31 March 2009

Frægar bækur og bókasafnið á Akureyri (Famous books and the library in Akureyri)

I spent the winter of 1985-86 in Akureyri in the north of Iceland as a missionary. I had two different companions during that winter, Joe Holt and Michael Miller. I don't recall who I was with at the time, but I remember going into the library there in Akureyri one day during that winter. I don't know if we were just trying to get warm or were looking for some icelandic books to read. We weren't looking for a computer to use for a minute since there was not such thing as email or the internet at that time.

I only remember two things about that visit to the Akureyri library that day. One was that I heard a mother say to her four-year-old child, "Út með þig!" which means, "Out with you!" She was holding a bunch of books and trying to herd her child out the door. The reason I remember it to this day is because the preposition "með" or "with" is almost always followed by a pronoun in the dative case, not the accusative like she had done (fascinating, I know). The other reason I remember that day in the library was because I found a copy of Oliver Twist in Icelandic. I remember wishing I had a copy of that book, but couldn't find one. It must have been out of print--or perhaps I was too preoccupied with my mission to really search for the book.

Many years ago, the Icelandic Reading Society and the city of Spanish Fork, Utah donated a large collection of books written in Icelandic to the BYU Harold B. Lee library. Most of them were a part of a collection that had been put together from the family libraries of Icelanders who had immigrated to Spanish Fork from Iceland between 1853 and 1914. As the original Icelandic immigrants would pass away and the surviving children didn't speak Icelandic, the books went unread and were eventually donated to this collection. In the end, Spanish Fork thought it best to donate the collection to BYU to be preserved and used by a wider audience of possible readers.

I look through the collection on occasion. I currently have three books from this collection checked out. One is a very worn copy of Oliver Twist, published in 1906, 103 years ago. It was translated from the English by Páll E. Ólason. I thought I'd never get to read it in Icelandic! The second book is Ben Hur. It was published in Winnipeg, Canada where a good many Icelanders immigrated during the heaviest immigration years in the late 1800's. It was published in 1909, 100 years ago and was translated by Jón Bjarnason. What a herculean task! The third book must have been much easier to translate into Icelandic. It was a collection of three Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and published in 1923. Extremely fun reading. The stories are engaging enough that I am eager to keep working through the parts that I don't fully understand.

A curious fact: In 1930 one book per 12,497 persons was published in the U.S. In Iceland in the same year there was one book per 466 persons. I don't know what the current ratio is, but I heard often on my mission that this still held true.

So many books. So little time. So many Icelandic words I don't know!


Gary Mangum said...

One of my wife's Ancestors from Iceland collected many books and it is rumored that his books are part of this collection. His name was John Thorgiersson. We're going to have to go to the library and find out if there are any signs of his name in connection to the collection.

Anonymous said...

My son Peter Christensen is entering the MTC in Provo July 15, 2009 for the Denmark Copenhagen, Icelandic speaking mission. We just discovered your blogspot yesterday so he has learned that Jared Armstrong will probably be his companion. He is really excited to serve a mission. He is from Salt Lake City and has been attending the U of U this past year. He is funny and gets along well with all kinds of people. You can contact him at
sweaterman529@gmail.com He would love to learn anything you have to share with him about Iceland.