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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?

book love

Blog every day in May, day 11: Tell us about your favourite book. Or maybe give us a top 5 of the books that changed your life.

BWAHAHAHAHA! Five??! Hahahaha! No really: five? Not gonna happen. There are too many books. To many beautiful, delicious books to pick just five. But I might be able to list five things I love about books:

1. The inebriating, chemical smell of a new, glossy-leaved book. The thickness and weight of its pages.

2. The dusty smell of an old, yellowing paperback. The coarse feeling of its pages. The fragility of its spine.

3. The stories that are told by books before they are even opened. The names that might be scribbled on the inside cover. An old price tag. A forgotten bookmark. A pressed flower…

4. The kindness of books. Books are gentle. You can put them down when you are tired. Close them when you are frightened. You can stop reading if tears start flowing or if you can’t breath from laughter. They allow you to savor them at your own pace. And unlike television or cinema, they do not impose a vision. They may suggest contours, but they let you color in the details. So that the story is the best it can possibly be just for you.

5. Their contents. Their stories, their wisdom, their beauty. That’s the main thing really, isn’t it? What is actually printed on their pages.

So yes, I love books. And (un)fortunately, I married someone who shares my passion. So we’ve inadvertently built up quite a collection. You can see a teeny tiny fraction of it in these pictures. When we moved into this flat, we had bookcases specially built to cover an entire wall – the longest wall – from floor to ceiling. We thought that would keep us going for a while. But within a couple of months, it was already over-flowing. By the time she was 3, Amélie had already accumulated over 300 books in her room alone. She’s acquired many more since. Charlie now has his own collection. We have books in storage in our basement. We have books in cupboards. We have books in and on bedside tables. We have more books than we have room for. And yet we keep on buying more. Offering to take more on. To give them a home. I don’t think it will ever stop. We’d sooner move than throw any books away. Because each and every book that we own is a favorite. Each one, in it’s own small or big way, has changed our lives and tells a story that goes far beyond its pages. So no, I can’t pick 5 favorites, but I will give you three of authors that I love:

Bill Bryson – if you haven’t read any of his books, go now and buy one them all. He has written about his travels and about history and about science and about language. Whatever he writes about, he manages to make fascinating and engaging and often so funny that you will cry. It was one of his books, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, that I read in hospital after giving birth to Amélie. After hours of trying, at about 2am, I had finally managed to get her to latch on and feed. So I picked up my book and started reading. And though I was more tired than I had ever been before, and though I was scared of this little thing in my arms and everything she meant, and though I really really tried not too, I started laughing. And then I laughed so hard that I dislodged poor Amélie and had to start latching her on all over again. It was Bill Bryson who got me through that first night as a mother, on the power of laughter alone.

David Lodge – when I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading. Once I had worked my way through the school library, I started reading my mum’s books (they weren’t a natural starting point for me since they were all in English and I was more at ease reading in French back then – not anymore alas). One of the books I picked off her shelves was a David Lodge book. I enjoyed it but don’t really remember much more about it. In those days, I was reading so much, I don’t really remember much about anything (or maybe I just didn’t understand French all that well after all). Anyway, much much later (i.e. about a year ago), we were staying with Hanno’s grandmother (who also has an impressive book collection) and I was looking for something to read to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon. I picked up a David Lodge book because the name was familiar. I had finished the book before we left and, after that, I read another 5 of his books in quick succession. There have been several more since. Nothing dramatic ever happens in his books. There is rarely anyone beautiful or exotic or glamorous. Most of his stories star aging academics. I can’t say they would necessarily appeal to everyone. But, to me, his novels are friendly and sweet and strangely compelling.

Jon Ronson – the first book of his that I read was The Psychopath Test. I can’t really explain it. It’s fascinating, educational and really quite scary. Then I read The Men who Stared at Goats. Somehow, George Clooney made this non-fiction into a film and though I love The Cloon, the film is nowhere near as shocking and frankly weird as some of the stuff in that book. Basically, Jon Ronson explores and writes about strange and slightly weird people and the very real impact they have on the world. Right now, I’m reading Lost at Sea then I have one more book of his to read and then that’s it. Until he writes something new. At which point I shall be running to the bookshop once more, for just one more little addition to our collection. HOORAH!

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