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A Third of Icelanders Read Five or More Books in the Past Month

It’s the time of the Christmas book flood, or jólabókaflóð, in Iceland and it seems that Icelanders are reading just as avidly as ever before. According to new figures published by the Icelandic Literature Center, a third of the nation read five (or more!) books in the past month and 68% gave someone a book in the last 12 months. While interest in literature and reading remain high, however, there is a growing number of Icelanders who read “little or not at all.”

Response to the question “How many books have you read or listened to in the last 30 days?” Light green: 3 or 4; Dark green: 5 or more; Blue: 1 or 2; Red: None (Icelandic Literature Center)

This is the fifth year in a row that the Icelandic Literature Center has conducted a survey on Icelanders’ reading habits in conjunction with six other literary organisations in the country, including the Reykjavík City Library, Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature, and the Writers’ Union of Iceland. As last year, this installment also focused on the impact that COVID-19 has had on locals’ interest in literature but found that the pandemic is no longer having a significant impact on Icelanders’ reading habits.

Results showed that Icelandic men are reading less this year (1.5 books/month), while women are reading as much as they did before (3.1 books/month). On average, the nation reads an average of 2.3 books a month. People aged 18-24 read significantly less than people in older age brackets. A healthy majority of Icelanders, or 79%, believe that it is important for Icelandic literature to have financial support from the government, which is an increase from last year, when 73% were in agreement about this.

Icelanders still read ‘traditional’ books, with 78% saying that they’ve read a physical book in the last 12 months. This is down somewhat from last year, during the height of the pandemic, when 83% of respondents said they’d read a physical book. Audiobooks remain as popular as they were last year, with 46% of respondents having listened to one in the last year. Only 31% had read an e-book.

Icelanders still mostly prefer to read in Icelandic: 29% only read in Icelandic, while 28.8% read in Icelandic more often than they read in other languages. 19.5% read in other languages just as often as they read in Icelandic, 19.6% read in other languages more often, and 3% only read in other languages. In the same vein, 80.5% of the nation believes that it’s important for works of foreign literature to be translated into Icelandic.

Figure: Responses to the question “Do you read in Icelandic or in other languages?” Green: More often or only in Icelandic; Blue: As often in Icelandic as in other languages; Red: More often or only in other languages (Icelandic Literature Center)

The reading survey was conducted from October 22-31 and was sent to 1,800 individuals aged 18 and older. A total of 992, or 55%, responded.

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