I was pondering this week what life would have been like if I had set up a document storage facility not in the West Midlands but somewhere else. Somewhere, perhaps, where everyone reads more books and so (just maybe) wants to store lots of books.
That’s not to say that the English are not great storers of books and papers, but I just wondered, while sipping my evening cocoa, if life would have been different elsewhere.
So I went looking for places where people read more and found some rather interesting facts.
India, it turns out, is the country where people read for the most hours per week. The average person in India apparently reads for 10 hours, 42 minutes a week.
After India comes Thailand (9 hours, 24m), and China (8 hours).
The top European country for hours a week reading is the Czech Republic with 7 hours, 24 minutes a week.
The UK is way down the list, behind the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Indonesia, Argentina… in fact we are in 26th place with an average of 5 hours, 18 minutes a week. Just above Brazil.
(Incidentally I gained this information from “The Afternoon Map” which describes itself as a “new semi-regular feature in which we share maps and infographics. In the afternoon. Semi-regularly.” That may not sound the most reliable source in the world, but I have managed to verify the data from the World Culture Score Index which sounds a bit more sensible.)
Anyway, never being one to stay still I then thought, what about people who write books? I know that they like to store everything from the first manuscript edition of the book (not just to show how it started out but also to ensure their copyright is provable in the event of a dispute) to a few copies of the first edition so that the kids can cash them in, in years to come.
So I went looking for the country which has the most writers per head of population. And here the absolute winner is Iceland. It has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.
Now I know there’s a problem here, because somehow Iceland manages to achieve this “most books read” ranking without appearing on the list of top readers in the World Culture Score Index. But the Culture Score Index incorporates all reading, including newspapers and magazines, and excludes countries with populations under 1 million.
So having got that bit sorted, I moved on…
In Iceland, according to a BBC report on the “From our own correspondent” series, 10% of the population will publish at least one book during his/her life.
Yes – one in ten. Walk down your street and imagine that in every tenth house there is a published author. Impossible!
They even have a phrase “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, which roughly translated means, “everyone gives birth to a book”.
Park benches even have barcodes so you can listen to stories on your iPhone as you sit. Writers are important, treated with respect, honored, paid. (The storage possibilities are enough to make the mouth water.)
Of course, Iceland has previous in this regards with the Sagas, first written down in the 13th century, the most wonderful literature of the Middle Ages and full of heroes, outlaws, feuds, love, ghosts, trolls… OK, we have Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin and all that, but in Iceland every waterfall has its own saga.
And today every taxi driver writes poetry. Or biographies, or most likely really dark, extensive, teasing, twisting, turning, murder mysteries.
Now just in case you are not into Nordic Noir, let me explain. It’s a type of crime fiction, popularised in England on BBC4 with Wallender, The Bridge, and The Killing. In book form The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shot to the top of the ratings.
And we haven’t even started on Icelandic Noir yet.
But let me try to put this whole thing into a different perspective. How many English people have read anything by a writer who has won the Nobel prize for literature? Hardly any, I guess.
Yet in petrol stations in Iceland they sell books by Halldor Laxness, the Icelandic writer who won the prize. According to the BBC, people name their cats Laxness. While the English visit the set of Coronation Street and the Old Trafford football ground, the Icelanders visit Laxness’ house (and quite possibly his cat, although I’m not too sure about that point).
Here’s another lovely Icelandic thing. Each year they have the “jolabokaflod”, which roughly means, the Christmas Book Flood, the title reflecting the number of books published. Every house gets book catalogues through the door. Everyone gives and receives books as Christmas presents. They do books. Big time.
I’ve never been to Iceland, but I think I’m going to go this year, just to case the joint, as it were, and to check out the storage facility options.
Meanwhile if you are looking for storage in the West Midlands, we’re already set up and running. You’ll have to speak English, but I’m hoping to be able to discuss the issues of storage in Icelandic from early next year.
You can find more information about our facilities on our website.