Books, cheese, soppy stuff

Books, cheese, soppy ramblings

I’m in Edam, in Holland in the house where my husband grew up. It is a typically Dutch house, with lots of wood, very steep stairs and a canal flowing by outside.

What is slightly more unusual is that it full of books, packed with books, everywhere you turn you see yet more books. Shelves upon shelves. Art books, encyclopedias, history. Whole shelves full of Biggles or Simenon or thriller writers I’ve never heard of.
My father in law who died earlier this year was a bibliophile, a collector. He couldn’t pass a second hand book stall without acquiring something. Even when poor health made it more difficult for him to sell them on, he just couldn’t stop buying books.

There is something very odd for me in being surrounded by all these books that I can’t read. I speak a bit of Dutch now, know my way around a menu and can generally  follow conversations if I have the context. My husband reads to our small dude in Dutch so I’m quite good at animal names, at colours, at the sort of subjects that are of interest to toddlers.

But I am a million miles away from reading an adult novel. I keep having a crack at it though. There are multitudinous Agatha Christies here. ‘Come on,’ I think, ‘You know them all by heart, anyway, so should be able to follow them.’ But it isn’t any good. I’ll sit around staring at the first pages of ‘Miss Marple met Vakantie’ or ‘De Kat Tussen de Duiven’ for a good while before giving up.

It is almost a torture.  Of course, it isn’t, because I’ve brought with me a sack of books that I can read, but I keep thinking about how I’d feel if I hadn’t. What if I was a refugee? What if I had no access to my own language? Then surely the largely pleasurable game I continually play of translating book titles would be horribly frustrating.

(This is the game: ‘De Kleur Pars.’ Any luck? Probably not, but if I tell you that the name on the spine is Alice Walker?…)

But it creates another link, this obsession with books and reading. I was lying in bed this morning looking at a wall of books full of impenetrable words and thinking if my late father-in-law had not been so interested in books, then my husband might not have decided to study bookselling. He might not have got a part time job that turned into a full time job in the Waterstone’s in Amsterdam. He might not have decided to apply for a transfer to Piccadilly and give English bookselling a go. He might not have decided to stick around. He might not have ended up sitting next to me at our induction day for our new job in a new shop. And, ultimately, our small dude, our little blonde reader who constantly says ‘I read it myself, Mummy’ might not exist.

All of which is a bit soppy. I tend to write my blog when that same small dude is not with me because it is only then that I have time to have thoughts that aren’t uniquely centered around him and his care and to think about writing something longer than a tweet. But then, because he’s not with me I am always in a slightly heightened emotional state. Probably means I will be a soppy blogger until at least he goes to University.

So, back to the books.

I’ve put in a photo of some Agatha Christies so that you can play the ‘try to guess the title’ game.

The photo of the cardboard boxes shows all the WWII books that have been accepted by the Dutch Institute of War Documentation. My husband packed these up and labelled them.

‘What does that stand for?’ I asked, pointing at the WOII.

‘World War II.’

‘Why the ‘O’?’

‘Wereld Oorlog. World War.’

This is the kind of thing that pleases me. My husband speaks English so well that I somehow forget he has access to a whole other way of doing things.

I’m sure when I was a little girl eating Edam cheese I would never have thought I’d be in an attic in Edam, listening to my Dutch husband translate his labelling of war books.

One final thing. Did you know that Edam cheese only has the red wax abroad? Yes, it signifies for export. So, all the Edam we eat here is very different indeed. Just yellow. Another thing I’d never have known…




7 responses to “Books, cheese, soppy stuff”

  1. I’m a Dorothy L. Sayers man. My mother used to re-read them but the books in our house were never organised (except my father’s first editions, which were kept in a glass case) and so she had to keep re-buying them. I now have three copies of most of them. I also have them as audio books. While I was searching on Amazon for one that I needed to complete my collection, in the “customers also bought” list, I thought I saw a new one. Not one of those Jill Paton Walsh monstrosities – what for one ecstatic moment I thought was an undiscovered DLS. It was called “Starkes Gift”. My hyperlexia then prompted me to ask, “Why is there no apostrophe to show possession? Surely the book is about a gift which belongs in some way to a character called Starke.” It was not to be. “Starkes Gift” is German for “Strong Poison”. There was no gift: only the poison of disappointment.

    How many books in the collection in Edam are by Dutch authors? I think I can only name one Dutch author: Anne Frank.

  2. Love the ‘Starkes gift’ thing.
    Lots of the books are by Dutch authors but also lots in translation. My favourite Dutch novel is The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch. Erwyn says that most Dutch novels are about either father and son relationships or the second world war. Both favourite subjects of mine…

  3. Well yes, I can imagine that there would be a lot of books about WW2. The famine which resulted from the final phase of the Nazi occupation is still studied, both as an historical event and also because of its genetic effect on the grandchildren (not the children – that seems to be the fascinating point) of those who were caught up in it. The RAF used bombers to drop food parcels on the Netherlands and, under what the history books refer to as “a gentleman’s agreement”, the Nazis agreed not to try to shoot them down. I would love to know how exactly this was brokered. How anybody could use the term “gentlemen” in any connection whatever with the Nazi party is beyond me.

    I have looked ‘The Discovery of Heaven’ up on Amazon and it is there, but it is 736 pages long and is not available on Kindle (if you saw how many books I have in my house at the moment, you would understand why that is important). I’ll give it serious consideration.

  4. What can i say? Harry Mulisch is an excellent writer but there is also Remco Campert, J. Bernlef, Multatuli, Jan Terlouw, Jan Siebelink, Renate Rubinstein, Gerard Reve, Tessa de Loo, Yvonne Keuls, Maarten ‘t Hart, Renate Dorrestein, the list goes on and on. We have many very talented authors. I hope you do try to read them. You will love them!

  5. This one had struck a chord with me.

    My grandparents live on the Isles of Scilly and I spent many a summer perusing their many many bookshelves (their whole house is more of a library with beds and sofas stealing valuable book space than an actual house). Admittedly most of their books were about gardening and music which didn’t hold my interest in the slightest, but my grandma had an amazing collection of art books which kept me quiet for hours.

    I, too, found my partner through bookselling at Waterstones, and we, too, have produced a beautiful little bookworm who loves reading more than a lot of adults I know.

    It’s amazing just how much the older generations have an influence on our interests and hobbies, and how that comes to pass onto the generations we produce. Lovely, lovely books!

    1. Dear Laura,

      What interesting comments from you. I have always wanted to go to the Isles of Scilly. I’m Cornish but have never got further than Land’s End. Do you still vist?


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