Posted by: Corri van de Stege | October 4, 2007


As promised, here is the rest of the journey (thank you Caroline for describing it like that) : 

I took all the books I had collected until that time, every single one of them, when we moved to Iran after nearly 10 years in London.  They arrived months later, having come by sea, but what a great delight that was, it was like having a bit of yourself back that you thought you had lost forever.  We bought more books when we visited England once or twice until the revolution in Iran upset ours as so many other people’s life.  Having invited Khomeini in as a salvation after the Shah and the Savak, the tide quickly turned and life became miserable under another dictatorship, for westerners much worse, for foreign wives often unbearable.  Time to go, but this time it would prove impossible to take back all the books that had accumulated on our bookshelves and so some had to stay behind, as so many other things: I left the country with two suitcases and a child, but we managed to parcel up our favourite books, took them to a freight office and kept fingers crossed they would arrive, once we were settled in Holland, because that’s where we were heading this time.  
   Books grow like weed however, and before you know it you start building up again, scouring second hand bookshops, and then the trickle of book parcels sent before leaving Iran also surfaced and so most precious books returned to us, like so many more refugees.  A new collection was built up over the years and then another one of life’s great upsets: a divorce, and eventual resettling in England.  Same story – cannot take all the books, how many boxes can you move?  The children’s books came, yes, of course, as many as possible.  
   In the Midlands another combination of we proved to be as obsessive about books as the previous and so maths books joined philosophy books and business start up books and science biographies joined my novels and general books about countries, education and other subjects.   I became an education and training post-16 policy expert and so professional books joined the ranks. 
   And now?  After having moved once more for the sake of a job, I will never move again.  I’m tired of shedding personal things, but mainly my books.   It really is this room of mine that I don’t want to give up, I love it, and although it does not have all my books (they are everywhere in the house), it does have two largish cases that have books stacked in double rows. More recently I have started a collection of how to write, creative writing, and such like and this has made me even more possessive about the books I’ve got now.

So when I ponder and take a bit more time I can come up with longstanding favourite authors, who wrote books that had a tremendous impact on my life.  How about Dostoyevski, Iris Murdoch, Herman Hesse, W.G. van der Hulst (the Dutch children’s books writer in a particular era), but also Fowles, in particular the French Lieutenant’s Woman.   The latter was presented to me whilst on a holiday in Spain, staying with a couple, the parents of a friend.  She loved her books and used to give me a pile to read when I was there, every time I  visited.  One of them was the French Lieutenant’s Woman and the picture painted of this woman standing there looking at the sea, lost between two cultures, always stayed with me.  It’s as much a memory of good times in Spain as of the book, the two go together. 

Don’t ask me to do this again next week, I shall come up with more memories and different lists for different journeys!


  1. Thanks for sharing. I read to escape from reality for different reason as a child, mostly because I was a quiet, introverted kid. I was inept in sports so I didn’t befriend most of the boys. I remembered burrowing in the school library during lunch, or sitting under a tree reading a book. By the time I was 14, I had read almost all of Charles Dickens!

    Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were much later revelation, around the time I started college, when I was most preoccupied about meaning of life, good and evil, religion–all the philosophical questions.

  2. Books document life. They record phases and times. I have boxes in my attic of books that I collected through universty, yet now they have no place and I have no need for them in my daily life. I guess books track the journey and ones that are lost tell us more than ones that are found(!)

    I studied The French Lieutenant’s Woman at Alevel. I lost myself in her world. I was her. I know the photo that you refer to. Her hair and dress sweeping in the wind. You have reminded me of a book that I cherished, but is now hidden on a bookshelf. It is full of notes. I will read it again.

    I went on to read The Collector after that and was in awe. I wonder if the words would have the same effect now? or it was specific to a time and a place when I was learning to read for me?


  3. Books do document life. In fact now I measure time with books. If a average 4-5 books a month, then a year would have passed after 60 books! 🙂

  4. Matt: I’m so happy that books mean so much and different things to all readers. I’d never thought of measuring my life in BOOK TIME! Better than diaries and work appointments, many thanks!xx

    Caroline: so glad that your books are still in our attic – there’s a continuity of life, treasure it! Mmmm the French Lieutenant’s woman, I only realised that she had been important to me when I started writing about books in my life… thank you for inviting me to think about it!

  5. As a boy I was a lonely person trying to find his way around, books were my best companions and gave me the assurance I needed. I always had my nighttable piled up with books of any kind and read well into the night and whenever I had a little time.

    I can say today I have lots of friends and am not lonely any longer. This has been so for a long time now.

  6. Jose: books are just great companions, same as friends!

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