By Edward Nawotka
Reykjavík may have just 230,000 people, but on a night in November there were no less than a half-dozen book launches taking place on the same night. Both the mayor of the city and the President of Iceland showed up for the launch of
Iceland is said to produce the most books per capita anywhere in the world. The average print run here is 2,000 copies for a commercial title, with as much as 60-70% of all books being sold during the Christmas season. Publishers produce a holiday book catalog that goes to every home in the country and giving books for the holidays is a tradition that dates back to the period of austerity following World War II when imports were severely limited. Books were one gift that you could give that wouldn’t break the bank.
Today, the tradition continues with some 800 titles published between November and December, a period which has been dubbed Jólabókaflóð — which translates roughly as “the Book Flood.”
Publishers compete for attention in the limited market and like everywhere, a few titles rise to the top — typically, these are thrillers, though there are occasional breakthrough literary titles. “What can I say,” said one friend, “we’re Icelandic, we were raised on the Sagas, we like stuff to happen in our books…action.”