When it comes to mail delivery service in Iceland, two days stand out from the rest. The first is when the IKEA catalogue arrives. The second is when the bókatíðindi shows up in the mailbox.Book floods. My kind of country.
“This is the Christmas catalogue,” says Bryndís Loftsdóttir of the Icelandic Publishers Association, handing over a copy of last year’s glossy, 208-page tome. “It’s always the same,” she continues in an amused tone. “Weeks before this is published we anxiously get phone calls from people asking, ‘When is it coming? Can I get it now?’”
A copy of the bókatíðindi, which lists approximately 90% of the books published in Iceland each year, is mailed to every household in the country, free of charge. While in most countries the presents under the Christmas tree come in all shapes and sizes, Loftsdóttir jokes that in Iceland one finds a row of neatly wrapped books. “The book is still the most popular Christmas present in Iceland,” she says. There’s even a name for the phenomenon: the “jólabókaflóð,” which means Christmas book flood.
There may not be another country on the planet where books enjoy such prominence. For a country that boasts a population of approximately 320,000 people — that’s less than Belize, Brunei, and the Bahamas — Iceland is punching above its weight class. Its publishing industry cranks out roughly 1,000 titles each year (including works in translation) and the country produces more published authors than anywhere else on the planet, Brooklyn be damned. According to a report produced by a consortium of Nordic publishers, in 2012 there were 3.5 published titles for every 1,000 of the country’s inhabitants — a number double that of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The average print run for a book is 1,000 copies, the equivalent of one million copies in the United States.
The history of the nation is inextricably linked to the written word; Icelanders produced the Sagas and the Poetic Edda, captivating historical (and sometimes fantastical) records of the country’s early years, filled with heroes, villains and monsters, written down almost a millennium ago and inspiring countless writers, include J.R.R. Tolkien.
Friday, July 25, 2014
The “jólabókaflóð,” which means Christmas book flood
Excellent. From Iceland Reads: The country of 320,000 punches well above its literary weight class by Mark Medley.