Friday, December 13, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Jolabokaflod: A Grand Tradition

In 1999, I read an article about “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri. This was a debut collection of stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. As you may know, I generally don’t prefer short stories with just a few exceptions, but something about this article made me buy not one, but two copies; I knew I would want to give a copy to someone else as a gift and that was true. They loved it as much as I did.

Twenty years later (last week), I was reading an NPR article about Jolabokaflod (click here).
According to Wikipedia, The “Christmas book flood” (Icelandic: Jólabókaflóðið) is a term used in Iceland for the annual release of new books occurring in the months before Christmas, as it is common to publish new titles in the weeks before Christmas.

Newly published books are listed in a yearly compilation that is distributed to all households for free.

The NPR article talks about how books are given as gifts on December 24th, and people stay up all night reading them. How cool is that?

There are so many things I never considered about a tradition like this:

  1. I have a terrible (aka no) reading lamp on my side of the bed. The lamp is on Jeff’s side, so I watch him read. When I can feel him shaking, I know he’s laughing about something he’s reading. He reads me that part, or tells me about it. So I kind of read what he does, and that’s just silly. Why don’t I get a lamp for my side? It’s not like they’re a million dollars or anything.

Note: Jeff JUST texted me from our beloved independent bookstore. He’s reading “Tiny Love”, the new book of stories by Larry Brown. He wrote “Holy cow, one of Larry Brown’s stories has my sides splitting. Can’t wait to read you the excerpts later”. Jeff takes his already purchased books with him every day, with the receipt taped inside. Sometimes he buys another book or poetry journal, sometimes he doesn’t. He always buys coffee and has never had any trouble with the store, just so you know.

  1. As a writer with a new book forthcoming next year, I do want it to come out as early as possible. I would never think of waiting until just before Christmas. It’s not like I sell them anyway, I mostly give them away, but I want to do that as soon as I can. I must admit I’ve bought twenty-three copies of “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” so that Amazon can package and deliver them, and we don’t have to go to the Post Office. Is that another silly thing? I cannot deny that. But I’d rather spread the cost throughout the year.

Truly, I think that most writers would rather have their books come out earlier rather than later so they can schedule readings and book tours, and weather does factor into that. So does time. Most would like as many reviews as possible too. Susan Tepper has 31 reviews of “What Drives Men” on Amazon, and that just came out June 21st! Also, for writers interested in submitting their books for awards, they are usually eligible if published any time during the year, so why not get it as early as possible?

Back to Jolabokaflod, it’s the middle of December already. Do you have all your shopping done? It’s definitely something to consider. When my son was grumbling about reading short stories in college, I empathized a hundred percent, and sent him copies of the few collections that I loved. When he came home for Thanksgiving, he brought me a book he thought I’d love. That meant so much to me.

What are you enjoying reading these days? Cholla Needles has an amazing catalog of books that are beautifully made, and reasonably priced. If you are lucky enough to live in the High Desert you are near five local independent bookstores. I’m not suggesting that any of them stay open all night so you can bring a friend and read there, but I am suggesting that no matter how young or old, there’s a book out there for everyone, and you probably already know what it is.

In the words of Marcel Proust:

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” (from Les plaisirs et les jours: "Soyons reconnaissants aux personnes qui nous donnent du bonheur, elles sont les charmants jardiniers par qui nos âmes sont fleuries. Mais soyons plus reconnaissants aux femmes méchantes ou seulement indifférentes, aux amis cruels qui nous ont causé du chagrin. Ils ont dévasté notre cœur, aujourd'hui jonché de débris méconnaissables, ils ont déraciné les troncs et mutilé les plus délicates branches, comme un vent désolé, mais qui sema quelques bons grains pour une moisson incertaine. c.f. Luke 6:35"

Marcel Proust

I think we know that books can help us all do this. What better gift is there in the world? xo

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. I have an extra reading lamp if you want it!

    1. I might just take you up on that, thank you!!!


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