The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unusual Museums by A. Kendra Greene
  

The Museum of Whales You Will Never See and Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unsual Museums

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Mythic creatures, natural wonders, and the mysterious human impulse to collect are on beguiling display in this poetic tribute to the museums of an otherworldly island nation.

Iceland is home to only 330,000 people but more than 265 museums and public collections, ranging from the intensely physical, like the Icelandic Phallological Museum which collects the penises of every mammal known to exist in Iceland, to the vaporously metaphysical, like the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, which poses a particularly Icelandic problem: How to display what can't be seen?

In the Museum of Whales You Will Never See, A. Kendra Greene is our wise and whimsical guide through this cabinet of curiosities, showing us, in dreamlike anecdotes and more than thirty charming illustrations, how a seemingly random assortment of objects – a stuffed whooper swan, a rubber boot, a shard of obsidian, a chastity belt for rams – can map a people's past and future, their fears and obsessions. "The world is chockablock with untold wonders," she writes, "there for the taking, ready to be uncovered at any moment, if only we keep our eyes open."

PRAISE FOR MUSEUM OF WHALES YOU WILL NEVER SEE:

"Unseen treasures are hidden in the corners of Iceland—and inside this book. Glittering with whimsy and speckled with small drawings, The Museum of Whales provides a much-needed detour to a place most of us won't ever get to see."
Juliana Rose Pignataro, "40 Must-Read Fiction and Nonfiction Books to Savor this Spring," Newsweek

"Artist and Southwest Review associate editor Greene (Vagrants and Uncommon Visitors) delivers a delightful one-of-a-kind journey through some of Iceland’s, if not the world’s, most unusual museums. Greene takes the reader all over the small island nation, from remote Bíldudalur, home of the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, to tiny Skógar, home to 21 people and to Iceland’s largest museum outside of Reykjavík. The institutions visited range from collections of mundane artifacts from Iceland’s once-thriving herring industry to the most unlikely of museums, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, a “kind of mammal-phallus Noah’s Ark.” Greene turns what easily could have become a mere cabinet of curiosities into a thoughtful and complex work. Insightful meditations on the nature of collecting and writers’ role as organizers and curators of their own work complement passages on Icelandic history, and all add color and context to the museums described. Almost as hard to classify as it would be not to enjoy, Greene’s expertly assembled blend of travel writing, history, museum studies, and memoir proves as memorable as any museum exhibition."
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

"A masterpiece. By way of exploring the many humble, arguably eccentric museums of Iceland, Greene gives us a portrait of humanity that is quietly, cumulatively thrilling, as startling in its many revelations as the collections and collectors she portrays. Greene is the best kind of guide: funny, probing, generous of mind and heart, fully alive to the essential human yearning expressed in these miraculous little museums. Read this book. You will be happier, and richer in spirit, for it."
Ben Fountain, bestselling author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

"Greene's voice is probing and hilarious; her sentences are vivacious and wild. This is the gold standard by which all future essays about Icelandic penis museums will be measured."
Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

“So attentive and meticulous and compassionate a voice, a touch, that every light and feathery (avian, human) thing here gathered – into this curatorial piece about our cuatorial passions, about having, naming, meaning – seems pristine in all its qualities, unaltered in the handling, in the open palm presenting it. Greene knows to hold it out a bit, away from her, inkto the cold Icelandic air, to let the subtler meanings of the thing escape the thing, and extend the taxonomic thing beyond itself.”
—David Searcy
, author of Shame and Wonder

“Like a dream both feverish and freezing, The Museum of Whales You WIll Never See works on the reader elementally. As the sentences unspool their disarming lyricism, carrying with them the flotsam and jetsam of strange fact and stranger interpretation, Greene allows delight to converse with revulsion, incantation with nightmare, tradition with oddity.”
Matthew Gavin Frank
, author of Preparing the Ghost

“Kendra Greene has brought together so much of what makes good storytelling: the compelling and untrammeled subject of museums, the dark mystery of human motivation, and the eviction of the quiet, unbidden black island we call Iceland. This is a book that opens a pathway into the depth and variegated distances of the human heart, enriching the experience we call: to be alive.”
Kurt Caswell, author of Getting to Grey Owl