Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I Like Iceland! (or Giftgiving Made Easy)

by Rick Blechta

Before I get up on my Type M soapbox (always at the ready in a corner of my studio), you must read this article (Literary Iceland Revels in Its Annual Christmas Book Flood). Relax. There’s no test at the end!

I’m assuming that if you’re here, then you’re a book lover like the rest of us. And that being the case, the story linked above warmed the cockles of your heart as much as it did mine.

Iceland, from all I’ve heard, is a very civilized country and the way they feel about buying and receiving books during the holiday season proves it. A book flood indeed! I can think of no better holiday tradition than giving books on Christmas Eve.

Now you’re probably rolling your eyes. I mean I’ve definitely got a vested interest in the purchasing of books. But if I stopped writing tomorrow and all my publsihed books just went poof!, I would still feel the same way. Books are A Good Thing. They nourish your brain and soul, and the fact of the matter is, in many countries (probably most), per capita hours spent reading are way down and still falling precipitously. Is there a corollary between that and the rise in the amount of ignorance in modern society? I think so.

Okay, let’s bring this closer to home. My family has decided that the adults don’t really need to get presents from everyone this year so we decided on a “secret Santa”-type system. We’d come with a list: A gives B a present, B gives C a present, and so on. Everyone will have one present to open and then all can sit back and watch the youngsters open theirs. It makes sense and it’s certainly less expensive. My next thought (since I’d come up with the idea) was what do we give? Do we leave it open or set a theme?

And that’s when I read about Iceland’s book tradition at this time of the year. At that point I thought about the people in my family. To the best of my knowledge, at least three of them seldom (or never) read books. That’s a depressing thing to consider. One of them (and you know who you are) has only read one of my novels, and they’ve always received them as gifts every time one of them is published. (That’s even more depressing.) This person also has no magazine subscriptions and doesn’t generally read the paper.

In North America, I don’t think that’s far out of the ordinary. According to an article I found in The Smithsonian, 25% of Americans didn’t read a single book in 2016. Think about that.

On the flip side, a reason for hope is that 75% of Americans did read a book in the past year. Sales of books went up by 17 million to 571 million. Still, the number of people who read nothing troubles me — and I have some of them in my family. The percentage of people in Canada who did not read a book in that period is 12. (https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2014/3/7/canadian-readers-by-the-numbers.html) Yea Canada!

I’d like to leave you with a thought. Give books to whomever you can this year. Sure, a crime fiction novel by one of us would be great, but to give any book would be great. I’ll bet you could find something for everyone on your list. Just go into a bookstore and browse. Your brother loves cars. Buy him a book on that subject. Your mom loves to knit. There are plenty of books on the subject. And so on.

If you really want to be cool and start a great tradition, do what the people of Iceland do: Give a book on Christmas Eve. If you celebrate something else or nothing at all, you can still start a tradition. Maybe we should just call my suggestion End-of-Year Book Giving.

Regardless, the more people who are reading regularly, the better. The world will thank you — eventually.


Barbara Fradkin said...

Love Iceland's tradition! Our extended family gathers for turkey every year, and we recently instituted a variation on the gift game in which each of us bought a book and wrapped it with no name. These books were placed under the tree, and each person could either select an unwrapped one or steal one from a previous person. The kids' books were make Y/A to avoid confusion. This leads to an animated discussion on the merits of each book and some lively horse trading as some books got stolen multiple times. Lots of fun!

Rick Blechta said...

I like that!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Giving books as presents at Xmas time is a thing in our house ;)

I've always thought the Icelandic tradition of swapping books on Christmas eve is a lovely one.

Rick Blechta said...

The sad thing is, in our family books would have been a non-starter. Only three of us are what you would call serious readers. That's three out of nine. So we settled on buying each other a bottle of wine or some beer.

Personally, I'd rather receive a book.