Posted by: Corri van de Stege | October 3, 2007


   Having posted  five favourite books last weekend, my immediate reaction was, but what about all the others, the ones that came before?  After one day already, sitting behind my laptop in a badly lit hotel room,  I’m mentally compiling a list that is completely different, and then I realise there’s a better way of approaching this.  I’m simply going to do my life in books, in two instalments as it will be too long for anyone to read in one go.    A story in two parts, for Lara,  about worlds within worlds:

   As a child growing up in Holland I became a voracious reader as an escape from reality.  Being one child amongst many, moreover a girl, in a calvinist family in a small village setting proved to be quite a challenge.  Sheer survival amongst a large number of siblings, the threat of eternal damnation, sin, they were all part and parcel of every day living.  The books I read were the staple food for good Christian folk, clean, portraying good children who were loved and cared for and who, although occasionally naughty, led a pretty clean life. The saving grace about these books was that my reading was encouraged and I would often hide away from the world, escaping the turmoil of a large family, with a book.  There was censorship, of course, which I began to evade more and more, hiding books under mattresses, reading chunks of books in the local library, without taking them out, stealing books from the locked book case where my father kept books that were deemed too .. what exactly?  Too heathenish, too challenging, did they have sex in them, pictures or where they by authors that were considered not calvinistic enough?  Why did people have locked bookcases in a sitting room?  The books were mainly my father’s and they were actually pretty boring – mothers did not read that much, they had other things to do. At most they read clean religious novels, on christian marriages and love of god. 
   I read for the sake of reading, escapism, a form of hibernation.
   When I left for England I left everything behind, including my favourite childhood books, the stories about the good twins (they were called Saskia and Jeroen), I must have had between 10 and 20 of them as well as a host of other books that were deemed alright.  Once in England my real reading started and I had a lot of catching up to do as far as world literature was concerned.  I read German, French and Russian writers all in English translations and in that way became truly bi-lingual. 
   I read everything by Thomas Mann, from the Magic Mountain to Buddenbrooks and Dr. Faustus, I read Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, all of them, including War and Peace twice, I read Herman Hesse’s SiddhartaSteppenwolf, Narciss and Goldmund and Gertrude
And at the same time I started to tackle English authors of course, from Joyce Carey to Iris Murdoch joined by many many others in the course of time.    I read every single Iris Murdoch book and could not wait for the next one to come out.
   When I became a philosophy student at University College in London (as a mature student) I imbibed everything from Locke, Berkely and Hume to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and forward to Wittgenstein (well, only in part…), Popper and Bertrand Russell, as well as Frege, A.J Ayres (whom we invited to our student debating group and had dinner with) and Mary Warnock and others.   I pondered the existence of self, god, and debated logical positivism, the truth of scientific theories and also made detours into Chomsky’s linguistic theories, Freud and Jung’s versions of my neuroses and ended up an even greater lover of novels and creative writing.  At that time I also devoured Sartre (why where we so enthralled by him?), Camus, Kafka and Simone de Beauvoir’s the Second Sex became an eye opener.  Novels became a refuge from which I learned about so many different worlds that had been totally closed for me until that time.

(to be continued….)



  1. Coming from a Roman Catholc upbringing I experienced a restriction in outlook. My intake of life was carefully monitored. You express that feeling of freedom, of discovery literature, that moment of realisation of the scope of learning.
    I know that feeling, it is a wonderful one.
    I remember discovering stories and theories and thoughts that stimulated and sparked my mind. Sometimes it’s refreshing to consider the journey.
    Thank you

  2. Caroline: that is really how it was, is: a journey that does not stop. That’s why I love books! And authors 🙂

  3. Freethinking is the key for improving our intellect, those religious corsets they subjected our minds to are no longer applied to our young, although we must be watchful of other corsets, mainly those political ones the media are so keen to pour into our daily lives.

    The human being is born free of all prejudices, let us try by all means that this freedom be educated in the proper way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: