Once a year I wish I was Icelandic, because Jolabokaflod, the Annual Winter “Book Flood”, is perhaps the best holiday ever.
I first visited Iceland in 2015, and I fell in love with a lot of things: colorful homes, black lava landscapes, their quirky sense of humor and the fact that most Icelanders have a warm place in their hearts for elves, but the most stunning unicorn of them all was an adorable cozy bookstore, the kind you dream of, on every corner. Every. Corner.
Yes, long winter nights have created some of the world’s most avid readers and created the Winter tradition known as the Book Flood. Publishers will release a “flood” of books from September to December, and all the people giving and receiving books during the winter holidays (traditionally on Christmas Eve) ensures plenty of long nights cozied up by literary fires across the country.
Yeah. Kinda perfect, huh?
So every year at this time, I like to share the new and old books by friends that grace my nightstand and might give you some reading and gifting ideas as we head into the Winter Book Flood season. Because if you’re going to gift books, why not gift books by friends? Whether we are Icelandic or not, or celebrate Christmas or not, we can still embrace the spirit of Jolabokaflod by sharing and indulging our creative imaginations during the darkest nights of the year. And so I present:
Books By Friends 2020 Edition:
The books that I will personally be cozying up with as 2020 comes to a close:
(I’ve provided the publisher or author’s direct link if available)
(in no particular order)
Diane Simmons: Finding a Way “In Finding a Way, Diane Simmons chronicles a family navigating loss. Told from various perspectives, this series of connected flashes finds words where so many cannot. The often indescribable is distilled in a way that is fresh and full of deep emotional understanding. This debut collection is both delicate and impactful, and the stories within are among the rare that will move any reader.”
gregory SETH harris: The Perfect Stranger “Liberally sprinkled with incredible, unique images, Harris’s unconventional Perfect Stranger evokes the impression of Richard Brautigan cartwheeling down an Escherian Stairwell: Very creative, certainly strange, and possibly dangerous.”
Karen Jones: When It’s Not Called Making Love
“When It’s Not Called Making Love is a breathless, breathtaking, unflinching coming-of-age debut you will not want to miss. … I just loved When it’s Not Called Making Love. With an authentic voice, Karen Jones tells the story of the troubled Bernadette as she grows from displaced child to young adult.”
Jeanette Sheppard: Seventy Percent Water
“This collection of thirty-one stories explores familial, social and romantic relationships through a sense of who or what is absent. Several of the stories evoke the theme through magical realism — the title story about a woman who tracks down her ex-lover in a hospital corridor takes a fantastical turn of events impossible to see coming”
John Wheway: A Bluebottle in Late October
“John Wheway’s first full collection places its trust exactly where it should be: in the poetic present tense where every gnomic detail is magnified, every commonplace brought to its own species of transfiguration. At a time when the lyric is so much in need, he rejuvenates it in its most pellucid and most effortless form; the couplet is reshaped and crystallised, and comes to life. A Bluebottle in Late October is a memorable sequence of poems.”
Nod Ghosh: Filthy Sucre
“In Filthy Sucre, Nod Ghosh paints fresh and stinging portraits of human vulnerability and fallibility. The three novellas will pull you fully into the worlds of her characters, mixing lush details with harsh surroundings, tragedy with amusement, and surreal happenings with all-too-familiar human experiences.”
Jennifer Louden:Why Bother?
“In Why Bother? Jennifer Louden shows with great honesty that feeling what is ours to feel is how we endure our way into a more authentic dream where who we are is more than enough. Without being prescriptive, this book is a strong and sensitive companion on the path of becoming fully human. … This book is a revelation.”
Pamela Painter: Fabrications: New and Selected Stories
“A crowning collection from the award-winning short story writer Pamela Painter. Pamela Painter’s short stories have been praised by Margot Livesey for their “wicked intelligence and ruthless humor.” In Fabrications, which brings together 7 new and 24 selected stories, characters struggle to avoid the chaos in their lives, but—driven by addictions and appetites—often bring on disaster. Nobody is ordinary in Painter’s stories.”
