It is common knowledge that Iceland boasts more novelists per capita than any other country in the world, with a reported number of 5 books penned and published per 1000 Icelanders.
While this may not be beneficial towards making a living as a writer, it does mean that there are a wealth of Icelandic language books ready for reading every Christmas. The passion for new literature is so ingrained in the culture that Reykjavík was deemed a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011.
This was no doubt aided by Jólabókaflóðið, otherwise known as Iceland’s Yule Book Flood. It is a time of year when freshly edited manuscripts are lined up for publication in the months leading up to Christmas.
A thick brochure compiled of new books, known as Bókatíðindi (“book news”), is distributed for free to Icelandic households each year. This magazine’s book count will often exceed 800 new titles, providing a wealth of choice for this literature-loving nation.
The tradition originated during the frugal days of the Second World War when strict regulations on currency restricted the number of gifts an individual was allowed to import. Because these regulations were more lapse when it came to imported paper, books became the cheapest present option at Christmas.
Over time, this led to books becoming the most popular Christmas gift, a trend that has continued to this day. Icelanders will normally receive a book from their family or friends on the 24th December and spend the rest of the holiday reading.
Jólabókaflóðið also means a flurry of public readings, publisher events and book vendors, all looking to capitalise on this ocean of new words or to showcase the latest work of the author.
In the past, many of Icelandic publishers have inadvertently exceeded the demand of the public; their warehouses stocked to the brim with books they are unable to sell. One year, it was reported that over 100 different cookbooks would available in stores over the Christmas period. That is no doubt an infeasible number, even if you happen to be a gourmet chef!
Generally, fiction and biographies are the bestsellers, though there are exceptions to this. Only a few years ago, the number one purchase was a nonfiction photography book detailing the history of tractors. Fiction books are thought to be difficult to release to a large readership in Iceland any other time than the Jólabókaflóðið, making it a crucial period of the year for writers looking to gain more exposure.
If you have an Icelander in your life, be they a friend, colleague or beloved member of the family, make sure to purchase them one of the 2018’s latest reads. They’ll no doubt thank you for the literature, and you can rest easy knowing you’ve done your part to keep this most festive of traditions alive
Have you heard about Jólabókaflóðið before this article? Which Christmas traditions do you hold in high regard from your own home? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.