Monday, 17 March 2014

Boekenweek: A week of literary abandon in Nederland

Anyone who knows me realises I love books. I even put off using a Kindle until recently. I couldn't bear the thought of not having a book with real pages. It was rather pig headed of me, I realise, since an ebook (like Kindles and such) are really just the MP3 players of the book world. And being an avid traveller makes it ideal. (There, I've said it...)

I was concerned about not having access to enough books in English when I moved to the Netherlands. I couldn't just nip down to Oxfam to find a book on the cheap whenever the mood struck. Then I thought perhaps libraries might be the answer, as people in the Netherlands are incredibly bilingual and put the rest of us to shame. But one must join a library for a fee here, so that was temporarily put on hold too. And in the bookshops I noticed the English books are terribly overpriced (import tax?). At least I wasn't spending a fortune on books. I began to fear my literary life here in the Netherlands was going to be rather dull.

However, I've since been busy with a Dutch course and someone rather sensible (my mother, most likely) pointed out that reading helps with many aspects of learning a language. I'd been making headway with children's books, which is all well and good, but I would prefer to sink my teeth in to something. So, it was with determination last week that I went down to the bookshop.

March 8-16 was Boekenweek (Bookweek) here in the Netherlands. There are other places that have such events, but I must say I was quite impressed. The whole country seemed to get behind it: there were literary programs on television, interviews with Dutch authors, author visits/talks at bookshops, as well as events in libraries and schools. Best of all: if you spent 12.50 Euros on a book, you got a novella for free. (Which, in the Netherlands, is pretty incredible. Nothing is ever for free here.) And before you think, "oh, if it's free it's probably rubbish," - No! In fact, the novella this year was by a popular Dutch author, Tommy Wieringa (even I knew his name) and I've been plodding along and enjoying it immensely. Finally! I can sink my teeth into a real grown up book: in Dutch! And I don't feel nearly as intimidated because it is a novella. I only have to despair for 150 pages....

The bookshops were having a field day!
However, the loveliness doesn't stop there. I went to the bookshop and bought a nice copy of a classic young adult book in Dutch called Oorlogswinter about World War II here in the Netherlands; I got a free book because of this purchase; and inside that free book, was a bookmark which allowed me to travel for FREE anywhere in the Netherlands by train on Sunday, the last day of Boekenweek.


The shops were doing a roaring trade and even young people (who I perhaps unfairly tarnish with the same brush of being glued to their iPhones) were reading in the trains and on benches in parks. There was truly a buzz whipping across the nation. It was a wonderful sight to see on Sunday in the train home: at least 80 percent of the carriage held up the novella and bookmark. We caught each other's eyes and smiled, like we were part of some elite group. Discussions were breaking out all over the place about the novella, how far are you, what do you think of it? and so on.

I have now revised my opinion of my literary journey here in the Netherlands. I clearly underestimated the Dutch on this point. I'm off to plod through another chapter of my FREE novella, Een Mooie Jonge Vrouw. Let's hope I get my verb conjugations right...

To see more about Boekenweek, click here.