REVIEW – How should you review a book born out of dissatisfaction with ‘the state and development of the Dutch review landscape’? Merlijn Olnon, founder and editor-in-chief of The Dutch Book Guide (dNBg), lacks reviews that ‘concern not only the content of the books in question, but also the books’ place and importance (or lack thereof) within oeuvres and genres, in book culture more broadly, and even in the world beyond.’ With the example of The New York Review of Books imagined Olnon, former bookseller and editor of the guide, in 2015 with the publication of dNBga leaf for book essays, the wider, deeper, more thorough variety of the scant reviews left in an uncanny book landscape. Now Olnon has collected twenty-five of these essays from the period 2017-2022 under the title Everything has to be different.
I fully understand complaints about contemporary reviews, especially the very narrow, indistinct and diminishing range of book reviews in our newspapers and magazines. But a book essay based on a collection of twenty-five book essays on a wide range of subjects (economics, politics, culture, history) seems to me a little too much to ask. I would like to publish a few interesting essays Everything has to be different that does full justice to the title of the collection.
The first is Johan Heilbron’s contribution to taxes. It’s not meant to be a ‘sexy’ topic, but Heilbron makes his comparison of wealth inequality in the US and the Netherlands a very interesting story that I can recommend to all taxpayers. The conclusion is that the Netherlands does not differ from the United States in terms of inequality. The box system is regressive and favors the rich, who, on top of that, have ample opportunities to also avoid tax. A ‘tax avoidance industry’ supported by a ‘compromised economic science’ helps with this. It sounds solid, but Heilbron delivers on the history of the tax system as described in the books by Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez and for the Netherlands by the sociologist Nico Wilterdink, who ‘well before Piketty’, notes Heilbron, in his 1984 thesis. Wealth inequality in the Netherlands published. Where are the proposals to finally organize our tax system more fairly?
Growth as a yardstick
What many people believe has also been in need of change for years in the economic field is the measurement of GDP (gross domestic product), which, despite criticism, is still central to all economic plans. Paul Teule, former employee of Sargasso, is deposing on the basis of i.a. The growth delusion David Pilling provides a comprehensive look at this ‘most criticized statistic in history’. The definition of GDP focuses exclusively on financial growth and in no way takes into account costs that people and the environment must bear. Much needed labor, such as domestic work, is not covered. The calculations also remain ‘accounting deficiency: GDP only reflects the income statement and not the balance sheet.’ The economy deserves better, but why is this particularly environmentally burdensome measure still in use after being criticized from the start? All economically relevant bodies, national and international, have considered alternatives since the 1970s. Teule gives the example of a House of Representatives committee led by the then Member of Parliament Grashoff (GroenLinks), which also did not come any further ‘for fear of getting into economic growth’. The question of whether economic growth is really that good was not addressed. “It is astonishing to see how so much brain power does not ultimately lead to a radical recalibration of our economic system, while the fact that unbridled GDP growth is impossible in a limited ecosystem is a even a fool can see that should be,” writes Teule in 2018. It’s a shame he has Jason Hickels Less is more didn’t know yet. Hickel mentions several alternative standards, e.g Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare and True progress indicatorwhich, meanwhile, has been favorably received by government leaders in New Zealand, Scotland and Iceland, happen to be (?) all women.
Just a quick critique of the book. The contributions are undated. I could only find out via the dNBg site that Teule wrote his essay before Hickel’s book was published.
If anything calls for change, it is reading and literature education in schools. Yra van Dijk and Marie-José Klaver have clearly mapped the problems in various publications. See the series in four parts about the reading crisis in De Groene, including about ‘enjoyment’ in reading didactics. According to the authors, it is ‘neglect disguised as protection’ with serious consequences for the language skills and intellectual development of the new generation. IN Everything has to be different contains an essay on pulp reading in teaching. Van Dijk and Klaver: ‘Reading literature teaches you how to make sense of the world. How you can understand emotions, relationships, bodies but also social relationships and how you can find a language for it. It is the key to a mature, ethical and self-reflective attitude without (or at least with as few) prejudices as possible. Pulp does the opposite.’ Unfortunately, many parents and educators still succumb to the commercial promise of ‘reading pleasure’. ‘The indifference to quality and the spread of paper pulp in education in this way increases inequality between students.’
With few exceptions, Merlin Olnon can Everything has to be different no indifference to quality can be blamed. In addition to the above contributions, the book contains solid essays on the history of neoliberalism, ‘mourning’ in climate thought, women and the extreme right, the culture of cancellation, the #MeToo movement, the power of words in the anti-racism movement, contemporary cynicism in literature, girls’ speech and silence in antiquity and history about the emancipation of autistic people. Valuable articles, also on topics you don’t come across in the newspaper every day. For me, the book is therefore a fine recommendation for the alternative review culture The Dutch book guide.
Everything has to be different composed by Merlin Olnon. Published by Mazirelpers in collaboration with De Nederlandse Boekengids. 252 pages. Price: €24.99
[foto: Boekhandel Waanders in de voormalige Broerenkerk, Zwolle]