Off to a new world

What more do you need in winter than a nice morning walk and a good book? Seated in a comfy lounger, flannel duvet and pillows protecting me from any malicious draft that might be lurking at my back or neck, I’m off to the distant lands of literature, impatient to find out what mirrors to my soul the author’s vivid imagination has put up for me this time. Well indeed, you might need more than just that: a sleeping dog at your feet and of course a ginormous mug of hot cocoa.

I do love our local bookstore and their valuable advice, but sometimes I think of my wallet as well and pick up secondhand €1.50 novels at the recycle shop:

The two lovely blue and orange ones were a great find as those colours are still largely underrepresented in my colour coded book collection. And what’s more, several of these books are truly unforgettable.

Fay Weldon’s for instance is a hilarious story about an extremely vengeful and cunning ex-wife.

The fact that I still have fond memories of reading The life and loves of a She-Devil more than seven years ago says it all. Now that I come to think of it, BBC’s Miranda and Fay Weldon’s Ruth do have a lot in common, both being plump women who don’t really think highly of themselves.

A book that is not in the picture above for some reason is De geschiedenis van mijn kaalheid, The history of my baldness. In fact, it’s not really a history: it’s merely a book about a young man on a quest for ‘l’Amour Fou’ who finds himself moving from one upsetting situation to the next. He’s surrounded by crackpots such as the mother of one of his suicidal students: an unattractive woman about twice his age who’s after more than just his knowledge. But it’s his own mother who deserves the first prize in the lunatic department as she tends to forget she even has kids and often spends time away from the world, literally locked up in one of the house’s many rooms. An excellent read!

Its cocky author Arnon Grunberg is one of my favourite writers. He’s not just good; he’s the only author to ever have won the Anton Wachter prize for best debut novel, twice.

Indeed: debut prize, twice. Let me explain.

Arnon Grunberg first won the prize, but then he used the pseudonym Marek van der Jagt to publish ‘The history of my baldness’. When this book won him the prize (again), suspicions about Marek’s true identity quickly arose and it was a hot topic for weeks. Marek never picked up the debut prize for obvious reasons and he was interviewed only once. The interviewer was, of course, Arnon Grunberg. In the end he was found out, but I love him for the stunt he pulled. Moreover, there’s a beautiful and solid theory on the Dutch website Vrij Nederland that explains how Grunberg used the pseudonym to enable himself to grow very rapidly as an author.

And grown he has! I loved this book even more than the original Grunbergs because it’s faster, ruder, sadder — without being saddening — and a lot funnier.

Désanne van Brederode’s People with a hobby is a novel that had me use post-its to highlight important and interesting passages for the very first time ever. I go through quite an effort to keep my books looking new and unread, so sticking post-its to pages is the most extreme way of tagging passages I’m willing to try.

The twenty-something main character is coping with losing not only her mum but also a baby she hadn’t planned on having. Meanwhile she keeps rummaging through her boyfriend’s exes’ love letters (who on earth would want to read those?) and makes a huge scene at a hipster bar (sadly, the boyfriend’s income depends on the hipsters). To make things easier she loses herself in a philosophical book that seems to make no sense at all.

It’s enlightening and ironic, and funny in the way Désanne’s main character seems to be looking at life from a huge, seemingly insurmountable distance. It gives the book the cynical twist I love.

Feel free to write a comment if you are struck by a novel or an author’s story like I so often am!

What makes you happy? Or what touches you? Leave a comment if you like!