Nyx Book Reviews

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Why I Read English Books

flower

I rarely have to explain myself to other people, because most people that know me know that I almost exclusively read English books. As a Dutch person, this isn’t that exceptional. Many Dutch readers are rather disgruntled by the state of publishing in the Netherlands. For me this was definitely part of the issue, but it’s not the only factor that made me read a hundred English books a year, and only one or two Dutch ones. Part of what caused me to write this post is this article (it’s in Dutch, though.)

Genre publishing in the Netherlands

If you’re not from the Netherlands as well, you probably don’t know any Dutch authors. Depending on what genre you favour, that’s because there might not even be any authors to know.

As a kid, I grew up on horror books. The scarier or magical, the better. I read R.L. Stine alongside Dutch authors like Paul van Loon and Bies van Ede. By the time I was ten I had read every book in the children’s section and graduated to adult books.

Then I discovered fantasy. Adult horror books were too gory or weird for me to understand, and I threw myself at all of these fantastic looking tomes. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I wasn’t reading a single book by a Dutch author – all of these fantasy books were translated from English.

The sad reality is that fantasy fiction doesn’t sell in the Netherlands. Some of the bestsellers are translated, but even then, more often than not, only the first few books are translated. Dozens of series are left unfinished. The Dutch fantasy market is dead, and it doesn’t take much time for a fantasy fan to make the switch to English.

Reading in a second language

I’m not going to lie to you – reading an adult book in a language that is not your own is not easy. The first English book I read, Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison, was a process. I didn’t understand half of what I was reading, but I had a blast. Urban fantasy was just so exciting, and there was not a single Dutch author out there that wrote it.

The more I got into urban fantasy, and later discovered young adult paranormals, the more I became disillusioned with my country’s literature. When I walked into a book store, there was nothing there for me. What I wanted to read simply wasn’t published. So out of necessity, I continued reading English books, which had the added benefit of being much cheaper to buy as well.

There is this one argument that keeps popping up in any discussion about reading in a second language: you won’t get the same out of an English (or French/German/whatever) book as you will from one written in your own language. For me this is simply untrue. Let’s do the math here – I have 700 books marked as “read” on my Goodreads. Of these 700, about 20 might be Dutch. It doesn’t matter in what language you’re reading, but I’m pretty sure that by the time you’ve read a few hundred books in it, you’re pretty fucking fluent. In reality, my English grammar is better than my Dutch grammar is. My exposure to written Dutch is limited to the occasional article I read for university.

The beauty of language

I used to have a French teacher in high school who told us that he thought that French was more beautiful than Dutch. At the time I had no idea what he meant by that. Now I finally get it, because I think the English language is more beautiful than Dutch. When I now read a book in Dutch, it doesn’t feel like “coming home”. It feels like I’m reading something flat and dull. Dutch isn’t a poetic language. It’s business-like, clunky, shallow. Where English has multiple words to describe something, all meaning something slightly different (such as faith, belief, conviction), Dutch only has one (in this case, “geloof”).

English is gorgeous. It’s my favourite language, and my language of choice for writing. I do hope that fantasy will some day become a widely-read genre in the Netherlands, but I probably won’t be the one to read it. I write my stories in the English language, which in my eyes is superior in prose.

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  • Jo K.

    I can totally relate. I guess it’s so with all the small countries and especially with the publishing industry being in crisis. Most of what I want to read isn’t available in Slovenia genre-wise and even among what is available, there is just a handful of good authors.

    I completely agree with you on your view that you can get the same if not more from reading in a foreign language. Now, I wouldn’t say Slovenian is an ugly language (I don’t know Dutch, and even if I did, I wouldn’t judge it’s beauty or the lack thereof), especially since we as a nation fought for a millennia for it to not be considered inferior to German. However, most often even when a (contemporary) book is translated into Slovenian, I prefer to read the English original, because nowadays translators are rushed and underpaid due to publishers trying to keep afloat with low-priced books and the translations are often really bad. So I don’t see why I would read something that would actually worsen my mother tongue when I can read something that improves my English and I can get more enjoyment and a better picture from.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      I imagine that Slovenia’s publishing landscape is similar to that of the Netherlands. It’s near impossible to compete with the English publishers.

      You make an interesting point about being independent from Germany. I think in the Netherlands there is also that undercurrent of national pride and a desire to publish Dutch books, rather than just buying English/German ones.

      A few books have been translated wonderfully into Dutch, including Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but most contemporary novels are rush jobs, like you said. On top of that, Dutch publishers have so little money that more often than not they just abandon series halfway.

  • http://www.lunar-rainbows.com/ Micheline

    Well, I wasn’t able to read the article, since I don’t speak Dutch, but I can relate to your thoughts here. I’m French as a minority in a province that is largely English – and a Country that is largely English for that matter – and I’ve been reading in English since I was 5, despite talking in French with family and friends. It’s simply easier to find books in English than to bother hunting down French translations. I also feel like some of the meaning and/or nuances get lost in translation a lot of the times, which is my reason for not seeking out French translations for my favorite books. Like you, I also feel that my English grammar is better than my French grammar. That’s why I write in English too and my WIP is English.

    I didn’t realize how difficult it is for you guys to even get Dutch books. I think the worst is that series stop being translated for you halfway in O.O I could order in French books easily, if they weren’t at my local library or book store. I don’t though hehe. Anyways, this was an interesting read^^ I learned quite a bit πŸ™‚

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      That’s fascinating, I didn’t know you were bilingual. You’re right about translations – a lot of the nuances are just impossible to translate completely. I read Terry Pratchett’s Colour of Magic in both Dutch and English, and although the Dutch translation was very good, you just can’t translate all of the jokes because they depend so much on the language itself.

      Ooooo, what is your WIP about? Tell me more πŸ˜€ (By the way, I’ve been spamming about this on social media as well, but I’m looking for writing buddies)

      Gahhh, series that stop being translated are THE WORST. Especially when I was still a kid and there was nothing I could do about it.

  • http://www.betweenmylines.com/ Trish Hannon

    I’m just envious of your multi lingual skills. I can’t even imagine reading books in a foreign language FOR FUN but I can imagine how great it is for your vocab and fluency! Interesting that you write your own stories in English too.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Hehe πŸ˜€ I guess that’s what you get from living in the Netherlands. We encounter other languages from very early on because we consume so much British/American media

  • http://lolasreviews.com Lola

    I also have a post planned about this topic :). I never knew that sience fiction and fantasy didn’t sell well in the Netherlands. I read a lof of dutch books in the fantasy genre when I was little, although just like you, later discovered most of those were translated.

    My reason why I switched to english was partly because I could and partly because once I gave english a try I liked that more. For some reason reading dutch mkaes me cringe, unless it’s a non fiction book. I just don’t find it a pleasant language to read. Also there is much more books to choose from in english and they are cheaper indeed.

    When my english wans’t as good yet I picked up a fantasy book and eventually put it down as I couldn’t understand half of it. Then I picked up Twillight in english at the end of high school, which I could understand mostly. And after my first year university my knowlegde of the english language improved a lot as almost all my university books were in english so I had to learn the language. Weirdly enough I had a lot of trouble with english in high school.

    I also think that point about a different language not being the same as your motherlanguage is untrue for me. I love reading english books and I don’t feel like I miss something and when I do pick up a dutch book it just reminds me of why I read english books instead.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Ooo, fun. I’m looking forward to reading more about your thoughts about this topic πŸ™‚

      I’m totally on the same page – Dutch makes me cringe. In non-fiction it’s fine, that works for me, but in fiction it just doesn’t. No matter how it’s written, it always feels so child-like in Dutch.

      I wasn’t all that great at languages in high school (read: I was terrible at them), but now I’m older I’m actually quite good at it. I think the way it was taught just didn’t work for me, rather than that I couldn’t learn languages. It might be similar for you

      Thanks a lot for stopping by, Lola!

  • http://lectureaventure.blogspot.be/ miki

    … i don’t like Dutch but that’s perhaps because it was imposed on my and still it sound harsh to me i really prefer english it’s i don’t know simple in a sense and more melodious.
    now i’m not Dutch and i can’t speak it ( totally forgot ^^;;) but i can realte as i do read a lot more in english that in my own langauge because in urban fantasy for exampel teh majority were translated from teh english ( they are soem new authors now in my language but still no comparaison) and the time to get translation was too long so i switched to read the book in english directly and i so prefer that

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      What is your first language? French?

      Books do sometimes take forever to translate. It’s so much faster and easier to get the book in English.

      Thanks for stopping by, Miki!

      • http://lectureaventure.blogspot.be/ miki

        yes French, and boosk are also more expensive when translated

  • Maraia

    You know, it wasn’t until I studied abroad that I gained a greater appreciation for English. I LOVE German – it’s a ton of fun to play with – but there’s just something special about English. I know there are plenty of other, more important reasons why English is the default language in the world, but I do think the language itself is part of it.

    For the record, your English grammar is probably way better than at least 50% of Americans. I can’t speak for Brits, Australians, or Canadians. πŸ˜‰

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      I think German is lovely too, and I’m having a good time trying to learn more about it. And yeah, there are many reasons English is a world language (many of them because of imperialism), but it’s also just so easy to learn. The grammar and spelling is way more straightforward than it is in Dutch, for example. Every few years or so, the languagebrains in the Netherlands publish new spelling rules and it messes everything up (gahh).

