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

 

 

 

A Conversation With Artist Alessia Brusco

The best types of Instagram accounts are the ones that leave you feeling better for encountering them. That leave you feeling as though, actually, life is good, and there are decent people out there doing brilliant things. One such precious account is that of  Italian artist Alessia Brusco AKA Skogens Rymd.

Although she’s an expat in Sweden, Alessia illustrates the north as though she’s never spent a day away from the deep woods and wide skies.

MostNorthern caught up with Alessia to get to know the woman behind the art. We talk about her career as an artist, her infatuation for the aurora borealis, and her experience taking Scandinavian Studies.

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Hello Alessia! Would you mind telling MostNorthern’s readers a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and where you’re based at the moment?

Hey Katie and thanks a lot for your appreciation and your questions! I was born in north-west Italy, in a region between sea and mountains called Liguria. I lived there all my life and studied at the University in Genova.

It’s two years now I’ve been living with my boyfriend, Martin, in Skåne, southern Sweden, in a small village in the middle of  a beautiful countryside landscape.

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When I first saw your art on Instagram, it was obsession at first sight. I was gobsmacked when I found out you’re entirely self-taught. When and why did you first start to create art inspired by the north, and how long were you painting before you decided to share it with the world?

Yes, I’m self-taught and I’ve always liked to draw: when I was a little girl, I enjoyed to reproduce Disney´s characters and to draw clothes! When I was 14 and I had to decide for the high school, unlucky the art school was too far from were I lived and I chose to go to a school were I studied Latin, Greek, History, Literature and so on. I left my passion for art but sometimes I kept on drawing small things, like copying black metal bands´logos or covers.

I started to paint on Christmas´eve 2015 being home alone with my mom. I didn’t have nothing else to do and the day before I bought two canvas and some colours just for fun. I’ve always liked the north and I had already travelled there before.

I think I showed my first paintings just some weeks after I did them, receiving at once a very good response, not expected and super appreciated!

Can you tell us about the meaning behind Skogens Rymd?

This name has a double meaning: literally means ”the space of the forest.” It was actually my boyfriend to create the name for me and it suits perfectly: it refers to the connection between earth and woods with the night sky and cosmos, but it’s also thought to be the actual room covered by woods and nature.

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I can really feel, through your paintings and the way that you talk about Scandinavia, the love affair that you have with this part of the world. When did this passion first start to develop and how did you feed it? Did you always know that you would end up living in the north?

I think that it really started when around 12 years old I discovered Tolkien´s universe. Soon after it I started to read about Nordic mythology, fairytales (also from other places in Europe) and began to study a little of Norwegian language by myself, using lyrics from my favourite songs.

I could not imagine to actually live here but I think I’ve always wished for it.

You have this inspiring infatuation with the aurora borealis. What draws you to this phenomenon? Have you had the chance to experience it in real life?

Unluckily I’ve never seen an aurora in real life but I feel very fascinated by it and have been since I was little. I think it´s so elegant, majestic and mystical. I really would like to experience it not only for the visual part but also for the sounds they say you can hear!

How long does it tend to take to finish an art piece? Do you work on multiple pieces at the same time?

I’m not able to work on more pieces at the same time even if it happened that I stopped a work and took it again after some days, but it happens only for commissions. When I paint something from my own mind, I usually want and need to finish it the same evening I start. I usually work on evenings or nights and I can go on until 4 or 5 in the morning just to finish. But usually for small pieces it takes only 1 or 2 hours to be done, but still it takes a lot of energy for me.

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How would you describe your ideal working environment? Do you listen to music or prefer silence? Do you need daylight to create, or do you choose to work at night?

I like darkness to paint. Even when I studied, I preferred to do it in the evening or night, I can´t concentrate during the day. It can differ about music or silence: I can paint with my favorite music, a movie, a series or a TV program from the PC or just sitting and listening to my boyfriend playing video games, alone or with his friends.

I’m not bothered by other people speaking but I want to have my physical space on a big table in the living room or sometimes in the kitchen. Nowadays I got a hamster and his cage is on the table with me (and the dog at my feet).

On your website, you talk of having taken Scandinavian Studies in Italy. I’m intrigued about what aspects of Scandinavian culture your studies were focused on. Could you talk a little about your experience and what you got from it?

After I graduated in Medieval Literature and History in Genova, I really wanted to start a new degree in Scandinavian Studies so, under almost three years, I took classes in Swedish language and Scandinavian Literatures reading the translations of Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish literary works. Moreover we studied the history and culture of those countries.

I surely got a lot of info from my classes but of course the most about Swedish language, I’ve learnt living here.

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You’re extremely well read when it comes to Swedish folklore and fairytales and if you were to recommend a folk tale/fairytale, which one would it be?

Something from the collection of Hyltén-Cavallius.

