Jolabokaflod, or the Yule Book Flood, refers to the time between October and December when the majority of books are published and purchased in Iceland. During World War II, this tiny island had strict currency restrictions and limited access to imported goods. But paper was cheap, so Icelanders began giving books as Christmas presents and a lasting cultural tradition was born. Most Icelandic families will spend Christmas Eve huddled around a fire, drinking hot chocolate and reading.
The Flood begins in late September with the release of the much-anticipated Bokatidindi, a free yearly catalogue of new books that is mailed to every home. This is not junk mail. Icelanders go bananas for Bokatidindi; the release day is a sort of national holiday. Think back to the days when the Sears Wish Book would appear in your mailbox. I know my brother and I spent hours pouring over the Wish Book, dog-earing pages and dreaming of the amazing and wondrous things that Santa might leave under our tree. The Bokatidind only lists books, but this highly literate country goes completely bonkers for it, as a hardback book is the gift to give in Iceland.
The result is a nation whose inhabitants read more books per capita than any other country in the world. And since reading is correlated with happiness, positive self-esteem, intelligence and self-efficacy, we can assume those inhabitants are among the most content in the world as well.
Though we don’t exchange gifts in my family, we do fill a stocking for each child. My friend Tammy turned me onto a charming tradition of filling each stocking with four things:
Wants are easy (legos or an itunes gift card). A need usually means a new toothbrush and guitar picks. A wear is always a new set of pajamas that can be worn all Christmas Day and into Boxing Day.
But the read is the best. The librarian in me loves choosing the perfect book for all the someones in my life. Here are my favorite reads from 2017 (and who might love them). Each is available at our awesome local library too, so grab them on your next visit and start your own Jolabokaflod. Happy reading!
For the one who feels blue in the winter:
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Aza thinks she knows where the fugitive billionaire is…and is hopeful that the reward money will fund her college plans. If only she can keep her obsessive thoughts at bay. This is one of the funniest and most heart-wrenchingly honest accounts of mental illness I’ve ever read.
For your best girlfriend:
The Baker’s Secret by Stephan Kiernan
This historical fiction is set in Normandy during the German Occupation of World War II. Emma, the town’s plucky and resourceful heroine, concocts a scheme to feed her hungry neighbors…and offer them hope in their darkest days.
For the White Elephant party:
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer & Dylan Thuras
It’s basically a wanderlust bucket list of amazing, unbelievable and overlooked places on earth. Did you know you can attend Elf School In Iceland to learn to spot “hidden folk” like elves and gnomes? Or that there is a working taproom in a South African baobob tree? Or that Beijing boasts an exact working replica of the coffee shop Central Perk from the TV show Friends? Learn more about our bizarre, amazing world. Each entry is less than a page, so it makes a perfect coffee table book.
For anyone who lived though the 80’s and now has teenagers:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Not a new book, but I just got around to listening to it. It is a Virtual Reality quest and a geeky love story and completely un-put-downable. The audible version is read by Wil Wheaton (my fellow nerds gleefully get this wink, right?) and makes an amazing listen as you ferry the kids back and forth from school. The kids won’t want to get out of the car, and you can impress the passengers with your epic knowledge of 80’s pop culture trivia about Dungeons and Dragons, Family Ties and Duran Duran.
For the friend who claims she hates poetry:
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver
More than 200 of the best poems from the Pulitzer-Prize wining national treasure. Mary Oliver is the reason I love poetry.
For the feminist or the foodie:
What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro
Six women, each famous in their time, and how what they ate shaped who they became. This culinary biography showcases six fascinating women (including Eleanor Roosevelt and Eva Braun) through the lens of their relationship to food and drink.
For the sci-fi fan:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Originally published in 2001, it’s a classic I just reread and constantly gift. This epic tale is a treatise on American spirit masquerading as a Road Trip story. The premise is that gods only gain power via people’s belief in them. The road trip culminates in an epic battle between the “old” gods who’ve fallen out of favor (Ganesh, Jesus and Odin, just to name a few) and the “new” American gods (Celebrity, Internet, Sex and Materialism). Gaiman is a master storyteller and the length (560 pages) will keep you busy all winter long.
For the nephew who always asks the Big Questions
Astrophysics For People In a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
12 short, easily digested chapters that break down the basics of astrophysics. So you can discuss the Big Bang, dark matter, the nature of time and the possibility of extraterrestrial life like a well-informed boss.