MostNorthern Christmas Book List (Or Books For Jólabókaflóð)

Iceland’s relationship with books is one that, as a writer and bibliophile, has me in tears. I could move to the the land of ice and fire quite happily based solely on how passionate everyone is about literature.

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime and the small, Nordic country has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.

It came as no surprise to  learn Iceland has a special celebration for books, one which practically the whole country participates in. It’s called jólabókaflóð which translates to the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’

The celebration actually begins in September, when the Icelandic Book Association posts a book catalogue to every home in Iceland. (The catalogue is called Bókatíðindi and you can browse this year’s edition here if you would like.)

So, from September onward there’s a book buying hysteria in Iceland, which culminates on Christmas Eve when people gift each other the books they’ve been frantically buying. The rest of the evening is then spent reading. I can’t think of anything more perfect than that.

I believe so strongly that we need to be more Icelandic when it comes to our relationship with books, that I’ve put together a list of northerly reads to inspire your own jólabókaflóð.

Icelanders give paperback books on Christmas Eve, but the ones I’ve listed here are all available on Amazon Kindle, so you can have them pretty much instantly to read. If you don’t have a Kindle, (I don’t) no stress, you can download the FREE Kindle app here for IOS, Android, Mac and PC.

Happy reading!

Ice Bear By Michael Engelhard

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I’ve been wanting to read Ice Bear ever since it popped up on Amazon as a recommended read a month or so ago.

While it’s the priciest book on this list, with the Kindle Edition coming in at a hefty £15.21 if you’re invested in deepening your knowledge of this most important and beautiful species, it’s entirely worth it.

“From Inuit shamans to Jean Harlow lounging on a bearskin rug, from the cubs trained to pull sleds toward the North Pole to “cuddly” superstar Knut, it all comes to life in these pages.

With meticulous research and more than 160 illustrations, the author brings into focus this powerful and elusive animal. Doing so, he delves into the stories we tell about Nature–and about ourselves–hoping for a future in which such tales still matter.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is one of my all-time favourite books, and I featured it in my Top Ten Ten Books About The North list  back in February. It’s a gloriously creepy ghost story set in 51HeHhcACUL._SY346_the High Arctic and it leaves no nerve unturned.

For years I longed for a book like Dark Matter and when it came along, it was everything I wanted and more. There’s a really good reason this book has nearly 400 reviews on Amazon and almost a full 5 stars. If you choose Dark Matter, you’ll be up all night reading, I promise.

‘January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

The Nordic Theory Of Everything By Anu Partanen

The Nordic Theory Of Everything is another book I’ve been longing to read, and now that it’s available on Kindle for 99p I’ll be delving into it this Christmas eve. Since living in Sweden, it’s come to my attention that, actually, not everything is as rosy as the majority of literature out there would lead you to believe…so it’ll be really interesting to read, reflect and no doubt debate the theories within its 432 pages, even if I’m outnumbered 10 to 1 this Christmas time.

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‘From childcare to healthcare provision for the elderly and tackling issues of homelessness, the Nordic countries are world leaders in organising society – no wonder Finland has been ranked among the happiest places in the world.

But when Finnish journalist Anu Partanen moved to America, she quickly realised that navigating the basics of everyday life was overly complicated compared to how society was organised in her homeland. From the complications of buying a mobile, to the arduous task of filing taxes, she knew there was a better way and as she got to know her new neighbours she discovered that they too shared her deep apprehensions.

The Nordic Theory of Everything details Partanen’s mission to understand why America (and much of the Western world) suffers from so much inequality and struggling social services. Filled with fascinating insights, advice and practical solutions, she makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild society, rekindle optimism and become more autonomous people by following in the footsteps of our neighbours to the North.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Reindeer An Arctic Life By Tilly Smith

I saw the cover of this book and thought to myself, ‘if I don’t enjoy this, I’m going to be really disappointed.’ I needn’t have worried though, as I took advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, had a read of a few pages and knew it was going to be a beautiful, captivating and enlightenment little read, from which I’d come away from a more learned and inspired reindeer obsessive.

