A Bookish Saga

On my first trip to Iceland, I naively bragged that I had read all the sagas. My listener was too polite to do more than quirk an eyebrow. Of course, I had not read all the sagas. I had read that giant paperback Penguin Classics Deluxe collection, The Sagas of Icelanders, plus The Saga of Burnt Njál. At the time, I didn’t know that more was possible.

For English speakers outside of academia, the ten sagas and assorted short stories of the Penguin compilation remains definitive. But there is another. Continue reading


Atlas of an Anxious Man


Is it an atlas of the man himself, or an atlas of the world as seen by the anxious man? Is the anxious man author Christoph Ransmayr, and why is he anxious? Atlas of an Anxious Man does not concern itself with the answers to such questions. This unusual piece of travel writing does not double as personal memoir or destination porn; we never learn what kind of trip the narrator is taking, and rarely discover why he has selected these particular destinations, what he is doing there, or who his traveling companions are. Continue reading

The Little Paris Bookshop

ParisBookshopThere are two things I have to do whenever I’m near Leavenworth, Washington. I must eat at South, arguably the best Mexican restaurant in the state, and I must visit A Book for All Seasons. So even if the temperature hadn’t topped 100 F at our campsite overlooking the Wenatchee River this summer, sending us into town in search of air conditioning, I probably would have found myself browsing the warren of rooms in Leavenworth’s brilliantly curated independent bookstore. Continue reading

Looking at the grave of the invisible man


Björk’s new album is deservedly getting a lot of attention, but there is another, much quieter release from an Icelandic artist – literally quieter. It’s not an album, it’s a poetry chapbook. Wait! Don’t go! I know what it sounds like. It sounds like photocopied, stapled pages sold out of a backpack on the sidewalk by attractive yet poorly groomed, self-absorbed youths. If you buy a copy (out of an impulse to support the arts, and greatness might appear anywhere, even in a homeless kid; or you want to help the homeless; or simply because you’re charmed by the poet’s combination of sincerity and homemade tattoos) inside the pages you will find verses without rhyme or meter or quite possibly, meaning. I know. That’s usually what it means. But I’m talking about Sjón here. Continue reading

Book Report: The Bathing Women

BathingWomencoverWhile helping my daughter navigate the graphic novel section at the International District Library, the cover of The Bathing Women on a nearby shelf caught my eye. I couldn’t resist a story about the intersecting lives of a group of women shaped by the Cultural Revolution. I read it almost in one sitting, gulping down the last chapter hours after my bedtime. I wish I had gone to bed instead of reading the last chapter. I would have loved the book so much more.

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