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 Unusual Museums - UK Cover  

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

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 The Museum of Whales You Will Never See

"In The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, Kendra Greene takes us to Iceland on a rollicking trip through its museums filled with the mythic, the marvelous, and the eccentric. She opens some of that country’s hundreds of cabinets of curiositiesfrom the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum to the Icelandic Phallological Museum to The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft to other storehouses of natural history and unreal marvelsand rummages through them to uncover tales about our deep desire to collect, organize, and discover. Greene is a splendid guide with a playful voiceimagine Hermes writing with whimsy and charmand takes us around to show a world “chockablock with untold wonders” and overflowing with people drawn to reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary. This amusing, searching collection of essays is an ode to the joys and rewards of paying attention."
Garnette Cadogan, Lit Hub contributing editor, "10 Books You Should Read This May," Lit Hub

"It’s not just the extraordinary title, or that Greene begins with writing about Iceland’s mammal penis museum, or that she illustrates the book herself, or that she’s a polymath (artist, educator, curator, typesetter, bookmaker, and so on) that makes this book so damn good (though they help). It’s Greene’s curiosity, the way she examines, evaluates, and writes about things perhaps considered mundane (buffalo coats, sea glass, bones). Combined with a dry humor, a brisk intelligence, and carefully curated prose, Greene propounds treasures and collections (for proof, check her Instagram account) that often go unseen."
Kerri Arsenault, Lit Hub contributing editor, "10 Books You Should Read This May," Lit Hub

"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

 

Interviews

Superstition Review
April 27, 2020

KUSP From the Bookshelf with Gary Shapiro
June 1, 2020

ABC Lost and Found with Jonathan Greene
June 13, 2020

WICN Inquiry with Mark Lynch
June 15, 2020

KPFT Open Journal with Duane Bradley and Stephanie
June 22, 2020

Deviate with Rolf Potts
June 23, 2020

Reading & Writing with Jeff Rutherford

WGNA/WQBK/WTMM/WQSH Speaking of Writers with Steve Richards

TX Literary Spotlight with Sara Balabanlilar
August 5, 2020

Dallas Museum of Arts
August 6, 2020

University of Iowa
August 17, 2020

Smart Thinking Books
August 22, 2020

Northwest Arts Review @ Spokane Public Radio with Chris Maccini
November 12, 2020

Out of Office: A Travel Podcast with Kiernan Schmitt & Ryan Davis
November 17, 2020

Rope Walker Podcast
November 17, 2020

 

Excerpts

Ninth Letter: On Necropants
May 12, 2020

Lit Hub: Meet the Stone Collector of Iceland's Eastern Coast
May 15, 2020

Lone Star Literary: Arrival
May 31, 2020

Granta
July 9, 2020

 

 

 

 


Reviews

Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
Starred Review

Kirkus Reviews

Booklist Starred Review
Best New Books Starred Review

Forbes - Best Books for Avid Travelers
Best Books for Avid Travelers

Literary Hub - 10 Books You Should Read this May
10 Books You Should Read this May

Boston Globe

Good Morning Quarantine - Episode 50 (1:50)
Episode 50, 1:50

The New York Times Book Review Summer Reading List
Book Review Summer Reading List

The Dallas Morning News

The Star Tribune

The Week Magazine - 6/12/2020
June 12, 2020 Issue

WNYC All of It
All of It

The Arts Desk.com

The Observer

The Spectator Australia - “How to while away the winter”
How to while away the winter

The VC Reporter - “Great Reads From Local Authors”
Great Reads From Local Authors

Book Riot - The Best Books You've Never Heard of
The Best Books You've Never Heard Of

The Guardian - “Book of the Day” - Gavin Francis
Book of the Day - Gavin Francis

No Such Thing As a Fish - mentions book at minute 43
Mentions book at minute 43

The Financial Times - The Best Books of 2020
The Best Books of 2020

The Telegraph - Top Travel Books for Christmas - Michael
Top Travel Books for Christmas - Michael

Ojai Quarterly - Stumbling Upon Stunning: Kendra Greene’s Search for Curious Museums
Stumbling Upon Stunning: Kendra Greene’s Search for Curious Museums”

Slate - Best Books of 2020 - Dan Kois
Best Books of 2020 - Dan Kois 

The Athenaeum Review - Opening Our Eyes to See - Elizabeth M. Molacek
Opening our Eyes to See - Elizabeth M. Molacek

The Smithsonian - "The Ten Best Books About Travel of 2020” - Jennifer Nalewicki
The Ten Best Books About Travel of 2020 - Jennifer Nalewicki

 

Events

Nasher Sculpture Center: Shelf Life list
May 11, 2020

Nasher Sculpture Center: Instagram Live Reading
May 14, 2020

Scandinavia House: Museums From Home With Kendra Greene
May 18, 2020

Magic City Books with Jessica Harvey
July 30, 2020

Book People with John Freeman
August 18, 2020

Wigtown Book Festival with Heather Parry
October 1, 2020

PEN A Conversation with A. Kendra Greene and Fowzia Karimi
October 27, 2020

metalLAB "From Sea to Seen"
November 5, 2020

Eastern Washington University
November 13, 2020

Allen Public Library
December 1, 2020

Scandinavian Library
December 5, 2020

 

Other

First Free Saturdays
@ Nasher Sculpture Center
October 3, 2020

Soaring Gardens: The Second Decade
@ Hope Horn Gallery, University of Scranton
Preview November 13-20, 2020
Exhibition February 5–March 12, 2021