Me and My Books

As you all know, I don’t really stick to one theme in this blog. Little bit of complaining about work here, little bit of talking about food (both eating and cooking), a fair bit of travel stories, etc.

Today, I will talk about books.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I’m actually a big bibliophile. Nevertheless, I don’t read very often. See, for me, reading a book isn’t necessarily about relaxing and disappearing into another world. It’s just as much or sometimes even more about the appreciating the art of writing. How the writer creates a story and supports that story with language play, motives, themes, and something to make you think. As much as good ol’ Harry Potter will entertain me and drag me into the wonderful world of wizardry, most of the times I prefer a snobbish piece of “literature”.

(Snobbish because I do call it “literature” which sets it apart from “non-literary books”. And to keep this blog on topic, I won’t even explain in detail what I consider to be the difference (which is to do with the combination of story and style as mentioned above and exemplified below). Snob me, over and out. Simple book loving me, please do continue: )

If I want to relax and disappear, I’ll watch some trash television (that is, the crapy teenage series I like watching because they have a thousand and one plot changes in every episode, and my mind doesn’t have the chance to wander off to work and all that laundry waiting to be done, while at the same time, my mind has to do no work at all. Reading, that’s hard work. In a good way. When I read, I want to get everything out of the book. I want to disappear, but I want to be amazed. I love finishing a book being in awe, thinking, let me reread that last page.

What kind of books do I usually read? I love Post-Colonial Literature. That is, books written by former inhabitants of former colonies. Since I read in Dutch and English, that is former colonies of England, Belgium and the Netherlands. Definitely plenty there. What’s so good about it? Well, while reading I also love to learn about a little corner of the world that was unfamiliar to me before that. Not just about the history or the landscape or the way people wear their hair, but about what goes on in people’s minds and what drives them to lead lives so different from ours. And that’s what these writers capture beautifully, by combining story telling elements from their own (usually former) culture and traditions, and the so different Western World we love and hate. Like Khaled Hosseini speaking about his former home country Afghanistan, writing up beautiful but heart breaking stories in an English so uncomplicated that its straightforwardness stands in stark contrast with the depth of the story, which intensifies the mixed feelings the book brings up in you while reading it. Or one of my all-time favourites: Het Huis Van De Moskee by Kader Abdolah (translated as The House of the Mosque).

Or South American Magical Realism. No, not even close to fantasy, if the name would take you there. My favourite writer (and I guess everyone’s) when it comes to Magical Realism, is definitely Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He writes up genius stories, and there’s always this or that that just doesn’t really add up. For example, A Hundred Years of Solitude follows a family where the matriarch must have turned at least 150 years old before she died. Or Of Love and Other Demons has a main character with copper hair that keeps on growing long after she dies. And all of that is considered perfectly normal. It’s not like the writers create a new world like in fantasy or science-fiction, it’s more like they have a very different way of seeing our world.

But when I was road tripping around Australia, I had to lower my book standards. There’s only so many standards you can keep when book swapping. But to be honest, a new world opened up for me. Once in a while, I now like to read a book more for just the story. Sometimes they’re really bad, sometimes I find a hidden gem. My favourite hidden gem in the land of book swapping: Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Hi-la-ri-ous. And also, very well written! (Or well translated.) The writing style is often as funny as the story itself, crazy adventures accompanied by an overly pompous and rich style: it takes off the irony of a situation that could be considered as very ironic by the characters, but is instead just another deus ex machina, no biggie at all.

Thanks to this book swapping, a whole new world of books waiting to be read opened up for me. Of course I do still love my Post-Colonial stuff and the Magical Realism, but I’m now also looking for new discoveries. What’s your favourite book of all time? Anything you can recommend me?

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