Jólabókaflóð – The Christmas book flood, part 7

Jónína Leósdóttir is one of Iceland’s best-loved writers, with a career behind her as an award-winning journalist, playwright, translator, biographer and writer of novels for young adults, before turning to crime fiction with her Edda series that has proved highly popular in Iceland. Deceit is the first in a new series of crime novels featuring Reykjavík detective Soffía and her ex-husband, English psychologist Adam. Deceit is also the first of her books translated into English by Quentin Bates. Jónína was instrumental in establishing The Icelandic Women’s Literary Prize in 2007 and is now an honorary member of the association that awards the prize. In 2013, she published Jóhanna and I, a memoir of life with her partner Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s former Prime Minister.

Here Jónína Leósdóttir shares her thoughts about Jólabókaflóð.

For me, books and Christmas have always been linked. Entwined, really, as I have never experienced Christmas without books, lots of books, from as early on as I can remember.

Books were at the top of my wish list for Father Christmas, as the annual ‘book flood’ in early winter was publication time for at least two new translations of Enid Blyton stories (and I was an avid collector), novels by Astrid Lindgren and other Scandinavian authors and, naturally, also books by Icelandic writers. My haul was usually four or five books and everyone in my family got books, too. Anything else would have been unthinkable.

As presents are exchanged after the evening meal on Christmas Eve, I took the books to bed with me and never heeded the ‘reading curfew’ set by my parents (I had a torch hidden under my pillow). And during the holidays, when I had finished my own books, I started on my sibling’s presents, although we didn’t share the same taste… my brother being four years younger than me and my sister nine years older. But, as an Icelandic saying goes, ‘when times are hard, you feed on whatever you can lay your hands on’. And then it was time to skim through the books that the adults in the family had been given for Christmas – until the library opened again at the beginning of January.

Late autumn is still the time when most books are published in Iceland and I still feel the same excitement about ‘the Christmas book flood’ as I did as a child. Now, however, I don’t have to wait until Christmas Eve. That’s one of the great things about being a grown-up. I can buy exciting books as soon as they hit the stores and read all night if I feel like it. And if I run out of reading material during the holiday season, there is always Amazon.

I also love giving and lending new books to my friends and family and then have long and often heated discussions about them. That’s a huge part of the pleasure of books; talking about them at length. Oh, don’t get me started!

‘When can we open our presents?’ Jónína and little brother, Árni.

According to recent statistics, each Icelander still receives / buys three books at Christmas. I find that both wonderful and amazing, considering the competition books now have from all kinds of media. There was no television in Iceland until I was twelve…

Christmas Eve. There are obviously books under the tree,
but my sister and aunt make sure I don’t touch the presents.
An older cousin turns up, dressed as Father Christmas, with more presents.

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