Jólabókaflóð

For the past few years, my wife and I have participated in the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood. I don’t know where I first came across this tradition, but the internet articles I read universally agreed that it involves gifting books to your loved ones on Christmas Eve so they can spend the evening reading. What could be better?

However, a question nagged at me each year as we picked out books for Jólabókaflóð, the question of authenticity. Is this a real tradition in Iceland? Or is this obscure, out-of-practice, or even mythological, like the idea that the Inuits have 400 words for snow? Apparently, the practice began during WWII when most materials were rationed. Most materials but not paper.

My internet research turned up mostly American’s offering boiler-plate descriptions, and while they all confirmed what I had read, I still didn’t know if this practice really went back to WWII rationing, if it had continued to the present, or if it was a large or a niche part of Icelandic society.

Therefore, I decided to start contacting actual Icelanders. With the use of my email address, Google search, and Google translate, I set out to find the true nature of Jólabókaflóð.

My first stop was the library in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and largest city. They referred me to Félag Íslenskra Bókaútgefenda, or the Icelandic Publishers Association. Within no time, I found myself trading emails with Heiðar Ingi Svansson, President of the association.

According to Svansson, Jólabókaflóð isn’t just a part of Icelandic culture, it’s integral to the country’s publishing industry. November and December alone account for 42% of the country’s book sales each year. When you add October, that percentage jumps to 56%! Its impact doesn’t stop with sales.

“This tradition and its season are the highlight and a climax for the whole book cultural sector in Iceland,” Svansson said. “That means that many new titles are published during this time and the effect of that is a lot of book-related events…authors signings and readings in coffeehouses and bars, publishing launch parties, etc.”

Were its origins as dramatic as the American articles and social media posts I’d read?

“This tradition began during World War II once Iceland had gained its independence from Denmark in 1944,” he confirmed. “Because of bad economy and depression, there were…very strict restrictions on many things you could import. And that limited very much the selection of commodity goods that you could choose as Christmas gifts. But fortunately, paper was one of the few commodities not rationed during the war. So paper was imported to produce books that were written and then printed in Iceland. By doing that, Icelanders shared their love of books even more as other types of gifts were in very short supply.”

Being an American, I am always cautious when it comes to cultural appropriation. This was another stumbling block between me and the full adoption of the practice. What would the Icelanders think of me bestowing books upon my loved ones, me with not a drop of Nordic blood?? I decided to ask one.

Svansson, for one, didn’t even realize Americans were beginning to practice Jólabókaflóð.

“But personally, I’m very happy to hear and I find it both very surprising and interesting…maybe we should put some more emphasis on spreading the good word more on an international level.”

Iceland holds two important events each year around this time.

“The first one is the Icelandic Literary Awards [which our association founded]. Its patron is the President of Iceland,” Svansson explained. “The prize was formed in 1989 and has ever since played a very important role in our Book and literary culture…books are nominated each year in three groups with a nomination ceremony 1st of December and then the winners are introduced in late January the year after.”

The second event is a book fair in late November.

“Publishers and authors introduce and sell new titles. It is accompanied by a diverse literature program for kids and adults. Unfortunately, we had to cancel this event last year and this year as well. Instead, there were some book-related online events.”

After a week of research and going straight to the source, I’m happy to report that Jólabókaflóð is alive and well, and we Americans are officially invited!

Need some ideas on what to give this year? These mysteries are a perfect fit!

Jólabókaflóð Mysteries

Jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood, is a literary tradition a number of American readers have been borrowing over the last few years. It centers on buying books for friends and loved ones and giving them on Christmas Eve. In this way, you can share your love of books and spend the evening reading by the Christmas tree, fireplace, or wherever you spend this important day.

If you’d like to know more about the tradition, check out my post in which I speak with the president of the Icelandic Publishers Association, Heiðar Ingi Svansson.

These titles are sure to keep you reading late into the night this Jólabókaflóð!

Rescue teams are sent to Lónsöræf in search of a group of missing people. What was their mission in the wilderness during the winter? Why did they leave the little shelter they had, poorly equipped and vulnerable? At the same time, strange events are happening at the radar station in Stokksnes. And on the headland there is a hole in the sea rock that attracts people… Not everything is as it seems here, whether it’s a bloodbath in a snow-covered landscape far from human settlements, a radar disturbance – or a child’s shoe that appears unexpectedly decades after it disappears. The Prey by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is an amazing story that makes the reader’s hair stand on end. Bráðin received Blóðdropann 2021 as the best Icelandic crime story of the year 2020. Buy an Icelandic copy today! Don’t read Icelandic? Try Gallows Rock.

Life was not always a dance of roses.

Tony is a young man who has always been an outsider in life. He grew up with a sick and drunk mother who had once been Iceland’s main star of hope in ballet. When her dreams of fame in the dance world come to naught, she tries to pass them on to her son with cruel methods – and dire consequences. In Öskjuhlíð there is a body that has clearly been lying there for a long time. The investigative lawyer Valdimar examines the case and gets Ylfa to join him, who is taking his first steps within the police. It soon becomes apparent that a brutal murderer is on the loose and that not everything is as it seems. Thriller writer Oskar Gudmundsson broke through with his first book Hilmar, followed by books Blood angel and Commandments. They were well received by readers and critics. Hilma received the Blood Drop in 2016 as the best crime story of the previous year and was nominated for the Glass Key as the best Nordic crime story. Get a copy in Icelandic today! Don’t read Icelandic? Try The Commandments.

