In most families, there’s at least one person who shouldn’t receive their book gift too early in the present exchange. Otherwise, they plop down in the corner with their new acquisition, oblivious to any other gifts or familial interactions until they’ve devoured it.
And if we’re being honest, chances are, in most families, that one person is us.
Winter holidays are a great time to give and receive books as presents. After all, it’s likely to be dark and inclement outside, while inside it’s warm and cozy. What better time to read?
Certainly that’s the case in Iceland, with the Christmas time book-giving tradition dating back to leaner World War II times. “In Iceland, books are exchanged on Christmas Eve, and you spend the rest of the night reading,” notes one Facebook meme that’s been making the rounds. “People generally take their books to bed along with some chocolate. How cozy and wonderful does that sound?”
In fact, Iceland takes its Christmas book giving so seriously that the majority of books in the country—which has a 100 percent literacy rate and publishes more books per capita than anywhere in the world—are published in the couple of months before Christmas. It’s known as the “Christmas book flood,” writes Jordan Teicher for NPR. The Flood begins with a distribution of a free book catalog to every Icelandic home, listing all the newly published books for the year.
In the spirit of the Icelandic book flood, here are some books published this year that we hope someone nice gives us for Christmas.
The Episodic Career: How to Thrive at Work in the Age of Disruption. Okay, technically this book doesn’t come out till January, but you can still preorder it. Written by reporter Farai Chideya, it discusses the way that employment in the U.S. is changing and how we can best take advantage of it. No longer can we count on joining a company and simply staying there till we retire; we need to be proactive about our careers.
How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy. Remember when we used to actually buy music? And we had racks of records, tapes, and CDs? This book explains how that industry was disrupted—and it’s a clear warning to us about how the forces that revolutionized music distribution could change our businesses as well.
Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano That Changed the World. Since we’re talking about Iceland anyway, it seems only fair to include this book. It’s about the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 1783 that had worldwide effects, and what could happen if a similar eruption took place today. If you remember 2010’s eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, or if you’ve ever seen Supervolcano, about the potential eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, you’ll know this’ll be a great book to read in bed—or under it.
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. We’ve written before about behavioral economics, or the study of why people act the way they do, so we’ve been really excited about this book, which has made it to all sorts of “best business book” lists. Ever get frustrated because your colleagues and customers just don’t act rationally? This book will explain why.
NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. “Think different,” Apple used to have for its slogan. But for many people in the computer industry, this is a bug, not a feature. It’s written by Steve Silberman, whose 2001 article in Wired, “The Geek Syndrome,” brought an awareness of autism and Asperger’s syndrome to the computer industry. For those of us who work with non-standard thinkers, or who are non-standard thinkers ourselves, this award-winning book is a must-read.
Thing Explainer. If you like Randall Munroe’s geek comic XKCD, you probably remember Up Goer Five, his story of how the Saturn V rocket worked using only the thousand—er, ten hundred most-used words. This year, he came out with a whole book of stories using these simple words—recommended by no less than Bill Gates. Do you often find yourself needing to explain hard ideas simply? If so, this book gives you good ideas on how to do it well. (And here’s a way you can try it.)
And, you know, we needn’t wait for inclement weather to enjoy our new acquisitions. “I know that people who are not Icelandic will say that it is the weather and climate that fosters this love of reading,” notes one commenter to the NPR story. “Icelanders, however, know different. There is something magical in books, in reading and in storytelling.”
This time of year, we can all be a little bit Icelandic.
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