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‘In this enchanting book, Tilly Smith leads the reader through the cold and extraordinary natural history of the reindeer.

A creature that is often used to adorn the winter season, the reindeer has been domesticated in Eurasia for longer than the horse while in North America it exists side by side with the humans, never tamed yet vital to the native settlements.

Despite the popularity of the image of the reindeer, they are rarely seen in real life.

This beautiful, comforting little book, peppered with anecdotes about the author’s own herd, is sure to kindle affection for one of nature’s most adaptable mammals, from fur-covered hooves to downy antlers.’ – The History Press

Buy it here.

 

Tales Of Iceland Or Running With The Huldefolk In The Permanent Daylight By Stephen Markley

While I’ve read (very) mixed reviews about this ‘fast, fun, educational and true story’ written by a journalist from Chicago who went to Iceland with his two friends, one of whom, Matthew Trinetti, is the main character in the book, it intrigued the hell out of me. And, seen as though I can get it free on Kindle Unlimited (if you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, get it. Seriously. It’s brilliant.) I thought why not.

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‘When American author Stephen Markley was a fresh-faced, impressionable university student in Ohio, he saw Quentin Tarantino describe a trip he’d taken to Iceland.

“Supermodels working at McDonald’s,” said Tarantino of the Icelandic. Markley never forgot those words.

Seven years later, Markley set out with two friends for Iceland, and adventure would ensue. The three young men found a country straddling Europe and North America, recovering from its 2008 economic crisis, struggling to regain its national identity, influenced by the entire globe yet trafficking in its singular Icelandic sagas and legends.

With Tales of Iceland, Markley delivers the fastest, funniest memoir and travelogue of an American experience in Iceland.

Beware: You will NOT learn how to say “Which way to the potato farm” in the Icelandic language. Nor will you learn how to locate the finest dining options in Reykjavik, or the best opera house. This is not that kind of travel book. Markley and his two irrepressible twenty-something American pals do not like opera, had no money to eat much besides eggs and skyr, and learned only how to say “Skál!” “Takk,” and “Skyr.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Icebreaker By Horatio Clare

I only found out about this book and it’s author Horatio Clare today, but this book is on my ‘must read before the end of 2018 list.’

‘We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?’

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A message from the Finnish embassy launches Horatio Clare on a voyage around an extraordinary country and an unearthly place, the frozen Bay of Bothnia, just short of the Arctic circle. Travelling with the crew of Icebreaker Otso, Horatio, whose last adventure saw him embedded on Maersk container vessels for the bestseller Down to the Sea in Ships, discovers stories of Finland, of her mariners and of ice.

Finland is an enigmatic place, famous for its educational miracle, healthcare and gender equality – as well as Nokia, Angry Birds, saunas, questionable cuisine and deep taciturnity. Aboard Otso Horatio gets to know the men who make up her crew, and explores Finland’s history and character. Surrounded by the extraordinary colours and conditions of a frozen sea, he also comes to understand something of the complexity and fragile beauty of ice, a near-miraculous substance which cools the planet, gives the stars their twinkle and which may hold all our futures in its crystals.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Other Titles To Check Out

ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge By Bronte Aurell

Wild Guide: Scandinavia By Ben Love

Scandinavian Christmas By Trine Hahnemann

Finding Sisu: In Search Of Courage, Strength And Happiness The Finnish Way By Katja Pantzar

Folklore: The Northlore Series Edited By MJ Kobernus

 

 

 

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You’ll Want To See These Icelandic Wild Horses

Oh Iceland, such a spectacular, fantastical, mesmerizing country.  Everyone that travels to its shores is always left profoundly affected by its magnificence. And magnificence isn’t a word that I use lightly. Iceland is a world away from the world most of us know.

One such person who was stirred up by Iceland – and its wild horses – is New York City based photographer Drew Doggett, who travelled to the country with the intention of capturing ‘the unique relationship between this land and the horses.’

