‘ad ganga med bok I maganum’ – everyone gives birth to a book.
Icelandic book culture is impressive.
Public bench barcodes embedded with stories, book-talk as common with plumbers as academics, the most book buying people in the world, and a staggering 1 in 10 Icelanders writing (or birthing) a book at some point in their life.
Not least in the reasons for such a thriving book scene is the Jolabokaflod: The Christmas Book Flood. This describes the yearly boom in book sales between October and November in preparation for the Icelandic tradition of Christmas Eve book giving, followed by an evening of fireside reading for young and old alike.
Economically, the origins of Jolabokaflod are found in the low tax on paper imports of 1944 following World War 2. This presented books as the viable go-to widespread Christmas gift for all Icelanders. The trend was encouraged by the Bokatidindi, the free catalogue of new publications delivered to every home in September.
Whether it was economically or culturally driven, channeling some of the intensely overflowing excitement of Children on Christmas Eve into sitting down to read a new book is a stroke of genius and will do more good than shoving 1000 bad football stories down young boys throats.
The Icelandic literary DNA goes deeper still.
Storytelling runs strongly through Iceland’s history in the form of the poetic Eddas and medieval sagas. Some also put down their creative thought and inventiveness to inhabiting Iceland for 1,000 years prior to the presence of electricity or the invention of the combustion engine. They suggest that surviving this harsh environment for such a period of time demands imagination: ‘if you stand still, you die’.
Iceland is number six for highest GDP per capita in the world, has the highest male life expectancy, they have no armed forces (since they were banned 700 years ago), households are supplied directly from underground volcanic water (comprising 85% of energy used), they elected the world’s first female president, pure air, excellent state education which is used by 99% of children, the combination of the Nordic welfare system with the American entrepreneurial spirit (low taxes and big public service investment), is considered by the Human Development Index Rankings as the happiest nation in the world, and … Bjork.
Actually, this isn’t all down to reading more, and a lot of these may be the causes of such a healthy reading culture. That said, the virtues of Iceland are interlinked and reading is an important ingredient in what makes it such a praiseworthy place.
There’s plenty more to say, but it’s almost Christmas and I need to leave you time to order a copy and read the Icelandic tale of Flumbra: the dim witted giantess who falls in love.
- Cardiff has about the same population as Iceland. Anyone for starting Jolabokaflod Cymru? Give and read books on Christmas Eve)
- Include Jolabokaflod in list of potential baby names.
- Develop micro-Iclandic book culture in your house.
Written by Joshua Morgan