Here in the Netherlands we already have at least one corona related novel, a novel that I spotted earlier this month at the library. The theme is about two strangers, both writers, who meet each other at a vacation park and start to fall in love amidst the chaos of corona, social distancing, quarantine and hoarding. But I decided not to check it out, thinking that anything written that fast can’t be good. And I’m not a big fan of romance novels anyway, even if it’s only a side theme.
And you know what the crazy thing is? When I was looking up a review of Quarantaine I found one dated 15 May 2020 from Het Parool. 15 May! That’s just over two months, three at the very most, from idea to publication – that’s insane. The reviews over at bol.com (like Dutch Amazon) are a bit better, at least. It gets four stars over there. But still. Romance? No thanks.
If you read Dutch, I’ll recommend instead Het Station by Joris van Casteren. Joris spends some months at Amsterdam Centraal back in 2014 or so, gathering stories of conductors, security guards, passengers, cleaners, the homeless and more. It was quite interesting but that’s probably because I’m a fan of trains and trams and metros and… you get the idea.
Here is something I don’t think you find often in America: mini books with the text parallel to the spine instead of perpendicular. The Dutch call them dwarsliggers, which the English Wikipedia article says translates to “crossbeam” or “sleeper”. Perhaps it is related to trains? Google translate says it could also be “railway sleeper”.
So yeah, a mini book. You can hold it in one hand. Good if you’re standing in the train – hold the railing with one hand and hold the book with the other. I suppose if you have really good coordination you can turn the page with your thumb. I don’t think my coordination is that good, especially not while standing in a moving train.
Oh, and the Dutch zoo’s panda cub was named after Vincent Van Gogh, receiving the Chinese name Fan Xing. “Fan” refers back to Van Gogh (Fan Goa in Chinese) and Xing refer’s to the panda’s father, Xing Ya. Xing also means “star” in Chinese, which, if you want to take it that far, could refer to Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting.
This afternoon I spent a few hours at Lebkov in The Hague, something I hadn’t done for a while. I have had takeout coffee from Lebkov over the last few months but this was one my first time sitting down. Well, there was one exception: I did meet a coworker there shortly after the rules were relaxed to allow customers to dine-in again. It was strange. We did not stay that long.
I purchased a coconut cookie, which was tasty, soft and slightly sticky on the inside. I also brought a book along, Night Train to Lisbon, although I ended up fiddling with Affinity Designer on my tablet instead. While I just started the novel last week I am enjoying it. It’s a bit dense (in a good way) so I’m glad I am reading the English translation and not the Dutch one. These days my reading habits seem to be me alternating Dutch and English with every book, which is fine.
As one might (unfortunately) expect, all of the public libraries in The Hague are closed. Libraries are something you definitely miss when you don’t have them anymore!
Luckily there is a solution to my current problem, and not just reading the handful of books I have lying around the house already, either. E-books can also be downloaded at onlinebibliotheek.nl and read either on your computer, via an app on your phone or tablet, or via your e-reader. You have three weeks to read the book, after which they are removed from your device and you need to download them again. Note: most titles are in Dutch, although there is a bit of English in the mix.
eBooks app – for members with a Dutch library card number or a subscription to onlinebibliotheek.nl. As noted there is a bit of English titles here, but it is mostly Dutch.
LuisterBieb app – audiobooks; for members with a Dutch library card number or a subscription to onlinebibliotheek.nl. A select number are also available for those without a membership.
ThuisBieb app – this app has about 100 titles for adults and 100 titles for children – it’s free for everyone, but everything is in Dutch.
It was really simple to download my first eBook – I simply entered my library card number on the website to make an account, found a book, downloaded the eBooks app, entered my login details one more time, and started reading.
I chose “The traveling cat chronicles” in Dutch, and just finished it last night. It’s a great story about a cat and his owner going on road trips so that the owner can find a new person to take care of his cat. Each chapter features a different road trip and has a flashback about how the owner met each of these friends during his school years. After the flashback, the chapter returns to present times and you move to the cat’s point of view again for the rest of the chapter.
