Holiday on Ice

December 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

At NPR.org, a fascinating look at one country that does Christmas right:

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders. But what’s really unusual is the timing: Historically, a majority of books in Iceland are sold from late September to early November. It’s a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood.”

“The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,” says Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association. “Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it’s the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.”

What kind of books, exactly?

“Generally fiction and biographies would be the mainstays, although it varies a lot,” [researcher Baldur] Bjarnason says. “Two years ago one of the surprise best-sellers was a pictorial overview of the history of tractors in Iceland.”

That book, And Then Came Ferguson, wasn’t the only unusual breakout success. Another, Summerland: The Deceased Describe Their Death And Reunions In The Afterlife, came out last year. The book, by Gudmundur Kristinsson, an author in his 80s who believes he can talk to the dead, sold out completely before Christmas 2010 — and sold out yet again after being reprinted in February 2011.

Iceland lays claim to one Nobel laureate: Halldór Laxness (The Great Weaver from Kashmir; The Atom Station) in 1955.

Here in western Massachusetts we got a light snowfall on Christmas morning, and were it not for family visiting from out of town, the thought of a hushed day spent drinking coffee (or hot bourbon cider) and reading would have been delightful. But Santa supplements his good-willed omniscience with some clever Google stalking, apparently, as he brought me some wonderful surprises from my Amazon wish list: Karl Taro Greenfeld’s Triburbia; Dorothy Baker’s Young Man With a Horn; Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works (which you can also buy on Kindle, ironically, given that it includes Baker’s famous New Yorker piece trashing the then-new device); Object Lessons from The Paris Review; and James Wood’s The Fun Stuff.

The teenagers down the block, from the sounds of things, got new skateboards.

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