“Throughout all of my work, I find that I am consistently drawn towards places on Earth that are near-impossible. Iceland is a surreal place, and the horses are the perfect companions to this unusual yet breathtaking land; the combination of the two is truly unforgettable.” – Bored Panda

Drew usually creates his work in black and white, but said that this series – which he called In The Realm of Legends, ‘demanded colour.’ Drew said he wants to leave viewers with ‘feelings of ‘collective nostalgia, inspiration, and fantasy.’

Make sure to stay around for the short film, which is scored by Christopher Ward, a multi-platinum Oscar and Grammy-winning composer.

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Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Iceland

  1. At about 39,000 square miles, Iceland is the same size as Cuba.
  2. There’s a volcanic eruption approximately every 4 years.
  3. Icelandic horses have two additional gaits as compared to all other breeds.
  4. Iceland was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans.
  5. Raw puffin heart is an Icelandic delicacy.

Sources that helped me find this stuff: FactRepublic.comLandLopers.com, Quora

 

 

Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Iceland

  1. In Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik, sidewalks are heated by geothermal heat during winter.
  2. In 2012 a woman changed clothes while on a tour of Iceland. People thought she went missing because they didn’t recognize her. The woman then joined a search party looking for herself.
  3. Iceland is the only country in the world where 100% of the population has the internet.
  4. Iceland is the only country that’s mosquito free.
  5. Iceland’s population is so tiny that there’s an anti-incest app so you don’t end up getting it on with a family member on a night out.

 

Sources that helped me find out this stuff: FactRepublic.com, Quora

Pulse Of The Arctic : Increase Your Arctic Awareness

Increasing awareness about the Arctic and what’s going on at the top of the world has never been more important.

So once a week I will be sharing pivotal research material – from news stories to Ted Talks – for anyone interested in developing their knowledge about climate change and the effects it has on the north.

Watch :  Time-Lapse Proof Of Extreme Ice Loss

National Geographic photographer, scientist and adventurer James Balog has been photographing human modification of our planet’s natural systems for 35 years, and is one of the most important climate change activists we have breathing today.

This stirring, intelligent, powerful TED talk discusses the power science and art can have when they come together, and the visible changes Balog has documented of the ice we are so rapidly losing – 95% of the glaciers in the world are melting as I write.

If you feel you need more after the talk, Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice is available on Netflix. The time lapse photography of retreating glaciers will open your mind to new planes of thought about climate change.

Read : Arctic Birds, Seals And Reindeer Killed By Marine Plastics

A new report illustrates the scale of contamination in the Norwegian and Barents Seas north of Scandinavia, and shows that no corner of the Earth is immune from the scourge of plastic pollution.

Virtually everywhere researchers look they find plastic, according to the report by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Even in remote areas with relatively low human impact, it says the concentration of plastic waste in the European Arctic is now comparable or even higher than in more urban and populated areas.

And there are signs the amount of plastic is increasing, with global plastic production reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015 and predicted to grow by around 4 per cent a year.

If you’re interested in getting daily news about the Arctic and climate change, I recommend you visit Google Alerts . The site monitors the internet for the content you have specified that you’d like to receive, and emails it directly to you.

Listen : Arctic Fever, A Spoken Word/Dark Ambient Album

Arctic Fever is a spoken word/dark ambient album featuring my poetry intertwined with the music of Crown of Asteria.

Centered around the thawing of the Arctic, Arctic Fever portrays how the catastrophic changes are impacting the peoples, flora and fauna of the far north.

While the listener will have an insight into what is happening now in the north, they will also have the opportunity to envisage what life was like at the top of the world, before the Arctic was cursed with whisky, organised religion, diseases and heat.

Arctic Fever is a homage to the Arctic, and all who dwell there, who are experiencing, in real time, the sea ice lessen, the permafrost weaken and the north they have forever know disappear.

Look : Art By Takeshi Kawano

Takeshi Kawano

Katie – Your Eyes In The North

My Top 10 Books About The North

The other day I was (sadly) complaining about a book I’d bought and read recently called Scandinavians by Robert Ferguson.

