Wednesday, November 27, 2019

It's #Booksgiving again! A combination of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Advent and Jolabokaflod!

As 2019 wanes, taking with it another in an apparently unending annual flotilla of boatloads of misery, trouble, strife, and negativity, let's focus on something much more fun: #Booksgiving! Between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, I'm here to suggest some literary delights whose (not always) joyful tidings will make the Night Before Christmas a bit less frenetic: Give everyone in your gift-giving circle a special book to read right then and there, in the midst of life, all together.

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 among those I call my friends and family...the difference is the Icelandic friends and family like the custom. Decidedly not like many, many 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!"

I promise that it only feels that way.

Iceland also has an annual book catalog, according to a 2018 Books from Scotland article, which explains the idea as follows:
Every year since [the end of World War Two], the Icelandic book trade has published a printed catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas.

During the festive season, gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away, often while drinking hot chocolate or alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland.
I got nothin' on the (appropriately named, IMO) non-alcoholic ale. I mean, why bother? But hey, that's just me.

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 at least one organization in the US is is setting out to move the Book Flood tradition Stateside.
And it's not like there are no initiatives to encourage the bookish to share their addiction in the Holiday season. Take Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which is described in this here piece. An initiative that Dolly, fourth child of twelve, began to give children in the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada, and Australia one book of their very own each month. It's curated carefully to be age appropriate, and it's an admirable extension of a program she began in 1995 for kids in her home patch of Eastern Tennessee. I suggest that you all put some money into this, or any other, 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 2019 and earlier reading to include in your purchases. Simply click on the tag #Booksgiving" below and the entire list from all years will magically chronological order, never fear.

Happy Booksgiving!

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