Ever since the creation of the e-book and the ability to download the written word to a digital platform, the fate of printed books has been fodder for discussion and debate. While I don’t believe the traditional printed word will ever fully disappear, the power of the scribed and the pages and ink that carry stories of fact and fiction have more power than I imagined and realized during a recent trip to Norway, where I stumbled upon a town actually saved by books.
The concept of a book town by no surprise is a product of the imaginative 1960’s, when the reality of Hay-on-Wye, a small town located on the Welsh/English border, rose from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix and found a place in history by the very real influence of books on the human condition. This re-imagination of several withering towns across the globe gave rise to a new kind of second-hand bookstore supported by an eco-friendly atmosphere that engendered a network of captivating destinations with their hearts and souls fed by a love of books.
Fjærland, Norway’s Book Town near Jostedalsbreen also has bragging rights regarding location. With her neighbor, the largest glacier in mainland Europe, there are more than a few stories to tell in this town of less than 300 people and over a million books.
Fjærland, originally part of the bustling town of Leikanger, relied on a rich influx of travelers “commuting” by ferry along the Fjærlandsfjorden. Yet change was inevitable and in 1986, the Fjærland Tunnel changed the fate of this town forever, connecting Fjærland to the southeast along with the Frudal Tunnel completed 1994. These tunnels created unprecedented access to Norway’s west coast as far reaching as her capital Oslo , and made travel by ferry no longer necessary. The result was a town on the verge of extinction.
Not willing to disappear into mere folklore, the city made a decision to breathe new life into the district and restored some of the historic buildings, filling them with books. Lots of books! A recent stroll through this town was odd and quirky in the best way possible. I felt as if I had been transported into something resembling Whoville from Dr. Seuss, with a dash of Tim Burton’s flair for the eccentric. Yet this was not a bad thing, and with thousands of books in hundreds of languages whispering to me, it was an opportunity to honor the rich past of this extraordinary town and embrace her colorful present and hopeful future.
For more information about everything Norway has to offer check out VisitNorway