One of your series of paintings is inspired by Swedish folkloric creatures. Which creature would you say intrigues you the most?

I think it´s Älvorna, the fairies who dance in the mist. When there´s fog on the meadows it is said that ”the fairies are dancing.” I love the concept and I find it very suitable for my art.

One of the series of my paintings it´s called De Underjordiske, and it refers to small creatures, sometimes identified also as trolls, who live in the underground and they are invisible to the humans. Sometimes, at dusk, once can see a light on the hills, and that means that they left a door open. I like this concept so much as well.

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What’s the furthest north you’ve ever been, and is there anywhere on your bucket list that you’re aching to visit?

I think the furthest north have been in Dalarna (Dalecarlia, Sweden) and somewhere south of Bergen in Norway. I really would like to visit Norrland and Iceland but also Siberia, speaking only about northern countries.

You have over 8,000 followers on Instagram. How does it feel that so many people are drawn to your art, and do you find that your interaction with followers helps motivate you to create more?

I really think it´s amazing that so many nice and kind people like my art. I could not imagine it and I feel grateful every time I think about it. When I read all your comments then, I really go super happy and many times this has given me the strength to keep on in what I´m doing!

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Swedish artist John Bauer is one of your biggest artistic inspirations. How did you first discover his art and what are some of your favourite Bauer pieces?

I discovered his art randomly on the web: the first piece I saw what Tuvstarr riding the moose in the moonlight. It was love at first sight but I could not find anything in Italy about him.

I bought a book when I finally traveled to Sweden some years after and now I´m actually working on the translation of the fairytales illustrated by him in the beginning of 1900. The book is going to have an introduction about the artist, his life and style and so on to be able to give the Italian public an idea of his wonderful art and works.

I think that my favourite works include paintings from Tuvstarr, Svanhamnen and När trollmor skötte kungens storbyk.

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Norwegian artist Theodore Kittelsen is another of your muses. How did you first encounter his work? Do you have some favourite pieces of his that you would care to share?

Yes, he absolutely is! I discovered him much before Bauer, always on the web and thanks to metal music. I love everything from him but now, if I’m going to pick one is the jumping squirrels from a snowy tree. Of course all the trolls and the creatures and the drawing with the moose are favourites as well!

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As well as taking inspiration from the work of Bauer and Kittelsen, it appears you also find inspiration from music, in particular the Norwegian band Ulver. I’d love to know more about the series of paintings inspired by their album Bergtatt.

Bergtatt is my favourite albums of all times, I never go tired to listen to it and it gives me always the same fantastic feelings.

My series of paintings Blandt disse mørcke Graner is meant to be in honour of Ulver´s first works, a way to ”thank them” for the inspiration they gave me.

You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of bands. How has this experience been? Is there any band or fellow creatives you would love to work with in the future?

It has been unexpected and fantastic! And thank to it, I had the opportunity to know more bands and talented musical artists!

I´m very happy with my collaborations but if I have to dream, I would like to make a cover for the band Otyg.

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Are you a full-time artist or do you need to hold down another job to put bread on the table?

I work some small jobs to be able to earn more: for example I take dogs for walks and recently I worked for some months for a dog breeder taking care of the puppies and their mums. One of the best experience of my life that I will do again in some months.

In your opinion, what draws people to the north?

The idea of wilderness, the connection to some kind of spirituality and the wonderful mythology.

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Do you have any favourite influencers inspired by the north that you would like to tell us about?

I´m not very inspired by nowadays stuff, I don’t follow any trends (maybe I did when I was younger but not anymore) so I don´t actually know. I mostly like past things, cultures and art.

Can you reveal what you have lined up in the coming months?

Of course! Soon, in august, I will have an exhibition here in Skåne where I will show some of my watercolours. At the end of October I will be in Stockholm for a three days exhibition and there will be other shows next year.

I hope to have time and energy to work on bigger pieces.

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Finally, in three words what does ‘North’ mean for you?

Nature, Thule, Freedom.

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Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Norway

  1. On the island of Svalbard, carrying a gun outside populated areas is required by law because of the high chances you might find yourself face to face with a polar bear. If you don’t have a gun license, you’re not permitted to leave the settlement areas alone.
  2. Norway is just a bit bigger than the US state of New Mexico.
  3. If you publish a book in Norway, the government will buy 1000 copies (1,500 if it is a children’s book) and dole out them to libraries throughout the country.
  4. Linje Akvavit is a Norwegian flavoured liquor, and it’s production is a bit bloody weird. It’s shipped in oak barrels from Norway to Australia and back before being bottled. Apparently the constant movement and fluctuating temperatures give the liquor it’s special taste as well as accelerating its maturity.
  5. The US has more people of Norwegian descent than Norway.

 

Sources that helped me find this stuff: Sysselmannen.no, FactRepublic.com, Quora