I rarely buy myself to a brand new book, but I was so absolutely sure that Ferguson was going to offer me 455 pages of potentially award winning literature, that I shelled out the £12 it cost on Amazon – it’s very newly published – believing it would be one of the best investments of 2018. (I’d previously really enjoyed his book The Hammer & The Cross : A New History Of The Vikings.)

One of the best investments it was not, and I was so disappointed I almost cried when I was done reading it.

Let it be known that I really hate it when I have to complain about a book, and if I don’t enjoy something, it’s not often that anyone else knows about it. There’s enough negative energy surging through the internet as it is without me ranting about every book I haven’t enjoyed.

However, something GOOD actually came from my bad experience with Scandinavians. My dissatisfaction led me make a post about it on Facebook, which led to a friend suggesting I make a blog post about my 10 favourite books about the far north, which then led to this post.

Every book listed here has deeply enhanced my knowledge, understanding and love of the north…and if any of them have touched you in a profound way, please comment and let me know!

I’m also interested in any suggested reading you have for me. Oh, and a final thing, if Viking history is your passion, do check out The Hammer & The Cross. Ferguson got it very right with this one.

Arctic Dreams By Barry Lopez

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My copy of Arctic Dreams, the award winning study of the Arctic by Barry Lopez (also the author of the outstanding book Of Wolves & Men) has been re-read so many times the pages have shed their whiteness, and have taken on that comforting softness that loved books adopt.

Practically each page has at least two of three paragraphs underlined or highlighted, and it still holds Post-It-Notes from several years ago.

Using just the most sublime prose, Lopez honours the Arctic, its history and landscape, its people, flora and fauna. He examines our deep fascination with the Arctic and why we find such a hostile environment so inviting.

One of my favourite of the nine chapters, though it is SO hard to choose, is Tornarssuk, a wedge  dedicated to history, present and future of Ursus maritiumus aka the wandering king of the polar north.

Buy it here.

This Cold Heaven By Gretal Ehrlich

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One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to invest in the writing of the goddess of the cold, Gretel Ehrlich.

Dedicated to ‘those who travel the path of ice,’ This Cold Heaven has everything you could hope to find in a book about the landscape, history and peoples of Greenland. I don’t actually have the strength to count how many Post-It-Notes I’ve crammed into it over the years.

In this spectacular work, Ehrlich provides an intensive, addictive narrative of her personal experiences travelling across Greenland (the largest island on earth, with all but 5% covered by a vast ice sheet) and her personal encounters with the Greenlandic Inuit.

It’s a book so wonderfully dense with wisdom that it’s virtually impossible to take in everything on the first read. You must return to it time and again to fully experience the ‘realm of the great dark, of ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads.’

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

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It was a happy accident that I encountered the novel Dark Matter by Michelle Paver in the library a few years ago.

Unlike her previous books for children, which I wasn’t too fond of, Dark Matter is unputdownable. I think I finished it in a night and was left gagging for more. It’s one of the best ghost stories I have ever read and I’m not exaggerating.

The story takes place in 1937. 28 year old Jack lost, lonely and poor, so when offered the opportunity to join an Arctic expedition, he leaps at the chance.

However once him and his team arrive at the uninhabited bay where they’re supposed to spend the next year, Jack begins to feel uneasy, and one by one, his companions start to leave…

Buy it here.

The Magnetic North By Sara Wheeler

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It was on one of my expeditions to Amazon that I found The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler.

While her prose isn’t, I don’t think, as intense as Lopez or Ehrlich (and I favor intense) this volume about Wheeler’s travels through the Arctic is powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, immensely  poetic.

The variety covered in The Magnetic North is one of the things that’s makes it so readable, and by the end I was hugely envious of everything Wheeler had the opportunity to experience. I was particularly jealous of her time spent herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps.

Magnetic North is a book which will make you think and think hard about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the Arctic. One of the ugly aspects that shook me the worst was reading about the bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.

