Friday, November 24, 2017

It's Booksgiving! What's Booksgiving, I hear you ask? Read on:

Wikipedia gives us a wee bit of background on the Icelandic custom of giving a book as a gift to your family and friends at Yuletide. Like here, at least my friends and family...the difference is the Icelandic friends and family like the custom. Decidedly not like people I know.

Iceland isn't like the US in any way that I can think of: no mass shootings, low poverty, socialized medicine, but most importantly the fact that, in a lifetime, one in ten Icelanders will write and have published at least one book. Appearances and Kindle sales to the contrary, that can't happen in the US or there would 35 million writers getting their stuff published. Think of the deforestation implicit in that thankfully unrealized statistic. Agents and publishers will sigh exasperatedly and moan "there already ARE 35 million Americans writing books and they all have MY address!"

It only feels that way.

Iceland also has an Icelandic Literature Center, according to a 2013 BBC News report, which quotes Agla Magnusdottir (head of the Center as of the article's writing in 2013):
"Writers are respected here," Agla Magnusdottir tells me. "They live well. Some even get a salary." Magnusdottir is head of the new Icelandic Literature Center, which offers state support for literature and its translation.

"They write everything - modern sagas, poetry, children's books, literary and erotic fiction - but the biggest boom is in crime writing," she says.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Arnaldur Indriðason, Ragnar Jónasson ring any bells, mystery series lovers? All Icelandic. A book I adored, Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón, is Icelandic historical gay fiction. There's a niche for you.

Now think about it. Those writers have achieved popularity in the US market, easily ten times the absolute size of the Icelandic home market, and largely thanks to their government. Pause a moment. Think about that. Writers getting a state-supported salary so they can write. Translators of foreign-language books getting the same. Holy puppy dogs, it sounds like heaven.

But is the US actually so different? Most books in our market are published around gift-giving holidays, too. Look up any statistical source you can think of and you'll see the jaw-dropping surge in sales in each and every segment around Yuletide. Black Friday got its name from more than the salesdroids' moody misery on the horrible, horrible day; it's the day that almost all retailers stem their losses and go into black balance-sheet ink.

And it's not like there are no initiatives to encourage the bookish to share their addiction in the Holiday season. Take #GiveBooks, which is described in this Publishing Perspectives piece. It's admirable, and I suggest that you all put some money into the outreach for underserved children to get books. After all, the Jesuits' founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, famously said, "Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man." Knew his onions, did that old guy. He stole from the best, seeing as Aristotle said it first. You can tell because there's neither hide nor hair of "woman" in there, nor any sign that either of those old white men even sensed their absence. I'd recast it as "...I will give you the adult," but purists would be as vocal as feminists in their scorn. One cannot win.

But let's dream big. The tradition of giving a book as a much-desired present...the encouragement to read it that very night...there are some of us who want that family life and now we have a model for how it should look.

Why shouldn't we, book lovers, embrace this vaguely distasteful-in-the-aggregate behavior of being good little consumers? Let's repurpose it. Let's take one tiny facet of Iceland's excellent book culture and bring it here. The Christmas Book Flood isn't directly translatable, and anyway focuses on the end of the process, the gifting that's always so fun.

Let's celebrate the process, shall we? Let's have Booksgiving! Starting on *shudder* Black Friday, let's think about what books we'll flood the tree skirt with on Book Flood Eve. I'll give you some ideas from my 2017 reading to include in your purchases.

Happy Booksgiving!

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