Have you heard of 'Jolabokaflod'? This is an Icelandic tradition, roughly translating as 'Christmas Book Flood', and sounds heavenly to us!
During the Second World War Iceland didn't suffer rationing on paper, and this, together with Iceland's long literary history, meant that books became a particularly popular present at Christmas while other gifts were scarce.
Beginning in 1944 the Icelandic publishing trade issue a catalogue of newly published books which is distributed to all Icelandic households. This has come to signal the start of the festive season which culminates on Christmas Eve, the biggest gift-giving day of the year. Purchases are pored over, and books remain one of the most popular gifts at Christmas. The tradition extends to the evening of Christmas Eve, when the books are read late into the night, accompanied by a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
This is a custom that all of us at The Willoughby Book Club thoroughly endorse! It can be challenging to carve out time with a book on Christmas Eve, but we'll all be treating ourselves to a new book and a little time out. Won't you join us in adopting this tradition?
Here's what we'll be reading this Jolabokaflod.
Chloe: His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
These are not my usual sort of books at all but I bought the Philip Pullman trilogy a few years back when the TV series started. I read Northern Lights but really struggled to get into the second one. I think I managed a third and just gave up. So by this Christmas I’m going to challenge myself to re-read Northern Lights and then finish the other two aswell. I think I just need a few quiet hours to properly get stuck in (with some festive reading snacks to help along the way). If all else fails, at least they look nice on the book shelf!
Liv: Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson
I began a new ritual of reading Christmas Days last year. It was a lovely experience reading twelve stories, one for each day of the festive period, interspersed with recipes from Winterson’s friends and family, collected over the years. There’s something for everyone in here: ghost stories, magic, love, humour- everything you’d expect from this author. I’d thoroughly recommend Mrs. Winterson’s mince pie recipe and look forward to having a go at Kamila Shamsie’s biryani! This story collection will be read on the sofa under a Mum-crocheted blanket, hot chocolate steaming on the coffee table.
Alisha: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis
On Christmas Eve, I’m normally surrounded by family, so I like to settle down and read something I’ve read before. I always feel like jumping back into the world of Narnia at this time of year, so I guess it’s time to dust of my very battered copies! I know The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the only story out of the seven to mention Christmas, but my absolute favourite is The Voyage of The Dawn Treader and will always enjoy it like I’m reading it for the first time again.
Marianne: The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale
Christmas Eve should be spent reading ghost stories, so I've ordered myself a copy of The Haunting of Alma Fielding. I loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher back in 2009 (!) so I'm really looking forward to this, an exploration of sinister activities which began to happen around Alma Fielding in London in 1938. I'm always interested in the borderlines between belief and skepticism so this should be good. I've also got Charles Dicken's The Signalman in waiting too, for extra chills.
Lauren: Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom
This year for Jolabokaflod I am planning to read Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom (although this will most likely change as I don’t think I can wait!).
With similar themes to Hanna Bervoerts’, We Had to Remove This Post, Aesthetica looks at the darker side of social media. Her novel shares a new nuanced examination of feminism, mother-daughter relationships and confronts our collective addiction to what social media offers.
Aishah: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This Christmas Eve I’m planning on listening The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden while helping prepping the food (and probably baking Christmas cookies). I have a large family so finding a quiet moment in all the chaos can be difficult especially when were all in the same house. I’m hoping that I can relax with a nice audio book and change up the tradition a little bit.
I have really enjoyed books based on folklore and fairy-tale retellings lately so this book has been recommend to be countless times. In the depths of winter in Moscow, Vasilisa's stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. As grave misfortune begins to reign over them, Vasilisa is forced to confront the dangerous gifts she has been long concealing.
I’m looking forward to diving right in!