Buy it here.

5The Arctic : An Anthology Edited By Elizabeth Kolbert

In England, our best known bookstore is called Waterstones. It’s also the most expensive, and I could very rarely buy anything from there, unless I was in possession of a holy gift card.

At £8.99 The Arctic : An Anthology was one of the only things I could splurge on. But how it was worth it! It’s a close to perfect blend of writing about the science, nature, history, peoples and stories of the Arctic.

Published by Granta (one of my favourite publishers) The Arctic is an extraordinarily insightful read – though it’s FAR too short – featuring essential writings on our most precious polar region and its future.

Naturally Lopez and Ehrlich are in there, but there’s also works from the likes of Jack London, Rockwell Kent, Fridtjof Nansen and Knud Rasmussen.

Buy it here.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People By Michael Booth

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While finding really good books written about the Arctic isn’t that difficult, finding really good books written about Scandinavian culture is, I think, a challenge.

There just aren’t enough books getting published that are really sold reads. (Though I hope to change this in the near future.)

The Almost Nearly Perfect People however, is EXCELLENT. Instead of relying on the accounts of others, Michael Booth explores the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland using his own eyes and experiences.

He’s a funny, insightful and intelligent writer who, while highlighting the great things about living in the north, brings it to our attention that, actually, shit happens in Scandinavia too, and it isn’t all as dreamy as so many of us have been led to believe.

Buy it here.

Wild By Jay Griffiths

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Wild is one of those books that changed my life. And I don’t say that lightly. I found it at random in the library back in 2008 and after reading the first page, clung to it like it was my life raft.

I ranted and raved to anyone who would listen, about Jay Griffiths enlightening work in which she endeavoured to explore the wildernesses of earth, ice, water and fire.

While it isn’t all about the north – there’s one chapter called Ice which is northerly focused – I thought it essential I mention it here because her experiences and thoughts of the north are so profound, so moving, so aware that she can alter your way of thinking in a heartbeat.

Griffiths is one of the most important nature writers we have. Her ear is forever pressed to the ground.

Buy it here.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts By Paul Watkins

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I can’t remember if my Dad bought my this or if I did…either way, it was found in Pound Land. Yes. One of my favourite books about the north cost a quid in a bargain shop. Why it was there exactly isn’t something I like to dwell on because this author deserves ALL the readers.

When it first arrived in my hands, I knew it was going to be a winner not only because of  it’s spectacular front cover, but because it was published by National Geographic, and National Geographic do not piss about. Everything they publish is of THE highest quality.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts is a compelling narrative about Paul Watkin’s solo trek through the wilds of Norway’s Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains.

His descriptions of the challenging terrain he encounters on his journey is nothing less than spellbinding, and his natural ability to to weave together the connections between the Norwegian landscape and the myths and people found there makes for an exhilarating read.

Buy it here.

True North By Gavin Francis

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I was fortunate that back in England, my local library had quite the collection of Arctic literature, and among that collection was True North by Gavin Francis.

Although it’s been a few years since I read it, I can remember that I always had a pen and notebook so I could scribble down his impressions of journeying through the Shetland Isles, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland. (Envious am I? Naturally.)

True North is an engrossing insight into how the region of the Arctic has adapted to the 21st Century. I learned plenty from this book, and intend on returning to it asap to refresh my knowledge.

Buy it here.

Faces Of The North By Ragnar Axelsson

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I was first introduced to the work of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson in 2008 when I was at University and working on a novel about Iceland.

A teacher lent me his copy of Faces Of The North (not without a lecture on how valuable it was first off though, to ensure it was well looked after.)

From the moment I saw the cover (can you taste the salt of the sea on your lips too?) I was happily stolen away from my life in England. Naturally, I didn’t want to give it back to my teacher. The impression it had left was soul deep.

This art book is as perfect as art books come, and through around 100 heart-stirring photographs of Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, documents the vanishing lifestyle of the north.

Buy it here.

Katie – Your Eyes In The North