December 11, 2015

Iceland celebrates annual “Christmas book flood”



Image via March Twisdale

In publishing, the holiday season is a time to look back and celebrate the most successful books of the year. Unless, that is, you live in notoriously book-friendly Iceland, where many of the year’s most exciting books are just now hitting shelves.

The island nation is currently celebrating Jólabókaflóð, the traditional “Christmas book flood,” when a huge portion of the books published each year come out. Iceland has a population of around 300,000, but publishes more books per capita than any other nation, most of which have been released, historically, during the few weeks leading up to Christmas.

The Jólabókaflóð tradition reflects Iceland’s rich literary culture, but also has its roots in historic import laws. As Bryndís Loftsdóttir, vice director of the Icelandic Publishing Association, explained in a recent interview:

“[T]his tradition can be traced back to when the variety of goods available in Iceland was very limited and therefore opting for a book as a Christmas present was a good bet. This limited availability of goods was mainly caused by the restrictive laws on imported products introduced in 1931, some of which lasted for many decades […]

During that time and up until now, import taxes have been high on many products, especially glamorous or electrical things that could otherwise have become popular presents. The government is currently lowering or abolishing these import taxes, hoping to solve the capital control restrictions that were introduced in the aftermath of the economic crisis in 2008.”

While year-round publishing is, according to Loftsdóttir, growing in Iceland, “the sale of Icelandic books during the first six months of the year is currently [only] around 8% higher than the sale in the last two months, November and December.” Holiday book shopping is so popular that the Icelandic PA publishes an annual catalog—Bókatíðindi (“book news”)—showcasing nearly all the books available in the country. The catalog is delivered for free to every Icelandic home during the holiday season.

“The atmosphere around books during the high tide of publishing before Christmas is quite something,” notes Loftsdóttir. “Almost every day you can find invitations on Facebook for publishing parties in bookstores, readings in pubs and cafes and authors interviewed in the media.”



Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.