Jolabokaflod is Icelandic for “Christmas Book Flood” and it is a very old and wonderful Icelandic holiday tradition. Basically, in Iceland, books are considered the perfect gifts for the holidays. In this small northern country full of Aurora Borealis winter skies, there are five books published each year for every thousand Icelanders! There are only 319,000 people who live on this far north island (about one-third of the population of San Francisco), so that makes 1,595 new books per year. Hardback books are given as presents and are read through the night of Christmas. Reading is the national sport of Iceland.
As a reader, I can’t imagine a more wonderful tradition! As a writer, I want my books in the hands of all those voracious readers. (Did I ever mention that one of my stories partly takes place in Iceland? “Pigeon”, check it out.)
Due to the COVID pandemic, most of us will be pretty isolated these holidays. There is a strong chance that those who socialized heavily for Thanksgiving will be paying the price for that this Hanukkah, Festivus, Christmas, and New Year. CDC issued an advisory that those who spent eating turkey outside of their “pandemic bubble” should consider themselves infected and isolate even if they don’t experience symptoms. CDC also strongly recommended that all travel is canceled for the winter holidays to get the infection rates under control so as to not overwhelm the healthcare system. These are all good ideas, but it makes for lonely and isolated holidays.
So let’s organize a massive Jolabokaflod for our friends and family. Books do make amazing gifts. It’s not just the pleasure of holding one in one’s hands, it’s the hours of pleasure of sinking into another world, another life. It’s the life-long memories that are created from the experience of reading books. And we get to know the people who gift us books by the type of books they gift. Book recommendations can be amazing in and of themselves. Obviously, it is easy for the writer to recommend their own, but everyone experiences books differently, and some books make a powerful impression. Did you spend the night up because you couldn’t put the story down? Let me know. Did you find yourself weeping or laughing? What’s the name of that book? Did you discover a new author? Who is it? Did you find the words that express how you feel? Did you unearth a perfect escapist novel? Did you learn something valuable, or uncover a great insight? Did you obtain a perfect sleeping aid? The best cookbook? A spine-tingling adventure? Something that gave you shivers in the evening shadows? Share! Share! Share! Recommend. Write a review for a stranger to find.
Books are very cheap now. Sure Icelanders don’t give each other ebooks, but money is tight during these uncertain times. Give ebooks — they are cheap. Find authors’ giveaways. Reach out to a writer and ask for a copy — it works.
Here are a few books that I’ve just finished and strongly recommend:
- Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive, 4) by Brandon Sanderson
I have to admit that I was worried about remembering all of the things I needed to remember to understand what was going on. Sanderson doesn’t just write a story, he creates a universe, spins up histories, develops multiple cultures, populates his books with thousands of characters and a ton of locations on multiple worlds. I was sure that I had simply forgotten the important bits in the several years since I’ve read the last book in the series. But it was fine! The story was constructed in such a way as to bring back all that I have lost in memory in manageable bits and keep me hooked and entertained for days!
So lots of new revelations, cool details, expansion on the magical system, and beloved characters. A great and very long read!
- Mythic Journeys: Retold Myths and Legends by Night Shade
One of the best fantasy short story collections I’ve read in a long time.
Not all stories are great, some are too pretentious, some too glib. But the majority are excellent and provide a cool take on some old fairytales. These are not kid stories. They deal with adult themes, all in very unique ways. I strongly recommend this collection.
- The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearne
Beautiful, haunted, lyrical, ancient…
Finished the whole book in basically one go. Not sure what I imagined the book would be about, but it didn’t matter. It took me away, made me cry a little. More than anything it had the feel of Susan Cooper’s “Over Sea, Under Stone.” It had the same gentleness and fierceness all rolled into one.
- Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakmi
A surreal dream of a story
Sometimes a book is all about narrative; sometimes it’s just waves of emotions, swallowing you whole, leaving a little confused, a little sad, a little lost in your own labyrinth of books. I found this one perfect.
- The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes by Robert A. Heinlein
This is a love letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Carter of Mars.
I first read this story when I was 17 and returning to it felt like slipping into comfy slippers. That said, stories we love as children tend not to age well. I love Jules Verne, but his total aversion to writing female characters, which didn’t bother me at all before puberty, makes me quite uncomfortable now. Jane Austen is fun, but her stories don’t fit well with modern sensitivities. The same is true of Robert A. Heinlein’s writing. If you can forgive the outdated notions and cultural norms from which he wrote, you will have a blast. But sometimes it is difficult. I still give this book 5 stars because I loved it so much when I read it back in high school. I remembered the Gay Deceiver and its bathroom suite for all my life even as I totally forgot the rest of the story. And so many books and authors stood on the shoulders and ideas of Mr. Heinlein — 1Q84 was a strange retelling of this book, even if Haruki Murakami doesn’t realize it.
- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakmi
Incredibly atmospheric, pulls you in…
The surrealism of 1Q84 pulls you in and keeps you engaged until the last page. If you love literature and classical music, you will love all of the references, making the experience even richer.
- A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Perhaps a perfect book to remember what we’ve lost during the time of the pandemic.
- The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen
No, we are not in the middle of another mass extinction
If we were, I wouldn’t be writing this review — I’d be long gone. This was an incredibly well-researched and infinitely approachable book on the development of Earth and all the life on it to date. Story after story of the horrific ways to go and yet told with warmth and humor. Strong recommendation!
- How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Beautifully written story about the power of time.
We always contemplate that there is not enough time to do all we want, but what if there is too much time? There are plenty of books/stories out there about immortality as a curse (watch everyone you love die). Some are very well-written, others are too predictable. But this struck the right balance. If you are a fan of Claire North (“The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” and “Touch”), you will like this story.
A bit of a spoiler: powerful men don’t do their own dirty work. The ending of Haig’s book was spoiled for me for this reason. But the rest was lovely. Enjoy!
If you are interested in reading any of mine and do promise to leave a review, send me an email and I will send you a book. Happy Holidays!
If you want an ARC copy of Demon Godfather book, send me a note. I should have something soon. Those who already responded, you are on my list!
So celebrate the holidays with Jola-boka-flod — Christmas-book-flood. And see? You’ve learned a bit of Icelandic already!
Happy holidays! Stay safe! Stay well.