“ Paperback: 200 pages / Publisher: Oxygen Books / Published: 6 May 2010 „
As a member of the Amazon Vine* programme, I chose this book as part of my selection as I have been to the city many times. It is not like a guide book but more a collection of writing about the city, billing distinguished authors such as Ian McEwan, Geoff Dyer and Alain de Botton amongst its contributors.
However I realised as soon as I got it that it was not what I expected. Normally if reviewing a collection of short stories or similar I would tell you what my highlights and lowlights were, but I can't with this. The book is divided up into sections or topics about Amsterdam such as 'Water, Water, Everywhere', 'Must-see...' and 'In Old Amsterdam' to give a few examples. There are numerous contributions in this book, usually with a few lines as an introduction, and each passage finishing with a credit: author, the original book/publication it appeared in, publication date and translator (where applicable). Many pieces were translated especially for this book.
My main problem was that the contributions were taken from another book or publication, so were really extracts rather than the original prose I was expecting. Some were fiction, some non-fiction but often the extracts were short. Some were only a long paragraph or a short page at best (the book is quite compact dimensions wise). The book has approximately 115 extracts over 230 pages (including introduction, index and acknowledgements). Because of this I didn't actually engage with a lot of the shorter offerings - I read them but I didn't really take them in, they were over to quick. I often prefer quality over quantity, and that is not to say that the texts aren't well-written, it is just that I found many extracts didn't work out of context - it sometimes seemed like number of random passages collated together that coincidentally happened to be about Amsterdam.
One of the top billing authors was Ian McEwan, and the editors have selected a passage from his novel 'Amsterdam'. This took up about half a page, and fans of McEwan's writing who purchase this book on the strength of his name, will be disappointed.
Latter sections did have longer extracts. In fact some sections had several extracts from the same book, but they were not in this book consecutively, nor did they follow on from the previous extract so there was no continuation. It just seemed a bit lazy and pointless as I couldn't relate the later extracts to the previous ones in most cases.
On a more positive note, in the 'Must see...' section there were three different extracts dealing with people's visits to the house of Anne Frank. I thought they were very good choices as the texts complemented each other whilst being suitably different. I also found the section 'The Amsterdam-nation' which collected writing about the people of Amsterdam - both residents and visitors - more interesting. The extracts were of a reasonable length (2-3 pages) and the non-fiction seemed to engage me more in this context. If I take anything from his book it will be to keep an eye out for Sean Condon's book 'My 'Dam Life' about his experience as an ex-pat in Amsterdam.
The editors are Heather Reyes, who has worked on other city collections and Victor Schiferli, a Dutch author and editor. The book is currently £6.74 (RRP £8.99) and consists of 200 pages.
I hesitate to recommend this book as it just wasn't 'me' but looking on its Amazon page, it would seem that I am in the minority. Yes with any collection of short stories or similar you will find pieces that engage you more than others, but for me the selections were too numerous, too random and uncohesive, that the genuine gems in here are just lost in the muddle.
* An invite only review programme run by Amazon for top reviewers.