Robert Scotellaro: What Are the Chances?
“Robert Scotellaro has given us a gift with this collection of taut, stunning prose. Each piece is a marvel. The characters, and the situations they find themselves in, are thrilling, unique and immensely entertaining. In seconds he can get your pulse throbbing, or put your anxiety at ease. Scotellaro displays a mastery of the short form.”
Meg Pokrass: The Loss Detector: a novella-in-flash
“Set in coastal California, The Loss Detector is a funny/sad portrait of teenage blues and of a small, transplanted family of non-conformists. The flawed but lovable characters in Pokrass’ novella remind us of how the world’s most beautiful places are not always the easiest in which to thrive. Moments of giddy, perceived freedom set against resignation dot the narrative in such a way that will leave you changed.”
Tino Prinzi: This Alone Could Save Us
“With This Alone Could Save Us, Santino Prinzi has fashioned a collection of small, smart fictions that read large. Here is work undergirded by innovation, incisive wit, and a keen ability to navigate terrain that is personal, and at once universal to us all.”
Peter Churches: Whistler’s Mother’s Son
“How do you begin to describe a collection of over 100 short prose pieces of varying length and styles when the only thing they all have in common is weirdness? Maybe you say it features parodies, standardized tests, nursery-rhyme anxieties, fables, riddles, collaborations, conundrums, rescued clichés, abominations-in-training, dark Americana, existential misdemeanors, misbegotten mysteries, identity crises, optimistic nihilism, formal experimentation, and polyrhythmic prose, with a side of word salad.”
Tina Barry: Beautiful Raft
“Tina Barry’s Beautiful Raft provides a gorgeously rendered glimpse into the enigmatic lives of UK artist Jean McNeil and her mother, Virginia Haggard. These poems and interludes examine not only the deep complexities of a family but also the interplay between art and society. Beyond Barry’s probing portrayal is an examination of the concept of artistic mastery and what it takes to both create and be seen in the world.”
Jon Sindell: The Pugilist Poets of Venice
“This is a rollicking, big-hearted tale, full of laughter, bravery and unflinching humanity. The touch is light, but the questions are big: family, loyalty, art, and love are the rightful subjects of Sindell’s troupe of misfits and raconteurs, each of them a poet and each of them a pugilist too in this deeply funny and deeply felt novel.”
Francine Witte: Dressed All Wrong for This
“Winner of the 2019 Blue Light Book Award Dressed All Wrong For This, (Blue Light Press, 2019) is Francine Witte’s debut collection of fifty-seven flash fictions. The book quickly establishes itself as an absurdist joy with stories that roam anywhere and everywhere. I felt drawn to the possibilities, the humor, and the fact that I had no idea where Witte’s stories might take me.”
KB Jensen: A Storm of Stories
“Sometimes telling a story is just another way to stay alive. Swerving to avoid a hitchhiker out in a whiteout storm, Julie’s car ends up wedged in a snow bank. With the inches piling higher on the dark road, she can’t escape a man who makes little sense. Stranded in the freezing cold, the two tell stories to pass the time. From the Midwest to India, Denmark and Canada, they offer visions of lives and loves from young to old, far and wide. But as the hours blur together, and the snow and ice set in, it becomes less clear how their own story will end. A tale of love, craziness and impossibility.”
Cath Barton: In the Sweep of the Bay
“This warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the Lakeland Fells, and the faded splendour of the Midland Hotel.”
PLUS: Check out the So You Wrote a Book series for more great titles by friends from earlier in the year. And yes, SYWAB will be returning soon and I’ll hopefully be talking to many of the authors on this list! Stay tuned!
Happy Book Gifting and Happy Holidays!
P.S. And, in the spirit of the season, check out my special book gifting offer from my own book collection of new and previous titles—2 of which are out of print and you can only get them from me!
P.S.S. (And if a little birdie told you about a Flash Fiction Retreat tentatively planned for Iceland in winter 2022 (fingers crossed)….shhh…..!)