The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland

As I’m about to explain, I am seriously behind in my book reviews. After too many months, I’m finally ready to start catching up.

Back in March, my wife surprised me with a trip to Iceland. I’d told her over the holidays about wanting to see the northern lights and how Iceland was one of the world’s ideal viewing spots; with a milestone birthday approaching, she decided to treat me. Further proof, unneeded, that I married well.

Since neither of us knew much about the country other than the general direction, she purchased the Lonely Planet’s tour guide (very informative) and this shorter, less comprehensive, and thoroughly enjoyable book.

Alda Sigmundsdottir is an Icelandic journalist whose love for her country doesn’t blind her to its shortcomings. She acknowledges the economic need for Iceland’s tourism boom after the island nation’s economic collapse in the late 2000s (from 2010 to 2017, foreign visitors increased from less than five hundred thousand to over two million) but regrets its impact on her land’s people, culture and, most significantly, its environment.

I’ve heard her ambivalence voice before, from the people in the town where I grew up. Winters were harsh, springs wet and muddy, autumns ominous. “Summer People” drove in on Memorial Day and spent their money through Labor Day. Most were decent people, while others couldn’t resist blocking our driveways, mocking our accents, disturbing our wildlife, dumping their trash on our beautiful lawns and parks as if we enjoyed the mess they left.

And we put up with it, because if they didn’t inject our local economy with all their disposable income, we’d be cold and hungry for nine months.

I’ve seen the same dynamic during my frequent vacations in Hawaii. I try not to be one of those visitors that natives have to endure. Think I succeed, most times.

But the subject of this review is a book on Iceland. Sigmundsdottir is an engaging writer, and she reads her own audiobook well. It can’t stand alone as a travel guide, but is an ideal companion for something like Lonely Planet.

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