The disappearance of four asylum seekers from a hostel has been announced and Hörður Grímsson is involved in the case. The search for the men is carried out in secret, as the police do not want the public to worry. If people can not be safe up here in little Iceland, where then? Get an Icelandic copy today!

First-grade teacher Desiree Tucker is on the brink of winter holidays with her new, romantic boyfriend when danger encroaches on her joy. Ominous, untraceable texts buzz on her cell phone. Terrifying secret Santa gifts show up for her in the classroom. As the stalker moves closer to the prey, Desiree doesn’t know who she can trust. Her charming new man is a prime suspect. Is he a deadly stalker? If not him, who? What can she learn from the legend of the snow kiss cookie? Just when she’s starting to believe in magic again, she finds herself fighting for her life. Just the right length for a snuggly Christmas Eve read while snacking on snow kiss cookies (recipe is included). Buy on Amazon!

When Annie Barkley discovers a boy living in the attic of her cookie shop, she’s stunned—and oddly elated. She can almost believe the universe is giving her back the infant son she lost eleven years ago. Annie senses that something bad happened to the boy, but he won’t talk. All she knows is that he’s terrified of being found. When her long-ago crush, police captain Sam Stern, stops by to inquire about a missing boy, Annie says she hasn’t seen him. Big mistake. Because that lie might cost her more than a romance with Sam. It also leaves her vulnerable to a ruthless pursuer, one who’s determined to silence the boy for good. This novella is a tale of love and intrigue that will keep readers up late on Christmas Eve. Buy it here today!

A heart attack sends detective Rory Naysmith reeling. Too young to retire, he accepts a position in small-town Winterset, Nebraska. Handed an unsolved truck hijacking case, Rory sets out to prove he can still go toe-to-toe with younger men. When the body of a Vietnam veteran turns up before Thanksgiving, he dons his fedora and spit-shines his shoes. But before the detective can solve the murder, an older woman disappears, followed closely by a second hijacking. He doggedly works the cases, following a thread that ties the crimes together as the town prepares for the Annual Christmas Gala. Rory digs deep to up his game, fearing the loss of his job, or worse—a disaster for Winterset. More than simply a detective mystery, this is the story of a small town with a plot that keeps the reader on edge and reading into the night. Now on Amazon!

It’s the 1950s, and everyone has a secret. When Harriet Laws loses her grandmother and her job, her happy life in London seems over. Alone, grief-stricken, and penniless, she thinks wildly of ending it all. Fate steps in as Tom Fletcher saves her, gives her hope, and guides her to new employment.  He takes her to dinner, and she finds him attractive. He’s older, but she doesn’t mind. Does he? Tom, a quiet, hardworking man, is unsure of Harriet’s feelings, but he’s also very busy building his business interests. So it’s no wonder a suave, sophisticated fellow walks off with Harriet right under Tom’s nose. What follows, no one could have predicted, as Harriet not only loses contact with all her friends but must again fight for her very life…will she ever see Tom again? Go to Amazon to get your copy!

Ezra James used to be a big deal: Harvard graduate, FBI agent, beautiful wife. After being accused of fabricating evidence in a serial killer trial, he finds himself suspended, on the verge of a divorce, and working security at a posh Catholic school in Chicago. Then something out-of-the-ordinary happens: a young student-teacher is attacked during a Christmas pageant and left for dead in the snow with a noose around her neck and an electrical burn. Plus, she’s pregnant. Ezra, along with up-and-coming police detective, Lucia Vargas, and school chaplain, Fr. Remy Mbombo, must work fast before the culprit returns to finish the job. Get an ebook for only $5.99 on Kindle.

Willow Daniels has a heart of gold and is willing to help anyone who needs it, but when she helps Ethan McCormick one snowy night, she may just have made the biggest mistake of her life. Trapped by a winter storm in a tiny, North Yorkshire village, Willow is forced to re-evaluate everything she believes in, and wonders if anyone is truly who they seem. Fate may have brought her to Ethan, but as danger closes in around them, Willow must draw on a strength she never knew she possessed in order to protect the man she has grown to love, not only against his worst enemy, but also against himself. Romance, mystery and suspense set against a backdrop of a tiny Yorkshire village at Christmas time make this a perfect Joloablokafod book to curl up with!

Get your copy at http://mybook.to/WinterStormEGray!

All Darrell Henshaw wanted was to enjoy his honeymoon with his beautiful wife, Erin, in the charming town of Crystal River on the sunny Gulf Coast of Florida. Only a pair of ghosts decide to intrude on their celebration. And not just any ghosts, the spirits of two young Latino children. Unwilling at first to derail the honeymoon for yet another ghost hunt, Darrell finally concedes when a painting of the kids comes alive, weeping and pleading for his help. When he and Erin track down the artist, they discover the children’s family were migrant workers the next county over. But when they travel there, their questions about the kids gets their car shot up and Erin hospitalized. Torn between fear and rage, Darrell must decide how far he will go to get justice for two young children he never even knew.

SCARLET AT CRYSTAL RIVER is the third entry in the Haunted Shores Mysteries and, like the first two, is a cold case murder mystery wrapped in a ghost story and served with a side of romance. But it is also a Christmas mystery, this time celebrating the holiday on the sunny Gulf coast of Florida.

Get your copy today!

Have more titles you think should be on this list? Email me at kolbestevenj@gmail.com