Recommended Reading (February 2021)

The Sowell Collection’s 2021 Spring Virtual Reading Series begins on February 23 at 7 p.m. with a reading by A. Kendra Greene from The Museum of Whales You Will Never See. Register here or email

Penguin, 2020.

The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is a hard book to pin down. In sections divided into “Cabinets” and “Galleries,” it explores fifteen of Iceland’s 265 museums and public collections. The extras – a map, points of reference, drawings, and appendices – mimic the structure of traditional travel guides. Yet, underlying these (mimetic) formal structures is a conscious sense of whimsy.

As we would expect, Greene describes what Icelanders collect and how those objects are preserved and displayed, but she doesn’t catalog them. Rather, she focuses on storytelling. In his review Will McGrath acknowledges, “It is a clever move to tell a story of a country through the things it collects, which is to say a story of the passions of its residents. In this way, Greene’s book operates as a sly people’s history, the ground-level chronicle of a nation.”

Yet, it is not only a people’s history, nor is it just how individual museums came into being that interests Greene. “These things, [one curator] says, who knows?” The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is a meditation on the act of collecting – collecting as an act of storytelling, for the individual and the community.

These are old forces…The way we love rocks and birds and old boards and brass rings, the way we survive this world because of the stories we fashion from its shards. We do not just keep and collect things, amass and restore them. We trouble ourselves to repurpose, create, and invent things just to carry, a little easier, those stories we cannot live without.

Greene is a writer and artist living in Dallas, Texas. She has an MFA in nonfiction and a graduate certificate in book arts from the University of Iowa and has received a Fulbright grant, a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, and a Harvard Library Innovation Lab Fellowship. She is a visiting professor at the University of Texas, a guest artist at Nasher Sculpture Center, and an associate editor at Southwest Review.

The Museum of Whales You Will Never See is available at

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