Warning: a box of tissues is a good thing to have around for this one.
The Netherlands is enjoying a last minute fling with summer today, with temperatures over 80F. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but here it is! I decided to take a stroll over to the Palace Gardens, which I’ve already blogged about a few times over the years (2012 and 2016).
It was lovely to sit in the sun and just read a book. Today I started a book by Neil Gaiman – The ocean at the end of the lane or De oceaan aan het einde van het pad in Dutch, as that was the language I was reading it in. It’s about a man who goes back to where he lived as a child to attend a funeral. While there he gets lost in his memories of his childhood.
One interesting and unexpected thing was that the book begins with a preface which reads “Ik schrijf in mijn eigen taal. Dat is Engels. Ik ben er erg dol op. Het is een goede, soepel taal, waarin ik kan uitdrukken wat ik te zeggen heb. …” Or, translated: “I write in my own language. That is English. I am very fond of it. It’s a good, flexible language where I can express what I need to say.”
I thought that was quite strange, and wondered if that preface was in every version of the book. But no, he goes on to say that his sister-in-law lives in Utrecht (a city in central Netherlands) and he brings his family to the Netherlands as often as he can to visit. He goes on to say that you don’t need an English/American upbringing to read this book, and since it is now translated into Dutch you can read it too (of course the preface was translated as well, since he doesn’t speak Dutch). Kind of cool.
The only small downside to going to a park to read is that sometimes you can get distracted and not be able to focus on the story. Especially when what you are trying to read isn’t in your native language… When I arrived, I chose a nice sunny bench, at the end to give others plenty of room to also sit down (the benches generally fit three adults). I’m at the far left, with no benches to my left. To my right, there are another three benches, all grouped right next to each other.
After a while, a man sat down on the other end of the bench I was at. No problem at all; he was just watching his kid. About five minutes later a woman sits down next to him, so I promptly and politely moved my backpack to the ground so she definitely had enough room. And then they began to talk. Argh.
Oddly enough, I had no problem when the conversations happening were at the next bench (about five feet away), but one foot away was a bit much. Especially since they were tourists speaking English, which meant hearing one language and reading another. I was pondering my options – 1) suck it up and keep reading 2) go find another bench 3) leave. But after a few minutes they all got up and left. Yay.
So I kept reading, having a personal goal of getting to 100 pages. I did that, and was at page 103 when two more people sat down at “my” bench with a few other folks in their group standing around them. And they began to talk loudly. Arghhhh again. This time I gave up – I was past my goal anyway – put my bookmark in place, stood up and left immediately.
I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much. It is a communal park after all. 🙂
The weather here has been absolutely dreadful. Monday morning I made the mistake of wearing my lighter jacket, not realizing how bad the wind would be. With the windchill, it was about 0C/32F. Brrrr! I made coffee the second I got home, let me tell you. And now it’s Wednesday. The weather is a tiny bit better, but not really. It’s still cold, windy and rainy.
One fun thing to do on days like this is to read. My current Dutch novel is Wabi-Sabi by Francesc Miralles. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy of accepting your imperfections and making the most of your life. But that’s not why I grabbed the book. I grabbed it because it starts with a cat!
One note about the various editions: the Dutch version I am reading seems to be two books in one, totaling around 400 pages. If you’re instead reading it in English, you should look for Love in Lowercase to read the first half. Let me tell you: if the book had that title and this book cover instead I wouldn’t have given it a try. I am not big on romances.
But to me, I just saw the cat. Which is funny, since I am not a big cat person. I tolerate them, of course. I think they are darn cute. I love how soft they feel to the touch. But I don’t really trust that they won’t go berserk at a moment’s notice and claw me for no reason. I love reading about them, though. Also try The Guest Cat by Takeshi Hiraide.
