Like many people bound to their circumstances by work (and now a mortgage) I see travel to far-off places is a dream. On my personal bucket-list is Iceland. Perhaps that’s a strange place to yearn for in winter, but it’s on my mind today because of Jolabokaflod. I’ve posted on Jolabokaflod before, but in case the concept is unfamiliar I’d summarize it by saying Icelanders, who are exceptionally literate, give each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the dark hours reading. For the past three years I’ve taken part in a reading challenge that lists a book in translation, and invariably I choose one by an Icelandic author. Publishers in Iceland, being less corporate than our native species, accept books for publication somewhat more readily—I’ve been shopping a novel around for nearly a decade now and I’ve read worse. If it doesn’t jack up the dollar signs, so nobody around here’s interested.
I’m sure it’s not all sweetness and light in Iceland. I suspect, for one thing, it’s hard to be vegan there. Then there’d be the need to learn Icelandic. The nights would be even longer in winter, but then, those long nights would be filled with books. I sometimes imagine how different America would be if we loved books that much. I remember well—as you may also—the classmates who grumbled about “having to read” as part of their school curriculum. And this began well before high school. Young people’s bodies are full of energy and they want action (which can be found in books, I might add) and new experiences (ditto). Our culture feeds them the myth that such things lead to happiness. Instead, they find sitting still tedious. When life leads them to commute, they fill bus time with devices.
The other day I had an electrician in our house—the previous occupants had some strange ideas about power distribution. He, as most visitors do, commented that we have a lot of books. I’m beginning to feel less apologetic about it than I used to. We have books not only because it’s been part of my job to read, but because we like books. One of the painful memories of 2018 was the loss of many volumes due to a rainstorm that flooded our garage right after our move. It still makes me sad to go out there, remembering the friends I lost. Nevertheless, it’s Christmas Eve, at least in my tradition, and the thought of books combined with the long hours of darkness brings a joy that I’d almost characterize as being Icelandic. At least in my mind. Jolabokaflod might well be translated, “silent night, holy night.”