Every year in November, Iceland experiences what is known as jólabókaflóðið, or “the Christmas book flood”. It’s when publishers flood the market with new or [occasionally] re-released books, in time for Christmas. This is because one of the most long-standing Yule traditions in this country is to give the gift of books for Christmas – new Icelandic books, in particular.
The Christmas book flood is a big deal up here. Book reviews are all over in the media during the weeks leading up to Christmas – in newspapers, on radio and TV – and some of the new publications are announced on the RÚV 12 o’clock news hour. The buzz is all about which books are good and which are not, which will sell well this year and which won’t, and conversations revolve around which books people would like to receive for Christmas.
And once the holidays arrive, Nicelanders will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.
Iceland [as many of you will know] is the country that sells the greatest number of books per capita – and most of them are sold in the weeks leading up to Christmas.The book catalogue Bókatíðindi, which is published each November and lists every published book during this Christmas season, included 760 titles this year. Sales of new Icelandic novels were exceptionally good this season, with over 100,000 titles sold, meaning that each household in the country received at least one new Icelandic novel. Evidently the Áfram Ísland campaign is delivering results, since sales of Icelandic books over foreign ones were particularly high this year [in fact, Icelandic merchants report an increase in sales of Icelandic products across the board – they were definately the gifts of choice this Christmas].
Normally I put an English-language book on my Christmas wish list, but this year I asked for an Icelandic novel – Skaparinn [The Creator] by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir – and got it! It’s about a man who works in a factory that makes full-sized silicon dolls … I haven’t started reading it yet [I’m on the home stretch reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty] so I can’t tell you much more than that, but it has got rave reviews. For EPI I got a book called Brevis Commentarius de Islandia, a collection of writings from the latter part of the 16th century, written by a man called Arngrímur Jónsson hinn lærði [“the learned”] to correct various misconceptions that foreigners had about Iceland at that time. EPI went out to buy it for his father for Christmas and became totally engrossed in the display copy they had at the bookstore … so of course there was no question what book he’d get under the tree. AAH, meanwhile, got What is the What by Dave Eggers in Icelandic translation – although she plans to exchange it for the English-language version.
And what about you? Do you read much at this time of year? Did you get any books for Christmas? Were there any on your Christmas wish list?
RAIN AND SPRING-LIKE TEMPS
As forecast, all our snow was gone on Christmas Eve, and has been more or less absent since. The last two days have been particularly mild, with temps up near the 10°C mark. Blustery and quite refreshing, actually. Right now it’s 7°C [45F] and damp, with a bit of a breeze. Sunrise was at 11.22 and sunset will arrive at 3.37 pm.
[This post is filed under the MY ICELAND category.]