Collection of essays, written by A. Kendra Greene and published in 2020 by Penguin Books. The collection is subtitled "And Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unusual Museums."
Iceland is, as we may know, a relatively small and prosperous European island. It has an area of about 103,000 kilometers, which makes it about as large as Kentucky, but the population is quite small -- around 380,000 people, which is as many residents as Tampa, Florida. But where a city the size of Tampa could have a dozen museums, Iceland has more than 265 museums, most of them opening in just the last two decades. So Greene, a writer and artist with a passion for visiting museums and Iceland, picked out some of her favorite Icelandic museums to write about.
And as the book's subtitle suggests, these aren't mainstream museums. None of the seven museums profiled in the book are located in Reykjavík, Iceland's capital and largest city. They're all out in the hinterlands, in small towns and smaller villages, requiring hours of travel to reach, as well as maybe an overnight stay in a nearby motel, inn, or private home, if you don't have a tour bus driver who knows the roads back in the dark.
And these aren't museums focused on traditional archival collections. Some of these museums were founded by people who were uniquely obsessed with something -- like Petra's Stone Museum, which got started because a woman named Petra just loved collecting interesting rocks. Some were founded by people who had a moderate interest in collecting a specific item, which got a bit out of hand once all the neighbors started donating objects to them, too -- for example, a man bought a couple of taxidermied birds, and then everyone who lived nearby started giving him birds, too, so Sigurgeir's Bird Museum was founded. And some of them got started as a joke -- a teacher received a bull's penis as a gift, everyone found out and started bringing him even more animal penises, and thus the Icelandic Phallological Museum was born.
So the book takes us on visits to the aforementioned Icelandic Phallological Museum, Petra's Stone Collection, and Sigurgeir's Bird Museum. We also see the Skogar Museum, the largest museum outside of Reykjavik, mostly containing historical items from throughout Iceland's history; the Herring Era Museum, focused on the relatively brief but incredibly profitable half-century when schools of herring migrated close enough to Iceland to be fished; the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, run by a man who claims to be a sorcerer and decorated with replicas of artifacts from local folk magic; and the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, mostly consisting of a room full of written eyewitness reports of various sea monsters.
Greene's writing doesn't focus solely on the museums, though she does write extensively about museums' origins, their contents, their founders, and staff. She also tells us about the regions of the country she visits, about local customs, about flora and fauna, about the tourists who travel so far to visit these museums. Her writing is informative, but also lyrical and playful. She chases after tangents like a born explorer and writes about hidden beauty like an artist (in addition to writing, Greene also created the pen-and-ink drawings that illustrate this book). She writes with an obvious love for Iceland, its people, and its landscapes. It sometimes reads a bit like a book of poetry, which doesn't seem entirely inappropriate, considering we're talking about unusual museums in an unusual country.
If you're into interesting and unusual museums, if you're interested in Iceland and want to become even more interested in it, if you enjoy wonderful, beautiful writing, you will want to pick this book up.