Verso - August 2017

Kristi Hanson - Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Verso - August 2017

It may only be August, but if you lived in Iceland, you would be getting ready for one of the biggest literary traditions in the country. Icelanders buy more books per capita than any other country in the world, and the majority of the books are sold between September and early November, to be given as Christmas gifts.

Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood” dates back to World War II, when imports of giftware into Iceland were severely restricted. Paper and books were not as restricted, however, so books were often purchased as Christmas gifts. The season of the book flood begins when Bokatidindi, a catalog of every new book published in Iceland, is delivered to every single household in Iceland. Icelanders give books to one another on December 24th, and then everyone retires to bed with a stack of new books and a mug of tea or hot cocoa, to spend the evening reading. This tradition continues today, and is a major factor in Iceland’s becoming one of the most literary countries. And there is a myth going round in Iceland that every Icelander secretly dreams of writing a book. Around 50% of those who dream of writing manage to do some sort of writing before they die, with many of the books being self-published.

So what kinds of books are popular in Iceland? Biographies and fiction top the list. Scandinavian crime stories have consistently topped the charts as well. And Icelanders prefer physical, hard-backed books, rather than paperbacks or e-books.

Try these Icelandic crime novels for yourself.

Heaven and Hell

Jon Kalman Stefansson

Jar City

Bernard Scudder

Last Rituals

Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Facts about Iceland…
  • Per capita Iceland has the highest number of book and magazine publications and 10% of the country’s population will publish a book in their lifetimes.
  • Icelandic telephone directories list Icelanders by first name alphabetically.
  • Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland.
  • There aren’t any McDonald’s Restaurants anywhere in Iceland.
  • There are no surnames or family names in Iceland – Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system, which includes a last name that is comprised from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.
  • At about 39,000 square miles, Iceland is small – close to the size of Ohio.
  • A majority of Icelanders believe in elves.
  • Bobby Fischer is buried in Iceland, near the town of Selfoss.