The Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “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.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

Can You Guess the Book by the Subtitle?

Letters From James Bond Creator Ian Fleming Detailing His Infidelity Hit the Auction Block

Sony
Sony

If the adage “write what you know” truly applies, then James Bond author Ian Fleming took it to heart. Like 007, his famously womanizing character who later went on to star in a hugely successful movie franchise, Fleming was apparently prone to finding himself in choppy relationship waters, according to a collection of private letters coming up for auction.

Sotheby’s is offering a collection of 160 pieces of correspondence belonging to Fleming, including a series of exchanges between the writer and his wife, Ann, that detail his infidelity.

“You mention ‘bad old bachelor days’—the only person you stopped sleeping with when they ceased was me!” Ann wrote, apparently referencing Fleming’s indiscretions. Other letters seem to hint at a more stable, if lurid, coupling, with Fleming affectionately referring to her as “darling baby” and opening his messages by addressing her as “Dear Monkey” or “Darling Pig.”

Before they married, Ann expressed hope Fleming would arrive to take her away from her then-husband, Esmond, Viscount Rothermere, and “put me in your bed with a raw cowhide whip in my hand so as I can keep you well behaved for 40 years.” Clearly, that plan didn't succeed.

Fleming and Ann were married in 1952 and remained together until his death in 1964. The letters were often exchanged while the writer was on retreat at Goldeneye, Jamaica, where he wrote many of his Bond novels. The letters also frequently reference his work and some of Bond’s origins. In one, he explains work is going so well he’s completing a chapter a day. Describing a boat given to him by a friend, he wrote that “I have christened [it] Octopussy.”

The salacious letters will be auctioned from December 3 to 10 and are expected to fetch between about $260,000 and $400,000.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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