Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Trip of Two Cities: 2016

Australische filosoof and schrijver onstage at "Storytellers" in Amsterdam 
This month the Dutch translation of The Art of Reading came out: De Goede Lezer, or The Good Reader.

I flew to Amsterdam as a guest of my publishers Ten Have, and the magazine Filosofie. The flight, which stopped in Abu Dhabi, was nothing to report on: long, desiccating, dull. (I did watch the new Bourne film, which was not desiccating.)

Hello, I am in Abu Dhabi and this is my new hat
My first official destination was London, after a blink-and-you-miss-it Easyjet over the waters. I stayed in a little hotel in Bloomsbury, the Harlingford. Breakfast was exactly what I needed after the flight.
All the major food groups: protein, oil and chitin
I had time to say a very quick hello to the lovely Signe Johansen, and buy myself a new Scottish lambswool beanie.
Jetlagged with a toasty skull (actual new hat)
I met my UK publishers Scribe for lunch and dinner, caught up with Anita Sethi, and chatted to independent booksellers about the UK edition of The Good Reader. I also... cough... bought more books. Thanks to the London Review Bookshop, Daunt Books, Foyles and Belgravia Books for this haul of goodies. (Except for Winter, which was a gift from its excellent editor, Melissa Harrison.)

Well-travelled codexes -- mostly #nowhitedudes reads
Then back to the Netherlands for press interviews, lunch and dinner with publishers past and present, and a few gigs. I stayed at the Ambassade Hotel, a luxurious literary spot by the Herengracht. Breakfast was fantastic, and another highlight was the library, filled with books from author guests (including yours truly).

Where books come to stay: the Ambassade's library
Signing De Goede Lezer in my well-appointed dungeon
Writing by the Herengracht
Meanwhile, the Amsterdam Light Festival was on, which made for some kitsch but still delightful vistas.

Figure in a landscape
Just the landscape
My first event was an "Art of Reading" class for Amsterdam's School of Life. I delivered two short lectures, we read some Henry James and Borges, then chatted about patience and curiosity.

Good readers by the Herengracht (canal)

I took some time to visit the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk: a modern art and design gallery. The Stedelijk was outstanding: a beautiful, open building with some of the greats of fin de siecle, twentieth century and contemporary art.

Martial Raysse, "High Voltage Painting" (1965)
Barnett Newman, "Cathedra" (1951)
Leo Gestel, "Reclining Nude" (1913)
Henry Matisse, "Odalisque" (1920-1)
Jean Tinguely, untitled
The next day I was at Filosofie magazine's Storytellers festival. Held in the panoramic Tollhuistuin, I gave a very casual talk about The Good Reader, chatting about my reasons for writing the book, and its main ideas.
"And so, I wanted to write about the audience, not the man onstage..." he said, onstage
My final event on Sunday was a writing masterclass, "Narratives in Nonfiction". I discussed the important role of narrative in human consciousness and society, suggested a common structure of nonfiction works, then explained how various kinds of stories fit into this structure.

Dutch prose? Can't help you. General principles of structure? I'm on it.
Then I was done, and left the Tollhuis straight for Centraal Station and Schiphol airport. Then all that was left was the long trip home, through Singapore. I described the muzak in Changi airport as "a faux-cheery hypodermic needle made of jazz, slowly draining my élan vital."

And with that, after some thirty festival events and lectures, my 2016 events calendar is officially finished. I don't have to get on a plane again until February.

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