Meet the students who wrote the reader's guides
Esmé van den Boom - Possession
I'm a 23-year-old student of (English) literature who can't keep herself from reading in the dead of night, ever since her mother read her Harry Potter and she would sneak out of bed to secretly read the next chapter. Although I started my studies with a bachelor in Dutch literature, it has always been the more international scope of Anglo-American literature that attracted me. I took some extra courses in the English department and fell in love with just about anything my lecturers would put on the syllabus - and thus a bachelor in English Literature followed.
I enjoy going to literature festivals and other events, and I even helped organise a few! When I was on the board of Literair Dispuut Flanor, a literary student association, I was able to bring two of my absolute favourite authors to Groningen: Aidan Chambers and Eleanor Catton. Other favourites include A.S. Byatt, the Brontë sisters, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood. I have made a lot of bookish friends along the way these past few years, and we usually swap great reads, although I also read up on literature through professional reviews, Goodreads and bookstagram. It will come as no surprise that my tbr (to be read) pile is metres high!
Because I love Possession so much, I was thrilled to learn that Senia's reading groups are discussing it this year and delighted to write the reading guide. Possession, for me, is the ideal academic novel: its postmodern turns and lush prose and loveable (or hateable) characters invite us in to learn more about medieval legends, Victorian poetry, and Norse mythology. However, the novel is not perfect: it's rather undiverse on topics such as race and sexuality. I'd love for reading groups to discuss these topics, because I think reading and discussing literature is a great way of challenging your beliefs. This year, I am doing a challenge: I'm reading at least 50% writers of colour. It's more difficult than you might think: writers of colour are reviewed less often, they're not on the featured shelves in the library and usually, they're not 'what everyone is reading'. I'm trying to change that: even choices on the smallest scale can make a difference. As for the challenge: I think this will probably be a year of reading I'll remember and love best.
Anne Kooistra - Nutshell
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved to read. I was a frequent visitor of the local library, and reread some of my favourite books over and over again. When the time came to choose what I wanted to study at university, I just knew it had to be something related to literature. After going back and forth between Dutch and English for some time, I eventually chose English, since the literature was more appealing to me, and the language oh so beautiful. Not once did I regret that decision!
My favourite novels of all time are Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (a true classic!) and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, which is postmodern masterpiece. However, the Harry Potter books will always hold a special place in my heart as well. I enjoy reading books from many different genres, from nineteenth century classics to contemporary literary fiction to fantasy and sci-fi. Because I also love to write (and have a lot of opinions on the books I read) I started a blog a few years ago, on which I write book reviews and discussion posts, among other things. Feel free to have a look around on here: www.booksbakingandblogging.com.
I quite like the list of English books to choose from for next year. It includes a nice variety of different books. I have heard especially nice things about Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Emma Cline’s The Girls. I would also definitely recommend reading Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, for which I wrote the reader’s guide. I was very impressed by McEwan’s ability to tell a story that’s been told countless times in a highly original and engaging way. Whichever novel you end up choosing, I hope you enjoy!
Karin Renkema - The Little Red Chairs
I have always had a fascination for literature, and for the English language in particular. My time as a child was spent not only reading a lot of English books, but also watching English and American television series and films, so my interaction with the English language started early. The choice to study English was therefore not a difficult one. It was the perfect opportunity to transform my passion into a field of study.
My taste in types of books and authors is quite varied. For example, I love science fiction and dystopian novels for their often provocative or revolutionary ideas about society, in particular Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This is why I especially liked the novel Station Eleven (on last year’s literature list) by Emily Mandell, as it was in a genre with which I was quite familiar. This was when I wrote my first reader’s guide. I am also a big fan of postmodern literature, such as the works of Thomas Pynchon. My interests are, however, not limited to prose. I also enjoy reading poetry by Emily Dickinson, Joyce Carol Oates, and Charles Bukowski, to name a few. In my own time I also enjoy writing my own poetry, something I have done ever since I was a little girl.
The books chosen for the list are in my experience very engaging. With so many interesting authors and works to choose from on the booklist, I appreciate the chance to discover either a new novel by a well-known and loved author or a genre or style that is as yet unfamiliar. I wrote my first reader’s guide last year, and because I was very fond of the story, I included too much information in the part that was supposed to be a summary. Therefore, a tip to starting reading group writers would be that it is best to be concise rather than to elaborate too much. I hope that the reading groups will like my second reader’s guide: Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs.