I often wonder, in what esteem do countries all over the world hold their writers, books, and book culture. Do they give their authors the recognition they deserve? Are books seen as valuable gifts to the heart and soul or things to simply pass the time away? Well, in the beautiful country of Iceland with its sweeping hills, quaint villages, and picturesque water views, you will find written works are held as high as the fjords. You better believe these Icelanders take their books and authors seriously.
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With just weeks before Christmas, this is really prime time for the people of Iceland! It starts when a book catalog (Bokatidindi) is released in November of all the published books in the country. Soon, shoppers begin perusing both bookstore shelves and e-book shelves to find the perfect gift for their loved ones. Once the gift exchange begins and books are given to their new owner, everyone settles down with a hot beverage or a non-alcoholic seasonal ale (jolabland) and the reading begins! This is a beautiful and cozy tradition called ‘Jolabokaflod,’ known as the Christmas Book Flood.
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This age old tradition is very important for the culture of the country as well as its publishing industry. “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,” says Kristjan B. Jonasson, President of the Iceland Publishers Association. Iceland publishes more books per capita than anywhere else (besides the U.K.)!
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It all began in World War II, when the currency and imports were low and the restrictions on paper were lenient. This led to the Icelanders spending what they had on books as giftware! Now that history has carried over into present day and taken on a new life! According to a BBC article, one in ten Icelanders will publish a book. Pretty crazy right? For a Nordic island country of about 300,000, the tales of Icelandic settlers date back to the 9th century, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally old-fashioned. Get this: there are barcodes on park benches so you can scan them with your smartphone and listen to books at the park.
Image Via Mother Nature Network
Parents, grandparents, friends, relative, libraries, parks…tour guides. You can literally find stories, sagas, books, and poems through anyone and anything. The salaries are good for writers and the state supports literature and translation. The geography, history, culture, and people inspire everyone to put their best words forward and send them off as gifts.
There’s an old Icelandic saying: “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, which means each person “has a book in their stomach.” And it’s true. Everyone’s got something to give. Now goodbye all. Iceland, here I come.
Image Via Giphy
Feature Image Via Odyssey