      Aww, thank you πŸ˜€ I know my vocabulary at least is at the same level of an average English native speaker (go me)

      • Maraia

        Haha, that’s unhelpful. Why do they do that?

        Yes, go you! πŸ˜€

  • http://readingismybreathing.blogspot.cz/ Lucia @Reading Is My Breathing

    This is such an awesome post! My first language is also not english and I started reaidng english books for the same reason as you – the supply of books in my prefered genre in my own language was minimal. Now I cannot imagine reading novel in any other language but english. It is more beautiful, it has better flow and now I enjoy english books much better than czech books.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Me too! Glad to hear you think the same, Lucia. Thanks for stopping by πŸ˜€

  • http://theereaderjunkie.wordpress.com Red Iza

    I began to read books in English regularly for the same reasons as yours : I couldn’t find what I wanted in French πŸ™‚ However, since a few recent years, there has been a wider choice of that kind of novels in France, but well, now I’m used to reading in English. Plus I don’t have to wait and, major issue, I’m not always happy with the translations.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      That’s great though, that they’re expanding the sort of books published in France. I have to agree with you on the translations – there are a few amazing translators in the Netherlands, but also plenty that translate terribly. In the end it’s just easier to read it from the source, if you can

  • http://badbirdreads.com/ Jennifer Bielman

    Wow, I feel like I know you so much better. Since my only language is English I never thought about the other side.

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      I hope getting to know me better is a good thing πŸ˜€

  • http://www.booksbakingandblogging.com Anne Kooistra

    Wow I couldn’t agree more! I actually wrote a post about this a while back as well, and I basically said what you said about the beauty of the language, and Dutch books just feeling flat because the language is much less imaginative. I hadn’t even taken the state of Dutch publishing into account, but that’s a very good point as well!

    (in case you’re interested, here’s my post on the subject: http://booksbakingandblogging.com/2015/03/15/reading-dutch-vs-english/ )

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      I read your post, and it describes it so well. Dutch really does feel less imaginative. I read somewhere that the vocabulary of the average Dutch person is significantly smaller than that of a Brit. And this is little to do with education/intelligence, but more the fact that English has more often-used words. Very interesting stuff πŸ™‚

  • http://www.spajonas.com/ S. J. Pajonas

    Great post! Reading in a second or third language is an amazing thing. I think it’s super cool that you do this!

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Thanks Stephanie! It’s become so normal for me that I never realise how cool it actually is πŸ™‚

  • http://itsallaboutbooks.de/ xcrini

    I agree with this so much! Especially the last part! I just can’t read in German anymore (haven’t touched a German book in over 2 years now) because I just don’t like the language and think that English is so much better. I even read German authors in English and then people start telling me “but then you miss the beautiful prose” and I’m like NO,if I don’t like German in the first place, how can I miss it!? It’s frustrating because they don’t understand me πŸ˜€

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Haha, I love that you even read German authors in English. It hasn’t gotten *that* far for me yet, but I’m close. It helps that Dutch authors never publish anything I’m interested in. Thanks for sharing, Crini πŸ˜€

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  • http://readingbystarlight.com Terri @ Reading by Starlight

    I’d say that it’s a shame they don’t translate things into Dutch more reliably, but honestly, if you hadn’t had to resort to English books, then you might not have started blogging in English! Then I wouldn’t know you and that’s unacceptable.

    When I was in high school, they had us read the first Harry Potter book in Spanish and I was totally lost, but really, with a book like that and how simple it was, it was a great place to start. Once you knew the story and you knew the basic words that you’d never come across in everyday Spanish class (wand, cauldron, etc), then it was really fun and easy to get into the story. I’m actually considering getting the books in Spanish again some day to brush up!

    • http://www.nyxbookreviews.com/ Celine

      Haha, I was reading Harry Potter in French in Paris, and I got so confused by the French word for Muggle xD It’s such a cool way to learn a new language though! Way more fun than the endless grammar and vocabulary lessons.

      I’m so glad I decided to blog in English. It’s given me the opportunity to meet awesome international people and get in contact with publishers and a dozen of other fun experiences. I wouldn’t want it any other way πŸ˜€

  • http://thedailyprophecy.blogspot.com/ Mel @thedailyprophecy

    I simply don’t enjoy reading books in Dutch as much as English, at this point. I rarely read Dutch books any more and I agree, Dutch is such a harsh language, while English is soft and poetic πŸ˜€