Sunday, 29 June 2014

Trouble Reading

You might have noticed that I love reading. I read whenever I have to wait for public transport to stop being sucky; I read when I’m upset, I read when I am bored. It’s like a pacifier for grownups.

Unfortunately, books aren’t for everyone. There are a dozen reasons why; maybe you can’t focus for long periods of time; maybe you don’t have any time at all. You might be unable to hold a book because you’re in the hospital, or you’re blind, or you’re getting old and your eyes get tired from peering at the ink. Maybe you only read on holidays or on trains and heavy books aren’t an option for you. Luckily, for these there are answers.

Audiobooks: I bet you’ve heard of these. They’re popular on Amazon, but you can also borrow them at the library. They’re normal CDs that contain an entire book. A bonus is that the reader can be an actor you love, like Wil Wheaton for Ready Player One, or Stephen Fry for Harry Potter. Audiobooks are regularly used by people who have to drive a lot, or who like to listen to something else than the radio when they’re cleaning or ironing.

Grootletterboek: roughly translated large-letters-book. These are literally books written in a larger font, where the words are up to 1-2 cm tall. Obviously, this makes the books a bit thicker, so one copy is sometimes spread over two or three volumes. I’ve seen many people who were relieved to have heard of this solution for their aging eyes.

Easy books: In Flanders they have the ‘Makkelijk Lezen” sticker. This is an easy version of a story. An Alice In Wonderland copy, for example, which is a couple hundred pages, can be retold in fifty pages without belittling the reader. They require less attention to read, and are also a good option for people who want to learn a new language.

Daisy books: kind of the same as audiobooks, but they come with a special device. They have large, friendly buttons so you can slow down and speed up the reader’s voice or leave bookmarks. They’re designed for elderly people, the blind, but are also frequently used in hospitals.

Braille: of course you’ve heard of this, but it deserves to be mentioned. Braille books can be borrowed in Belgium from the Luisterpuntbibliotheek. Braille books are usually a lot bigger and thicker than normal books. I have never seen one because they’re really expensive, but I’ve heard that the last Potter book had to be split in 13 volumes.

Dwarsligger: Not sure how to translate this one. Google translate says I should use the word sleeper, but I hope I can explain what it is. A dwarsligger is a book that is printed sideways on really thin paper. They’re usually about 5 cm by 10 cm big, which makes it easy for them to be stored in a handbag or in a suitcase. They’re really popular amongst travelers. Also they look great in miniature bookcases.

E-reader: also barely needs an introduction. Some are convinced that books and libraries as we know them will die out soon – why get a book for 30 euros (I said, stroking my shiny new copy of Tolkien’s Beowulf) when you can just save the hassle of going to the store and download ten books for the same price? You can highlight passages, it’s light, easy for traveling, doesn’t take up much space, and you can read in the dark. You can even get a shiny one.

…You’re not honestly expecting me to defend books against the “threat” of e-readers, right?
Oh well. In Stephen Fry’s words: “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

E-boeken: (translated: e-books) This is a new project in several libraries all over Flanders. In this project you can buy a € 5 code in your closest library. With this code you can download three books, and these books will stay on your I-pad, Tablet or Smartphone for four weeks. It’s still quite new so it’s best to try out the free short stories first; this app doesn’t work on all devices.
You could say it’s a way how libraries stay up-to-date. The total lack of demand is astonishing though.

To summarise: if you want to read, there’s always a solution, and you might not always know it.

Until next time,


Friday, 27 June 2014

From Blossoms

From Blossoms is a collection of poems by Li-Young Lee. Because I am of the opinion that poetry should always be open for any interpretation, it's quite impossible to review. So here's a poem about his book.

The winged seed
lies weightless in my palm
yet snatched my mind
reminds me of another home,
of roses, peaches
of a father who taught me love
I know that in
the city in which I love you
the seed will find the soil
to grow
to stretch
to shape ink into vowels
and dress the
book of my nights.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Don’t you even dare nag to me that it’s not a novel. It’s not a comic book; it’s a graphic novel. *points* It’s in the name. And of all graphic novels, this one definitely deserves to be reviewed. (Well, V for Vendetta is also awesome, but I’ve already read that one years ago.)

Maus is the very meta story about Vladek Spiegelman; the author’s father, and his memories of the second world war. In this story the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Germans as cats. (FYI: The Polish are pigs, French are frogs, Americans are dogs, and the Swedes are deer.)
And of course it’s a really sad story. Vladek continuously crawls from one eye of the needle through the next, until at last he’s caught and he and his wife are brought to Auschwitz. And even then Vladek manages to survive through bribing and cheer luck…
It’s not nice to hear how the Hungarian prisoners were made to jump in huge pits, to be showered in gasoline. How the fat of the burning bodies was shovelled out and poured back over them so they’d burn better. Or how Vladek, ill with typhus, had to step on slippery dead bodies to go to the lavatory, thinking he could fall and be the next body to be stepped on.
And yet it’s not just his story, but also the author’s story as he interviews his father about his past – a father who won’t throw away a damn thing and is extremely stingy; who would never trust a “shvartser” (African American) and drives his family mad with his high demands. We see how the author struggles with him, and how he feels about having parents that survived the war, competing with a brother he never knew but for a photograph in his parent’s bedroom. We see him struggling as he writes, sometimes saying things like “if this was real life, you wouldn’t have let me talk for this long”, and thus expertly breaking the fourth wall.

One thing that bothered me is that the father speaks English quite poorly, which was also translated into the Dutch version I borrowed. Especially ‘the’, ‘there’ and ‘their’ seems to be misused by him. And in a volume 2 cm thick, it gets on your nerves after a while.

I think this novel deserves all the praise and prizes it has earned over the years, and I hope it will be read for many years to come.

Until next time,