This book is pretty easy to read in Dutch. The font size is big enough (not any of that annoying fine print sized font) and the author has a habit of writing 3-4 page chapters. You won’t hear me complaining about that. I do remember one time I found a book in Dutch online, thinking it would be a great read. I checked it out from the library without opening it until I got home. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the abysmal font size and the lack of paragraph breaks (seriously, I found a page with no paragraph break on either the left OR the right side). That one quickly went back to the library unread.
Anyway: the theme of this book so far is sort of the butterfly effect (an idea that a small change can cause something much bigger to happen). The cat stops by, and ends up staying. Because of that, the main character meets his next door neighbor, ends up going to the vet, sees a love he thought he’d never see again, etc. It’s very enjoyable so far.
2018 was definitely the year of reading for me. In total I finished 19 books in Dutch and 11 books in English. Thanks in part to a re-read of the Harry Potter series, I must admit. The Dutch translations clock in at just over 3,000 pages for seven books!
Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. Also a hefty read, it came in at just over 1,000 pages for the Dutch translation and was thus split into two parts. The best part? The Dutch translations were released in December 2017 and January 2018, whereas the English translation was not released until October 2018. One of those times knowing another language besides English has been beneficial for reading.
What can I say? Sitting in the library café in the morning sipping an iced coffee is the best.
A lovely Saturday morning at the library
This morning I finished part 2 of Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, a book first mentioned in the last post. It is about a painter, estranged from his wife and temporarily living in an old house in the mountains as its caretaker. The original owner, famed painter Amada Tomohiko, suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home.
The story unfolds with the ringing of a bell… the simple ringing of a bell. Somehow ringing from beneath a burial mound, beneath countless immovable rocks, at the edge of an old shrine. But when the bell is dug up by the narrator and his rich neighbor, strange events begin to occur and Amada Tomohiko’s past is uncovered, bit by bit. Sweeping the narrator up in its wake.
This past Friday was my birthday. And what better way to celebrate that then taking the day off from work? I am currently in the middle of reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, a novel published over two volumes (about 500 pages each!).
Thus Friday morning was a treat to myself: I went to the central library, ordered an iced coffee, and sat down in the café to read the second volume. In Dutch.
Two reasons that I mention that it was in Dutch:
For some reason this novel won’t be released in English until October. Part 1 has been out since November in Dutch, and part two has been out since January. It’s crazy (but cool) to know you are reading something — and can read something — that hasn’t even been released in English yet.
At some point during the morning I realized that there was a conversation going on to the right of me, at another table. Two women were talking in a mixture of Dutch and English, but since I had my headphones in I hadn’t realized right away. After a few minutes and based on the content of the conversation, I realized that it was probably a taalcoach and taalmaatje (language coach and student) from SamenSpraak.
And it was at that moment when I realized I have come a long way in the last five years, from barely knowing any Dutch to being 700 pages into what is effectively a 1,000+ page novel.
Last month I posted my reading list for th first half of 2016. So far, July is going even better! I have read about 560 pages (around 18 a day, but I have a hard time sitting down and reading on a daily basis so it is much more varied than that).
Here is a look at some of the books I’ve read in Dutch (or am reading) this month:
1) Never let me go (Laat me nooit alleen) by Kazuo Ishiguro (English | Dutch), a dystopian science fiction novel which follows the lives of three students at a boarding school. But these students (and their classmates) are in fact clones, raised for the sole purpose of providing organs to others once they graduate.
2) The guest cat (De kat) byTakashi Hiraide (English | Dutch), a short book (~160 pages) about a cat who visits a young, work-at-home couple on a daily basis. Free to come and go as he pleases, the cat quickly becomes the centerpiece of their lives, even though he is only a guest.
3) Player One (Speler een) by Douglas Coupland (English | Dutch). I just started this one. It follows four people at airport bar over 5 hours as a worldwide disaster begins outside — Karen, who waits on a perspective internet date; Rick, a bartender who no longer drinks; Luke, a pastor who fled with his church’s savings; Rachel, who has trouble connecting with others; and a mysterious voice known only as “Player One”.
4) The Dog Stars (De Hondsster) by Peter Heller (English | Dutch). I haven’t started this one yet. “Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.” Hmmm….