Still wondering what to buy your loved-ones for Christmas? Despair not. Just buy them a book. When in doubt, opt for a gift-voucher from your local bookshop. Why books? Books are magic. And honestly, who doesn’t want a little magic, a little sparkle at Christmas. There is a book out there for every one.
For quite some time now, Icelanders know that books are the best gifts to give and receive. Every year on Christmas Eve they exchange books and spend the evening reading. Jólabókaflóð it’s called. The Christmas Book Flood is quite literally a flood of Icelandic books that are being published around Christmas time and hit the bookshops just in time for Christmas shopping frenzy.
Since this post brought us all the way to snow-covered Iceland, I would like to recommend two books written by Vilborg Davíðsdóttir, a dear friend of mine.
Way back in 2009, a mutual friend put Vilborg and me in touch with each other as we share a common interest in Auðr/Unnr djúp(a)uðga. As Vilborg wrote in her first message to me all those years ago, we are “kindred, in spirit at least.” At that time, Vilborg had just published her first novel on Auðr/Unnr djúp(a)uðga simply entitled Auður (Reykjavík : Mál og menning, 2009). Auður tells the story of Auðr/Unnr djúp(a)uðga as a young woman. In the novel, we find Auðr living on the British Isles where she befriends a monk named Gilli. Though her entire family worships pagan gods, Auðr becomes fascinated by Gilli and his message of the ‘White’ Christ. Auðr is given in marriage to Ólafr the White, the king of Dyflinn (modern-day Dublin) and her friendship with Gilli will be prove to cost her dearly.
Vilborg’s novel is one particular rendering of Auðr’s life, whereas my PhD-project looks into the various depictions of Auðr’s life from its earliest attestations in medieval manuscripts of for example Laxdæla saga and Landnámabók to nineteenth century rímur (‘Icelandic ballads’) and þjóðsögur (‘folk tales’) in which she makes her appearance. It was clear from the start that Vilborg would write a trilogy, and coincidentally my thesis consists of 3 big parts.
In 2012, the second part of the trilogy was published under the title Vígroði (Reykjavík : Mál og menning, 2012). Auðr is now living on her own piece of land in Caithness together with her son. She steers clear from the Hebrides as she has divorced Ólafr and for fear that her father Ketill Flatnose will find her a new husband. However, in the Winter of 865, Auðr is reunited with her father on the wedding feast of her brother Helgi. It is on this feast that the vígroði (lit. ‘glow of war’) is foretold, which will shape Auðr’s future.
When visiting Iceland in January 2013, I went out and bought Vígroði. Shortly after my purchase, I paid a visit to Vilborg … the very first time we met in person. I had the privilege of briefly meeting her husband, who suffered terminal brain cancer. Vilborg was nursing at home at that time. Shortly after my visit her husband passed away and Vilborg’s most recent book is a memoir about her husband’s journey through his illness as well as her own experiences during the first year as a widow. The book bears the title Ástin, drekinn og dauðinn (‘Love, the dragon and death’) and it is a moving novel about the loss of a loved-one and how we can deal with such a loss and the grief that follows losing a husband, a father, a son, a friend, … a loved-one.
While Vilborg is working on the last part of her trilogy on Auðr, I will spend my Christmas holidays this year on writing my thesis on that very same Viking Age woman. Expect an update from both our Auðr-projects on here in the coming year. Unfortunately, the 3 books written by Vilborg mentioned in this post have only been published in Icelandic so far. But, please, don’t let that stop you from buying any of the books (You can always learn Icelandic!).
And, when in doubt about a Christmas present, remember that you can give someone the whole world just by buying them a book.
Have a Merry Bookish Christmas everyone!