Jolabokaflod: Icelandic Christmas Book Flood

My Icelandic blood loves the idea of Jolabokaflod, the tradition of giving and unwrapping books on Christmas eve and settling in with the family to read into the night. Books have always been a bit part of our family gift giving and my introverted self relishes such an evening. 

Find out more about Jolabokaflod.

I have been thinking about books to give as gifts this year and of books that have stood out for me over the past couple of years.I have been absorbing stories of women from a variety of cultures, honouring nature, and psychology and spirituality. 

My hands down favorite fiction read is Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich. This 2021 Pulitzer Prize winning book is on my gift giving list.  The novel, set in the 1950s, centers on the US federal government’s attempt to terminate Native American rights.  I sometimes wake up thinking about the characters in this book. As a Publishers Weekly review noted: “Erdrich’s inspired portrait of her own tribe’s resilient heritage masterfully encompasses an array of characters and historical events. Erdrich remains an essential voice.” 

Also high on my list is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This poetic and inspirational book is on my gift-giving list.  Listening to the author read the book is a special experience. 

More non-fiction:

The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, Francis Weller. This book prompted me to write the post: Grief as a Companion

Brave New Medicine: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness, Cynthia Li.  Dr Li’s story of her experience with an autoimmune disease, the limits of western medicine and her exploration of healing modalities that worked for her.  

Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes, Elizabeth Lesser.  My book club explored this book over three gatherings. Although some of the writing isn’t new for us, there’s always lots to talk about and I love where the conversations take us.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.  I keep coming back to this remarkable book.  This work is life changing for all of us who have experienced trauma, including the micro doses of trauma we have experienced over the pandemic months. 

Book of Longing, Sue Monk Kidd.  A book about a woman finding her voice.  Kidd imagines the wife of the historical Jesus.  Not for everyone, but I plan to read it again. 

An Alter to the World, Barbara Brown Taylor.  I am reading this for another book club and am appreciating how it is strengthening my spiritual practice.  Taylor notes: “…my hope is that reading [this book] will help you recognize some of the altars in this world — ordinary-looking places where human beings have met and may continue to meet up with the divine “

Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, Anna Lemke.  This is an important book for our times.  Focusing on the psychology and neuroscience of addiction and how to manage and avoid addiction.  

More fiction:

The Tea girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See.  I first read this awhile back and have gifted it to several people.  It is a story that starts with the Akha people in the mountains of China. After reading you will want to try some Pu-erh tea.  

Vanishing Half, Britt Bennett. This absorbing historical fiction novel explores race and identity.  Everyone I recommended it to appreciated it.

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi.  The novel follows the parallel paths of two sisters and their descendants through eight generations starting in the Gold Coast of Africa. Great debut novel.

Glass Hotel, Emily St John Mandel. This compelling story was my escape read. 


I am delighted to hear that interest in poetry is on the increase.  I especially enjoy listening to poets read their own work and also enjoy Pádraig Ó Tuama’s weekly reading of a poem along with this thoughts about it.  Check out Poetry Unbound on OnBeing 

A poem I cherish is Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nih . It is a treat to listen to her read this poem and here are the first few lines:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

It seemed appropriate to end with these words from Kindness, since this is the phrase that is taking me into the next year: May all beings be kind to the earth, themselves and others.

Iceland is in my DNA in so many ways. I can’t resist posting a photo taken in Iceland. That’s me, my daughters Nicole and Kari and granddaughter Megs. How special is that.

Gleðilegt nýtt ár, happy new year!

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