Review: The Museum of Whales You Will Never See
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, and Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unusual Museums, by A. Kendra Greene (2020)
On it's surface, this is a book about a number of small and very quirky museums in Iceland, which I'll talk more about individually below. Greene meets the founders of these museums to find out the history behind them - "them" being the museums and also the people who created the museums. Along the way she describes Iceland itself in beautiful imagery, and talks about what makes a museum (vs. a collection). This book is more literary non-fiction than it is a guidebook, and at it's heart it is, quite simply, a love letter to Iceland. I've never been, but if I wasn't already interested, this book would make me want to visit.
The book is also a lovely object to hold - small and pretty and smooth - and Greene's illustrations are delightful and sweet. The inclusion of her sketches make it feel like you're reading a travel diary... and like a travel diary, sometimes it drags on a bit about something the author finds interesting that the reader would just as soon skim over. Overall, however, the writing and the subject matter are engaging. I only wished there were photos included, so I've added some below, with a description of just a few of the museums highlighted in the book.
Petra's Stone & Mineral Collection: This is exactly what it sounds like - A woman named Petra has been collecting rocks for her entire life, and they are on display inside and outside of her home, which has been made into a museum. Thousands of geodes and other beautiful stones... I wanna go there!
Sigurgeir's Bird Museum: It all started when, as a child, Sigurgeir Stefansson was given a taxidermied bird. Now the collection contains one of every Icelandic breeding bird. (Importantly, none of the birds have been killed for the purpose of preservation in a museum - most are "gifts" from locals who find them already dead.)
Icelandic Sea Monster Museum: A museum started by a couple of friends who were interested in the many eye-witness accounts of sea monster sightings from around the country, including "a variety of relics and artifacts relating to this mysterious branch of zoology."
Phallological Museum: The world's largest display of penises and penile parts. I'm not including photos, except of the sign for the museum, in case that's not something you want to have to look at... but you can click on the link to see more!
UP NEXT: Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia