The end-of-year holidays are almost upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or something else entirely, chances are pretty good that you’re looking forward to some days off work or school at the end of this month. (And if not, you’re probably doing a very important job, like working in a hospital, so my hat goes off to you.) If you’re in a part of the world where it’s cold, you’re probably looking forward to some cozy hibernating time. And that means…reading!
(Okay, who are we kidding? My fellow Turtleduckers and I were readers before we became writers. Everything leads back to reading.)
Last year, the word of the year seemed to be hygge, the Danish term for a feeling of cozy togetherness. This year, what I’m seeing everywhere is jólabókaflóð, an Icelandic word meaning “Christmas book flood”. (Jola-boka-flod is how it breaks down.) It’s an Icelandic tradition where everyone gives each other books on Christmas Eve and then stays up all night reading them. (Note: All gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, not just books, so there’s no danger of wakeful children spotting Santa overnight.) Which means most books are published in the months leading up to Christmas, but I digress. Like Neil Gaiman’s All Hallows Read, this is a tradition I can wholeheartedly endorse.
For me as a child, it was always exciting to spot a book-shaped package under the tree. And I look back with fondness at the Christmas books that only appeared once a year, with the unpacking of the decorations.
More recently, as the year draws to a close, I like to look back at the books I’ve read for the year and note the patterns (my book-tracking method of choice is Goodreads, although you can also see most of what I read on my Instagram).
And I’ve made a tradition of ending the old year / starting the new year by reading epic fantasy.
See, I love to read all over the science fiction and fantasy spectrum (and sometimes even outside of it! Shocking!). I crave variety. But fantasy is my first love. Back in the day, I wanted epics. First Tolkien, Eddings, Lackey, Guy Gavriel Kay, Philip Pullman, and later Lois McMaster Bujold, Sarah Monette, and so on and so on…
I don’t read fast, these days, so I don’t read a lot of epic fantasy anymore. Still, I like to return to my readerly roots sometimes. So eight years ago, I picked up George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones to start off the year.
Have you seen the size of those books? It took me weeks and weeks to finish. But it felt good to sink into a massive story in the dead of winter, and to remind myself what I love most about fantasy. The next year I picked up book 2 in the series, A Clash of Kings. And a tradition was born.
When I started the tradition, I would start reading my big fat fantasy novels right on January 1, but I’ve since relaxed it to include the week of Christmas as well, since that’s when I’m actually off work.
Five years later when I ran out of books in that series (insert standard grump about Martin’s writing pace and the series not being finished), I went waaaay back…to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. See, even though they were my introduction to epic fantasy, I hadn’t reread the books since watching the movies (multiple times). But by then it had been a few years since my last rewatch, and I wanted to see if I could recapture my pre-movie mental images and feelings about the books. (Answer: not really, alas. Just glimpses here and there.)
Anyway, this year I’ll be reading the last in that series, The Return of the King.
So next year I’ll be starting something new…do you suppose Patrick Rothfuss will have finished his epic series by then?
What are your favourite holiday or New Year’s book-related traditions? Which epic fantasy series should I tackle next? Most importantly, how are we going to convince the rest of the world to adopt the tradition of jolabokaflod?