The so-called “Christmas Book Flood” (Jólabókaflóðið) refers to the annual publication of new books occurring during the months before Christmas in Iceland. Newly released books are listed in a yearly compilation (Bókatíðindi) that is distributed to households for free in November.
The phenomenon of the “Christmas Book Flood” traces its roots to, on the one hand, Iceland’s centuries-long literary tradition, and, on the other hand, strict currency restrictions during WWII. The restrictions limited the number of imported gifts to Iceland; considering, however, that restrictions on imported paper were more lenient than on other products – books became the default Christmas gift.
SORT OF LIKE A BIBLICAL FLOOD
An article in the Icelandic newspaper Þjóðviljinn from 1984, compares the Book Flood to another, more famous deluge: “The Biblical flood has much in common with the Christmas flood, although the former was a one-off occurrence and the latter occurs annually. Just like the flood in Genesis, the Christmas Book Flood lasts for forty days and forty nights.
In much the same way that the Biblical flood lifted Noah’s Ark above the surface of the Earth, so, too, does the Christmas Book Flood raise literature above the flat lands, lifting the written “ark” (the Icelandic word for ark, ‘örk’ can mean both ‘a large, commodious boat‘ and a ‘sheet of paper‘) of Icelandic contemporary literature.”
IT'S ONLY GETTING BIGGER
2018 was a record-breaking year for the publication of Icelandic fiction, poetry, and children’s books. According to Bryndís Loftsdóttir, director of the Icelandic Publishers Association, the number of children’s books published in 2018 increased by 47% compared to 2017 (fiction saw an increase of 21% and poetry 51%).
According to most recent data from Statistics Iceland, 1,488 books were published in Iceland in 2015 and it is likely that over half of them were published during the annual Christmas Book Flood (publication reached an all-time high in 2008, however).
A press release from the Icelandic Literature Centre, on October 31, stated that foreign translations of Icelandic literature have tripled over the past decade. If you’re interested in getting swept up by the Icelandic Christmas Flood this year, there are over 40 new Icelandic titles to choose from, i.e. that have recently been translated into foreign languages.
A FEW RECOMMENDATIONS
On Time and Water – Andri Snær Magnason’s newest book is about Climate Change. Billed as, “the book that will make you understand what our future holds for us – if we don’t act immediately,” On Time and Water is based on interviews and advice by leading scientists in glacial science, ocean science, and geography. Personal, historical, and mythological stories are also woven into Magnason’s narrative.
Drápa – Gerður Kristný Guðjónsdóttir’s Drápa was translated into English last year by Rory McTurk. The book is a novel-in-verse in the form of the Viking Age skaldic “drápa” verse. Although initially employed as a laudatory verse honouring kings, lords, and gods, in Drápa, Gerður uses the form to retell the story of a young woman who is lost and then tragically murdered in downtown Reykjavík.
The Greenhouse – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s tender depiction of a young man dealing with the loss of his mother and the arrival of an unplanned offspring was a bestseller in Europe. The young gardener’s nurturing masculinity is at the heart of this gem of a novel and Auður’s quiet prose is bound to earn a place in any reader’s heart.