14 October 11 | Chad W. Post

Here’s one last guest post from the wonderful Amanda De Marco. I want to publicly thank her for all of her contributions this week. I would send her a bottle of Brennivin as a token of my appreciation, but that shit is DEATH. For more of Amanda’s writings, be sure to check out Readux: Reading in Berlin. She’s also a frequent contributor to Publishing Perspectives. For now, here’s her article about the interesting bookstore and publisher, Útúrdur.

When I ask artists Dísa Björnsdóttir and Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson about running Útúrdúr,1 a Reykjavik bookstore and publisher, Dísa tells me they “started by answering a need for a more diverse book community.” It’s a theme they’ll repeat again and again: filling a hole, giving society what it’s asking for. For an American it’s a somewhat dizzying prospect; whatever it is that my society wants or needs or asks for, I can’t say I’ve ever had the feeling it was books. Nor have I ever interviewed anyone who said anything similar.

It’s a need that can exist in Iceland for two reasons. First, Iceland has a real, living literary culture with significant historical roots that results in people reading a lot today. Second, the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent governmental revolution made room for discussion in public forums, and made it necessary. Icelanders have a lot to talk about, and they’ll probably be doing it for a long time.

Útúrdúr is located a bit off the main drag in downtown Reykjavik, and when I walk in for our interview a customer is enthusiastically talking to Dísa and Ingvar Högni in English about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. The conversation doesn’t sound anywhere near over, so I listen in and browse the books on the front table and displayed face-out on the racks.

They’re art books, chapbooks, hardcovers, many of them hand-made, some photocopied, in English, in Icelandic, in German, some published by Útúdúr, some by others, all of them in some way or another fascinating. I recognize a few books I’ve seen in the sexier bookshops in Berlin, plus a few copies of McSweeney’s, and an odd Believer. Other than that it’s all new to me.

(photo by Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson)

There are a few pieces of art here and there from an exhibition with Kling & Bang Gallery next door: an enormous felt hand hanging on the wall, a wine-rack stocked with nearly empty Coca-Cola bottles, a wood-framed plexiglass doghouse-thing filled with an inch or so of postcards and newspaper clippings and outfitted with pink neon lighting.

We take a seat at the desk next to the plexiglass doghouse and I receive a cup of the strong Icelandic coffee everyone serves when I interview them. At 28 and 30 Dísa and Ingvar Högni have both recently completed their bachelor’s (Iceland’s system operates along long-studying Scandinavian lines). Ingvar Högni, who also works as a photographer, attributes getting the chance to run an organization like Útúrdúr to the small society they live in: “What’s so interesting about Iceland is we can have these opportunities and get involved just by having that energy and enthusiasm.” Still he and Dísa seem like the kind of intelligent, bright-eyed people who would be doing exciting things anywhere.

Útúrdúr was actually founded as a bookstore in by six artists in 2007, but during their tenure, Dísa and Ingvar Högni are shifting its focus. As Dísa says, “What Iceland is asking for is books relevant to society.” Which is not to say that Útúrdúr didn’t provide that before, but its earlier publications, while often political, were expensive art books with long lead times. Its newer publications will be published more quickly to connect better with current events, and they’ll be more affordable.

Meeting the needs of a community means being in touch with the people who constitute it. “We don’t think of Útúrdúr as just a store or a publishing house,” says Ingvar Högni. “We think of it as a place where you can come and meet people, read, and listen to recordings.”

Later that week I return, this time at night, for a 100,000 Poets for Change event Útúdúr is hosting. I admit I was nervous before showing up — in a city of 120,000 people, how many capable performers can there be, and how many people will want to watch them? At eight there’s a crowd of 20 or so that grows during the next hour until the shop is packed. The audience is convivial but attentive, listening through hours of readings and musical performances. The performers have real talent, and overall the event is really impressive. When I leave at 11, it shows no sign of slowing down.

If it’s community-focused, Útúrdúr is anything but inward-looking. Ingvar Högni and Dísa are enthusiastic about partnerships with bookstores and publishers overseas, and they were positively excited about their upcoming trip to the New York Art Book Fair (now past). For ambitious young people trying to develop an innovative organization on a small island just below the Arctic Circle, the opportunity to meet with their peers face to face and to “make that connection and develop that trust” is invaluable, according to Dísa.

1 Útúrdur means “detour.”

Comments are disabled for this article.
Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

Read More >

The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

Read More >

Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

Read More >

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >