A review of Nancy Campbell’s Fifty Words for snow
In case you don’t know what Jolabokaflod is, let me tell you. It is a tradition which started in Iceland during the Second World War. At the time, paper was one of the few things which was not rationed – and so people would buy each other books. Jolabokaflod , which means ‘Christmas book flood’ referred to the tradition of curling up under a blanket with your new book and a hot drink on Christmas Eve. I cannot imagine a better book with which to do it than Nancy Campbell’s Fifty Words For Snow.
Anyone who is imagining a dry lexicographical treatise will be wonderfully surprised. The introduction of each chapter with a different snowflake set on a midnight blue background is a foretaste of the intricate beauty of Campbell’s writing. Whilst the fifty words, or phrases for snow are fascinating (who knew, for instance, that there was a Swahili word for snow?) their true beauty is their function as trap doors. Through each door Nancy takes us into another place and culture for the duration of a short and very readable chapter. With Nancy’s help, you will travel from Finland to Hawaii and Thailand to New Zealand without ever leaving the comfort of your duvet. I mention the duvet because I found this book, with its accessible chapters, to be the perfect bedside companion. It is hard to imagine a better book for Winter.
It is clear to see that the book is meticulously researched and written as a labour of love. That said, there is nothing dry about it. It has the sparkle of new snow and the stimulating zing of a frosty morning about it. There is no doubting Nancy’s scholarship, but no doubting her poetic skills either.
Out of all the descriptions of snow, my favourite might just be the sun-cups, which can be ‘as tiny as a watch face or larger than the dial of a Grandfather clock’. What they are, and where to find them, is something you will have to discover in the pages of this wonderful book.