Tales of Iceland- A Different Type of Travel Memoir

Why I don’t read travel memoirs

I like reading about other countries and looking at pictures of exotic places as much as the next guy, but there’s a certain level of narcissism that comes with travel memoirs that I usually can’t bring myself to tolerate through an entire book. In reality, it’s because I’d rather be the one out there “living the dream,” not just indulged in a book about somebody else doing it. But having finally taken a trip out of the country earlier this year, I suppose I can now taper myself through a whole travel book without getting overly envious about someone else’s overseas adventures. Travel blogs, however, are still on my no-fly list (nobody wants to read about your summer in Spain).

TOI_Final_smallMy imminent reintroduction to this genre comes from Chicago Redeye columnist, Stephen Markley, and his latest book, Tales of Iceland, which isn’t what I expected out of a travel book. To preface this review, I’m pulling the Amazon description of what I’ll perceive to be a typical travel memoir and the epitome of a narcissistic travel writer:
Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.”

*BARF* Are you serious Rita?!? Get off your high horse! Nobody wants to read that shit. I’m a twenty-something recent college grad, what interest do I have in reading something that I am presuming to be the travel tales of a gold-digging divorcee?

Luckily, there’s other travel memoirs out there. Tales of Iceland provides a refreshing change of pace to add some diversity to all the look-at-how-cool-I-am travel stories, so that a twenty-something dude doesn’t have to read an entire book about how awesome Rita thinks she is.

Tales of Iceland is on the opposite side of the Rita-spectrum. For example, the protagonist didn’t find god. Nobody got mugged. Nobody slept in the middle of a volcano. And there were no near-death experiences. Tales of Iceland was just 130 pages of 3 dudes with a rental car, chilling in Iceland for 2 1/2 weeks. There’s pages worth of unrelated footnotes, tons irrelevant information, and way more than a handful of dick-jokes. But then again, sometimes that’s all you can really ask for in a travel memoir.
Markley’s own disclaimer on the book is a little more blunt- “This is not a “backpacker’s guide” to shit. I did not live in Iceland for six months. I didn’t even have a backpacker’s backpack. I had a little rolly-type suitcase my mom gave me several years ago, which I wheeled around loudly over cobblestones looking very mom-like…So if you’ve bought this e-book, just know that it will be a little foul. It will not teach you any-thing about Iceland that you can’t look up on Wikipedia.”

I recently sat down with Stephen Markley at the busiest Starbucks in Chicago to hear more about his new book.

Me: How did you get started writing Tales of Iceland? Do you read many travel books?

Steve: I actually don’t really. I was just at a crossroads of a few different projects and my buddy, Matt, suggested I do a quick, fun travel book.

Despite your disclaimer, I actually learned a lot about Iceland…

The goal of the book is to be funny, interesting, and educational at the same time. I did some research before going, but I didn’t know I would be writing a book about the trip at the time. So I ended up doing a lot of the research after I got back. Part of traveling to a country should be learning as much as you can from the experience. 

Iceland looks pretty small on a map, did you pretty much get to see the whole country while you were there?

With the rental car, we really got to see a lot. But there were some parts we didn’t hit and room for more tales if I were to ever go back.

What was your favorite city you stopped at?

Seyðisfjörður was the most scenic and beautiful spot. It was this little town set in a valley with waterfalls, rivers, and clouds. Like I said in the book, it was like Twin Peaks meets a scene out of Lord of the Rings.

A photo of Seyðisfjörður via Flickr

A photo of Seyðisfjörður via Flickr

Are there any plans for more “Tales of…” books?

We plan on turning it into a small series with multiple authors. The end goal of these books is to serve as a promotional tool to get more people to travel to these places. Next up, we’re thinking Costa Rica or Ecuador.

Do you have any tips for aspiring travel writers?

It all comes with persistence and luck. And the more persistence you have, the more luck you’ll have.

 Below you can get the Tales of Iceland eBook off Amazon:
Amazon.com – Tales of Iceland

Also feel free to check out Stephen Markley’s other books:
The Great Dysmorphia
Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold and Published This Very Book

The pictures included in the post are from Matt at GiveLiveExplore. You can see more pictures, read about his publishing company, and check out books he likes at Give Live Explore.


  1. Mary Ellen Croteau says:

    I love Iceland, have been there three times and so was anxious to read this. Why did your review start with such misogynistic tripe for the first 3 paragraphs? Why do you care? Why not just ignore that particular book like you ignore the other 99.9% of published books? Why do you feel compelled to differentiate yourself from (older) women? Should I now think that this is a book I will not enjoy because it is about 3 young white guys?
    Please remove me from your blog. Thanks.

    • chicagoranter says:

      This site is called Chicago Rants. So yes, I begin my blog posts, reviews, and articles with ‘rants’. The example I used was picked at random off a list of travel memoirs on Amazon. Whether you choose to perceive it as a ‘misogynistic tripe’ is up to you. Would you have rather I ranted about a male author instead? Would that be fair? Tales of Iceland is an enjoyable travel memoir and I recommend all my readers whether they be male, female, transgender, old, young, living, or dead.

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