A quantum of Iceland
An introduction to Jolabokaflod
This issue of The Quantum of Light heralds a new partnership between MTN Media and Jolabokaflod CIC, to share our common goals of creating a buzz around reading, encouraging people to see books as an unparalleled entertainment choice and introducing the world to the wonderful Icelandic literary tradition of Jólabókaflóðið.
In each edition, Jolabokaflod CIC will share author-focused content in the following categories:
1. Jolabokaflod-style themes, such ‘reading for pleasure’
2. Book trade news
3. Tips for authors, experienced and new
4. Book recommendations and reviews
Let’s start the ball rolling with an introduction to the cultural phenomenon of Jólabókaflóðið.
The last uninhabited place on Earth to be settled – Iceland – welcomed its first citizens in AD 870, followed by a period of settlement over 60 years or so by Vikings from Norway and kidnapped women from the far north of the British Isles. The seasons in Iceland are summers with extremely long days, followed by winters with hardly any sunlight. The new settlers would have made their own entertainment by telling each other stories and recording their exploits, which were eventually written down as medieval Sagas and Eddas, still easily understandable to modern Icelanders.
A love of literature is hard-wired into the national psyche, a trait that continues to the present day. Here are a few facts that will amaze you:
· One in ten Icelanders writes a published book (BBC News Magazine)
· 50 per cent of Icelanders read more than eight books a year; 93% read more than one book a year (The Reykjavik Grapevine)
· Reykjavík City Library, the largest public library in Iceland, welcomed 700,000 visitors in 2009 in a city of 200,000 people. Book loans totalled 1.2 million in the same year (Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature)
It is not surprising that the reading habit in Iceland has become embedded into their national culture.
Every year in Iceland there is a seasonal retail cycle, which starts with the launch of new books in the late Fall to the reading of these books at Christmas. This period is known as Jólabókaflóðið, which translates roughly into English as ‘Christmas book flood’ – Jola is ‘yule’, boka is ‘book’ and flod is ‘flood’ – that describes a gushing of new books.
This tradition began during World War II, in 1944: the year when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark.
The country had a good war, economically. Situated halfway across the Atlantic between North America and the UK, Reykjavik was a safe haven for respite from the Battle of the Atlantic that raged throughout the war to protect convoys that transported essential provisions from the USA and Canada to the British.
Paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war, so Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were short supply. This increase in giving books as presents reinforced Iceland’s culture as a nation of bookaholics.
Every year since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.
During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.
Jolabokaflod CIC believes everyone outside Iceland would love to hear about the Christmas book flood and to consider making it part of the way they celebrate the festive season.
This not-for-profit organisation retains the Icelandic concept of buying, giving and reading books to mark Christmas, anniversaries, holidays, special events and festival occasions, without losing the rich heritage of its Icelandic origins.
The Jolabokaflod section in The Quantum of Light will share this enthusiasm for celebrating books and reading with everyone who reads the magazine.
Now let’s get on with the show.