Have you heard of 'Jolabokaflod'? This is an Icelandic tradition, roughly translating as 'Christmas Book Flood', and it 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!
This year, to celebrate Jolabokaflod and to enjoy doing what we do best: selecting books, here are the books we've chosen for each other this Jolabokaflod.
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?
Liv selecting for Aishah
I know Aishah loves really thoughtfully-considered manga comics and graphic novels. I also know she loves cosy fantasy, having read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune recently and falling in love with the genre. Thirdly, she really likes a dragon! Therefore, after consulting my crystal ball, I’ve selected a gorgeously-illustrated graphic novel titled ‘The Tea Dragon Society’ by Kay O’Neill, for her Jolabokaflod book this year. It’s a book for all ages and follows Greta, a blacksmith’s apprentice, who discovers the magic and joy of the tea dragons, after finding one abandoned in a market. Soon Greta learns all about the secret art of tea dragon care, making friends with Hesekiel and Erik, the tea shop owners, and their young ward, Minette. These particular dragons grow tea leaves unique to them from their heads. When harvested and drank, the drinker is able to experience the past memories of the tea masters. It’s a cute, whimsical story about memory and following your passions. It’s also heart-filled, inclusive and full of ‘found family’ style friendships (bonus points for me!). The Tea Dragon Society is the perfect book for Aishah and it’s the perfect book for anyone who enjoys unique, fantastical stories of warmth and magic, packed with creative world-building and stunning artwork.
Chloe selecting for Liv
For Liv I have chosen Betty by Tiffany McDaniel.
The story follows Betty, born in a bathtub to a white mother and Cherokee father. One of eight children, growing up in poverty in 1950’s Ohio, she spends her childhood immersed in her father’s magical tales & folklore which are a beacon of light in their struggle to survive against the prejudice and racism they endure.
Although this in not a memoir or biography, it is based on Tiffany McDaniels own Mothers (Betty) life. A thought-provoking, coming-of-age novel that addresses family, race and abuse but I think Liv will enjoy the way the story is beautifully written and brings out every emotion in the reader. I don’t think this book is in any way for the faint-hearted but I think Liv will be immersed in the raw and powerful read that the author brings across.
Liv, I hope you enjoy it!
Marianne selecting for Alisha
The book I have chosen for Alisha is What You Are Looking For Is In The Library by Michiko Aoyama.
This is tale follows five characters, each of whom is seeking something from their library. From a retail assistant looking for new skills to a disengaged salaryman looking for a purpose, this is about finding meaning in books, but also about love and kindness.
There are a few things I know Alisha loves: books and cats (and pretty book covers) and this book is extremely pretty with a gorgeous cat on the cover. I also know that she's struggled to get back into the habit of reading this year, so I felt that a gentle, escapist story would be just the thing to lure her back to the magic of reading.
I think she's is going to love this book. It is a quirky read about the power of books to change lives, and both of us (and all of us here at the Willoughby Book Club) thoroughly endorse that message! Happy reading, Alisha!
Aishah selecting for Chloe
For Chloe I've picked Yellowface by R F Kuang.
Chloe's one of the most broadly and well-read people I have met. Whether its fiction, crime, children’s, historical or literary, she is reading. I am always impressed and surprised by what new title she has picked up. This made is both easier and so much harder to pick a book for her. I know that she likes a well thought out plot that doesn’t drag but is well paced. Also knowing that she does value well written books I decided to goes with an author I’m familiar with and can confidently vouch for. That happened to be the author of my favourite read this year (The Poppy War) RF Kuang and her new fiction release – Yellowface.
With the premise of an author stealing the manuscript of her deceased friend and playing it off as her own, Yellowface is an enthralling tale full of dark humour and twists and turns as the main character June sinks deeper and deeper into her lies. As a bookseller I feel like it’s a great fun and twisted insight into the industry we work in. It also is full of amazing insights and dialogue on racism, accountability, diversity, and privilege.
All in all, it’s an incredibly insightful and interesting book and right up Chloe's alley. I hope she enjoys it!
Alisha selecting for Nic
For Nic I've picked The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers.
This Jolabokaflod, I’m selecting a book for Nic, our resident gift wrapper and packer. I’ve decided to go with The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers.
Set over a hot summer (hard to imagine, I know!) in 1989, two traumatised Falkland veterans, Calvert and Redbone set out on nightly escapades in a worse for wear camper van. Throughout the summer, the two men travel to the fields of rural England to secretly create crop circles in mysterious and ever more elaborate patterns. They both find a beautiful friendship has grown between them as their extraordinary project becomes a cult international sensation.
As a lover of the TV show The Detectorists, and a couple of other titles by Benjamin Myers, I just know Nic will enjoy this gentle and read. Nic loves to savour everything she reads and takes time to think about what she’s reading and this heart-warming and moving story about male friendship is right up her street!
Nic selecting for Marianne
I know Marianne loves folk tales and weird, uncanny books, so when I saw a copy of 'Blood on Satan's Claw: or, The Devil's Skin' by Robert Wynne Simmons, I knew she'd be interested. Unusually, it's a novelisation of a cult folk horror movie from some fifty years ago, written by its screenwriter. Think 17th century devil worship, an intriguing rural setting, creepy woodcut images and you'll have a good initial impression of this odd, little book!
I hope you like it, Marianne!