat prose. Room on a Broom they are not. But no-one says, oh yeah, Julia Donaldson, she writes really good English. Icelanders are famously concerned to preserve the distinctiveness of their language from foreign influence or, what is perhaps much the same thing, the simple inevitability of change. And I can hardly complain: the reason why I got interested in Iceland in the first place was that coming here you can learn Old Norse as a living language. But I am quite entertained by the sense that bad style in children’s literature is tantamount to corrupting the young.


About alarichall
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3 Responses to Day 12, 5th August: you heard it here first!

  1. Viqueen says:

    I’ve always that about bad style in children’s books. Have you ever read Harry Potter? Maybe a great story, with lots of nice touches, but written in, if not quite execrable, then certainly very flat, English. But maybe that’s why it translated so easily into other languages. So good on the Icelanders, I say.

  2. Viqueen says:

    Oops, should say ‘thought’ after ‘always’… Bad stylist, heal thyself!

  3. alarichall says:

    It doesn’t, of course mean, that they don’t write flat prose—just that they moan about it 😉

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