Graham Jackson was lucky not to miss this year's annual book market in Wageningen, where life has been breathed into the historic old town once more.
Two weeks ago, Wageningen hosted its annual second-hand book market. The event saw the traditional Saturday market more than double in scale, as independent book retailers travelled from all corners of the country to converge on the old town square.
I’d completely overlooked the staging of the special market. I noticed the advert by chance, submerged in a pile of unread flyers and free papers that were heading straight for the recycling bin. So, with no plans for the day ahead, the decision was made for me. I cycled lethargically into town in the mid-afternoon haze.
Wageningen truly comes alive at this time of year, re-awakening from the long, bleak winter and re-energised by the oncoming national celebrations. Its international atmosphere – a result of the university’s burgeoning reputation in life science studies – bestows the town with a vibrancy found in only a handful of places outside the larger Dutch cities.
This refreshed mindset culminates in the 5 mei festivities. Being the location of the declaration of surrender which officially ended World War Two, the town is famous for, and rightly takes great pride in, its historical significance.
Arriving at the square, I witnessed the rickety bookstands, packed row upon row with all manner of obscure publications. Mere moments into my quest to find English language novels, I caught sight of a couple of battered paperbacks, the names of Conrad and Christie leaping out.
They were indeed English editions! Although outnumbered by the thousands of Dutch language novels on sale, there was a real increase in the number of English texts compared to the previous year. Then I left with only a copy of Joyce’s Ulysses under my arm…and I confess that I still haven’t started it. I’m building up to it!
The market swarmed with activity. All sorts of characters were crowded round the stalls, jostling for position. Some ran fingers along lengthy rows of book spines; others asked for specific authors or editions. Some merely stood back and observed, like myself for the most part. A little girl weaved joyfully through a cluster of international students, darting back and forth between the children’s bookstands. The café terraces were full and doing great business. People performed poetry readings to assembled enthusiasts and French tourists took photographs to mark the occasion of their visit. The Grote Kerk towered majestically over all, shadowing the flurry of movement on the ground below.
On such occasions, the old centre of Wageningen really is inviting, with its cafés and small boutiques tucked away along side streets, or lining the edges of the market square. I observed all manner of curious faces, etched with concentration and fascination, as they trawled through the books of varied quality on offer.
Of course, there is a recurring quandary at such markets; how can I ever unearth all the quality titles hidden among the trash? An impossible task, but then I suppose that’s where the pleasure comes from. You never know what you’ll stumble across. Feeling sleepy from the sunshine and content with my acquisitions – Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and Kerouac’s Book of Haikus – I left the crammed bookstalls, the crowds and the bustle behind, to enjoy the rest of the glorious spring afternoon in the confines of my garden.
As I cycled home, I observed that the varied shades of nature had made a swift and welcome return. Everything had begun to breathe and flourish again. Thinking this weather was surely too good to last, I decided to make efficient use of the remains of the day. I poured myself a glass of red wine and began to browse through my new-old books. I guess at next year’s boekenmarktI’ll be buying some Dutch literature; any suggestions for some accessible and engaging reads?
Graham Jackson / Expatica
British expat Graham Jackson has lived in the Netherlands since February 2008. A budding writer, he has a passion for music, film and literature.
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