Iceland is a small island nation, home to only about 330,000 people. Its population is generally rather homogenous, in part to its relatively isolated location in the North Atlantic. And one thing that many Icelanders have in common is a love of books. As the BBC notes, there’s a saying, “ad ganga med bok I maganum” which literally translated to “[everyone] has a book in their stomach,” but means that everyone has the desire to give birth to a book. Wikipedia further outlines the role of the written word in Icelandic society:
Icelanders are avid consumers of literature, with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world. For its size, Iceland imports and translates more international literature than any other nation. Iceland also has the highest per capita publication of books and magazines, and around 10% of the population will publish a book in their lifetimes.
Iceland’s love of books goes back centuries and during World War II, according to NPR, the culture erupted. Gift-giving around Christmastime didn’t slow much, even though imports were greatly restricted due to the war. Importing gifts was difficult, but paper was allowed in. As a result, books became a popular gift. And as a result of that, something called Jólabókaflóð happened and continues to this day.
Jólabókaflóð translates to the “Christmas Book Flood.” It describes how crazy the Icelandic book publishing world gets around the holiday season. Every year, each household in Iceland receives a catalog, free, called Bokatidindi, which lists all the new books coming out over the coming weeks. And it lists a lot of books — 500 to 1,000 new books are published in Iceland every year during this period.
That sounds great, but it’s not necessarily sustainable. As the Reykjavik Grapevine points out, this means that it’s hard for a new book to gain any meaningful attention: “Someone was throwing a release party one day, then the next day someone else was, so the previous book suddenly became old news.” And as the Grapevine further notes, the back catalog of books collecting dust on shelves is ever-growing. So don’t be surprised if the Jólabókaflóð turns into something more akin to a mere trickle in the future.
From the Archives: Breaking the Ice: On a small, insular island, accidentally dating your cousin is a real possibility. Here’s how Iceland handles it.
Take the Quiz: Name the Icelandic equivalent for the English name.
Related: “The Great Gatsby,” the book.