I first encountered the Free Library on a cold winter day. I heard about the project through a friend who is a member of the Bored to Death book club and a huge fan of the Leeszaal West, where she gets all her holiday reads. I just maniacally cleaned my house, eagerly awaiting spring and my plan was to drop off a few old books and some doubles, so that our place wouldn’t become such a mess again.
Among the books that I had to let go was of one of my all time favourites: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Ever since I started living together with my boyfriend, there had been two copies on our fully packed shelves and I’d decided that now was the time to release this precious into the world, so other people would get the chance to enjoy it as much as I did.
I cycled across the Erasmus Bridge through the icy wind to the café at the Kop van Zuid, where the Free Library was situated at that time. Just when I started saying goodbye to the books I brought, one title in particular caught my eye. It was Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, with its intriguing name and ditto cover. Various friends had recommended it to me. They were even more enthusiastic about this book than about her other bestseller, The Goldfinch. So, although it was never the idea to actually take a book from that lovely little trunk, it just seduced me. I picked Donna up and left.
In April I finally escaped the cold when I left Rotterdam for Cuba. It was then that I started reading. In the plane, on various porches, patios and terraces, in cities, on the countryside, by the sea and next to the pool: I couldn’t put it down. The book turned out to be just as highly addictive as my friends had told me.
A Secret History is a murder story that is set at a university in Vermont and follows a remarkable group of students who devote themselves to reading Ancient Greek. They are all insecure and unstable in some way, but their snobbish and hedonistic lifestyles fully compensate for that. In their search for a true bacchanal experience, an awful incident happens.
The book is full of philosophical, linguistic and historical references, which makes it an interesting and layered read. What I find most interesting though, is that Tartt accomplished something quite unique when she wrote a page-turner in which the plot actually unravels in the first few sentences. You know what happened to the students all along, so the big question is not who did it, but why and how? The mystery keeps you on the tip of your seat until the very end.
I was, as you probably can imagine, very happy that I took the book that day. I went there to leave some double copies behind and found myself a true treasure trove of unread literature. Once I’d finished A Secret History, I had the feeling that this was going to be the first of many happy reading experiences, thanks to that tiny, travelling suitcase that is the Free Library…
Nina is a Rotterdam based journalist and editor. She is the author of 100% Rotterdam, writes for De Buik van Rotterdam and has her own blog: The Ubiquist. Nina discovered Bored to Death’s Free Library almost a year ago and loves the project so much that she started writing about it. You can read about her experiences in the Tales of the Free Library.