A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
For its small size, Leiden never ceases to amaze me and there is so much on offer in this little city that is lacking from much larger conurbations. TEDx was a perfect example; I had been wanting to attend a TED conference for a long time but had never had the opportunity yet it was to be in Leiden that said opportunity finally arose, with Leiden’s inquisitive being inspired left, right and centre by an engaging programme of speakers. There have also been myriad posts on TheLeidener about the various exhibitions that have been gracing museums in Leiden and The Hague and I still haven’t had time to go to even half of them. Maybe one of my new year’s resolutions could be to make more of an effort culturally.
One place that I have made the effort to go to, however, is the Boekenzolder (http://www.boekenzolderleiden.nl). Located on the Middelstegracht just behind Albert Heijn, the Boekenzolder (literally ‘Book attic/loft’) is a veritable treasure trove of literally treats stacked from floor to ceiling with enough lofty tomes to keep even the most avid book worm in literature during their time in Leiden. What started out life as a simple community book project has now grown to a large-scale free library on a scale that is a real tribute to the small army of volunteers who keep it running for the benefit of whoever wishes to come and make use of it. The original idea was one run on a policy of honesty; take a book, read it, take it back when you’ve finished. That, or take a book, read it, keep it, take something back that you’ve finished with but that you know someone else will enjoy. However, this simple idea didn’t quite work as the organisers had planned as, well, it turns out that Leideners are maybe just a little too honest…
Soon, the Boekenzolder was inundated with more books that it was able to store and process; Leideners were keen to contribute to the project by bringing the no-longer needed contents of their bookcases and the organisers were more than happy to relax their ‘trading in/bringing back’ policy. Therefore the current modus operandi is thus: browse, see what takes your fancy, take it with you, keep it to read again or how about passing it on to someone you think will enjoy it? Spread the literary love and keep the spirit of making good reads available to as wide an audience as possible (the original idea of the Boekenzolder after all) alive.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first visit. Maybe it’ll be a waste of time? If people are so keen to give away their books then that doesn’t say a great deal about the quality of what you’re likely to find. I envisaged the kinds of Mills and Boon given away with summer issues of women’s magazines rather than grands chefs d’oeuvres. Also, I may be trying (and, to some extent, succeeding) to improve my grasp of the Dutch language, however I was pretty sure that it wasn’t of a standard high enough to allow me to start tackling great works of literature. All these fears were, however, completely unfounded. The selection of books on offer bowled me over and everything was clearly categorised, making it all too easy to scan the spines for something you wouldn’t normally grab in Waterstones or, indeed, to hunt out something specific that you need, saving you a few euros on Amazon. The English language section is enormous and has an extensive Penguin Classics section where D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow caught my eye; I’d finally got round to reading an old copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover last summer and with The Rainbow having been published 13 years previous to Lady Chatterley yet with me having no knowledge of this fact, I was keen to give it a go.
The foreign language sections do not stop at English however, fear ye not. Arabic, Swedish, Latin… the list is endless. I was particularly impressed by the French section. For the Francophiles amongst you, the choice of Editions Gallimards on offer puts the bouquinistes by the river Seine to shame. Books that aren’t in the university library and in Paris would mean you going without meat for a few weeks are to be found in this little attic in Leiden for you to read at leisure. I picked up Le Lièvre de Patagonie by Claude Lanzmann. I studied a couple of his films at university and was unaware he had written as well; being his memoires and most recent publication, it should definitely make for an interesting read. I also came away with Ulysses by James Joyce and a Marguerite Duras short enough to read on the train when I’m next exploring some far-flung part of the Netherlands.
So, what will you go home with? If you haven’t read your unearthed gems before the end of the year then pass them on to someone who will. Post any good reads you find (or simple recommendations of things you’ve read recently for that matter) in the comments below!
“So many books, so little time”