Marnix Verplancke and Stefaan Temmerman portray an avid reader among his books. This week: professor and author Paul Verhaeghe (68) in Ghent.
“The first book I ever bought was The harvest by Stijn Streuvels at a book fair in Kortrijk, where I went to boarding school. It was the only thing I could afford. I received fifty francs pocket money a week. I saved a little bit of that each time and eventually I had enough. I am the eldest of four, born in 1955 in a West Flemish village. My mother went to school until she was fourteen, my father two years longer. There were no books in the house. From the second year onwards I went to the parish library just down our street. I finished it, both books, in about four years. Flanders now has a canon, but libraries are increasingly being cut back. Their importance is underestimated.
“The library was my first education. Like everyone else, I quickly discovered that the most interesting books were banned books. A number system was used, from I to V. The smaller the number, the more interesting the book. Things got good from III onwards. Only of course I didn’t get those books as a child, so I said they were for my father. He then read a lot. (laughs) By the way, I’m convinced that the lady who gave me the books knew exactly who they were really for.
“When I visit people, I can never resist looking at their bookcases. It’s pure curiosity, because I don’t deduce anything from it. Because of my training, I am careful about this. But I do want to know what interests them, whether there are foreign-language books, including non-fiction, and whether the books have actually been read. For example, I notice that many people The inequality machine by Paul Goossens, but it often looks virginal unread.
“Anyone who looks at my library will notice that I am in love with certain authors. For example, I have everything from John Steinbeck. And Henry de Montherlant also has a special place. After a failed love affair, I had a hard time with women. The way he breaks them down to the ground offered some comfort at the time. You can read my personal history from the spines of my books.
“Boarding school ultimately opened the door to the world. I had some very good teachers there who introduced me to the book world. As soon as I started teaching myself, I tried to do the same. Freud already said that you can learn more from good literature than from professional literature.
“I spent the last two years of my academic career teaching online due to corona. That had disadvantages, but also advantages. The students were given the structure of each lecture in advance, with a number of references to books and articles. They could ask questions via email. In my answers I again referred to books for them to read. I received a lot of positive feedback on it. Once I retired, I started a book blog, in which I do the same as I do for my students: give back what I have received.”