Are my grand­kids from Ice­land?


A cou­ple of my grand­kids and I started a new Christ­mas tra­di­tion last Fri­day.

We went shop­ping for mod­er­ately priced toys that kids their age might like. They se­lected one apiece. I paid.

Then we headed for the Christ­mas Cheer de­pot so they could donate their gifts and get a glimpse of the huge lo­cal op­er­a­tion ded­i­cated to mak­ing ev­ery­one’s hol­i­day happy.

Char­i­ta­ble acts are ram­pant at this time of year. I ex­pect other grand­par­ents and grand­kids do things along the same lines.

This sort of rit­ual gave me a chance to in­tro­duce no­tions of vol­un­teerism and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity into the pre-Christ­mas frenzy, though I gen­er­ally try to be Fun Grandpa in­stead of a pedan­tic old poop.

It’s also a good, sneaky way to find out what your grand­kids would like for Christ­mas.

To my sur­prise, what these two want is books.

We were head­ing down the mall in the di­rec­tion of the toy stores when my dev­il­ish duo dragged me into a book store.

“I think a boy my age would re­ally like some books,” said the el­dest, in the same tone of voice I use to ex­tol the ther­a­peu­tic virtues of beer.

The youngest al­ready had glommed on to some be­gin­ning reader books and was too ab­sorbed to sec­ond that opin­ion, though it was clear he agreed.

Think One then at­tempted to read ev­ery page of ev­ery graphic novel on the shelves, a task that would have seen him evicted about eight hours later by store staff anx­ious to get home.

That pre­sented another teach­ing mo­ment for grandpa, on the dif­fer­ence be­tween books in a li­brary and those for sale in a store. To­gether we pon­dered the not-so-fine line be­tween ex­am­in­ing the teeth of a gift horse and dis­sect­ing the an­i­mal.

I don’t think books top most peo­ple’s Christ­mas lists, ei­ther for giv­ing or re­ceiv­ing. Elec­tronic me­dia bom­bard us with toys and elec­tron­ics, booze and choco­lates, even cars.

Indigo book store’s web­page has Top 50 Toys at the top of its “What Kids Want” web page; you have to scroll down to get Top 50 Books.

So though I’ve spent a life­time read­ing and writ­ing and have pub­lished a book of my own, I was al­most au­to­mat­i­cally headed for the toy aisles that af­ter­noon.

In the end, we ended up buy­ing toys for Christ­mas Cheer, be­cause read­ing choices are so much a mat­ter of per­sonal taste.

But I re­main con­vinced that pa­per beats plas­tic, so I’m glad my grand­kids, who have a plethora of Lego in their lives al­ready, felt the same.

It makes me won­der if there’s an Ice­landic branch in the old fam­ily tree.

Ice­landers have a de­light­ful tra­di­tion of giv­ing books on Christ­mas Eve and then spend­ing the night with their noses be­tween the cov­ers. (The book cov­ers; don’t be naughty.) And isn’t that bet­ter than watch­ing It’s a Won­der­ful Life for the 32nd time?

Each au­tumn, house­holds in Ice­land re­ceive a free cat­a­logue of newly pub­lished books, called the Boka­tidindi. That’s the start of a buy­ing frenzy known as Jo­labokaflod, or the Christ­mas book flood.

“It’s like fir­ing the guns at the open­ing of a race,” re­searcher Bal­dur Bjar­na­son is quoted in a tree­hug­ (pa­per­less) ar­ti­cle. “It’s not like this is a cat­a­log that gets put in ev­ery­body’s mail­box and ev­ery­body ig­nores it. Books get at­ten­tion here.”

So it’s no ac­ci­dent that there are more books pub­lished and read per capita in Ice­land than in any other coun­try. One in 10 Ice­landers will pub­lish a book in his or her or (in­sert gen­der-fluid pro­noun here) life­time.

Some of my fel­low lo­cal writ­ers and I are try­ing to start a miniJo­labokaflod in Sault Ste. Marie this Christ­mas.

We’re putting a booth in the Sil­ver Bells Christ­mas Mar­ket Sun­day, Dec. 9, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s at the Mill Mar­ket on Canal Drive and ben­e­fits the Kid­ney Foun­da­tion.

Nevin Bu­con­jic, Bryan Davies, Ruth Fletcher, Gre­gory Saxby and Karen Davidson Zachary, will join me to chat about and sell our pub­li­ca­tions. We’ll also have books by Paula Dun­ning. There will be a va­ri­ety of gen­res, though not a Boka­tidindi-full.

Some of us par­tic­i­pated in Author­palooza, a suc­cess­ful event at the Sault Pub­lic Li­brary in Oc­to­ber that brought to­gether 20 lo­cal au­thors to talk about and sell their books.

I’m sure some who at­tended were as­tounded that there ex­ist 20 pub­lished au­thors in the Sault area. In truth, there are even more out there.

Book booths are not un­heard of at craft sales and bazaars. Still, it’s a nov­elty in the Sault for lo­cal au­thors to join forces to pro­mote and sell their books in that sort of venue.

So drop in and chat, browse or buy a book or two (if you’re Ice­landi­cally in­clined).

Books for Christ­mas? What a novel idea.

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