The first issue of The European Review of Books was released in June 2022. Number four will be published on 22 November 2023. Studio Europa Maastricht spoke with editors Sander Pleij and Wiegertje Postma, who together with George Blaustein are the founders of the magazine.
The European Review of Books is the European answer to British and American magazines such as The New York Review of Books and London Review of Books. “We look precisely for authors who are not necessarily fluent in English, but who are very interesting and good. It’s a really fun scavenger hunt to discover them,” Pleij says. “We therefore work a lot with publishers from various European countries. In addition, we ask writers we already know to indicate who are interesting writers and thinkers from their countries.”
Postma: “We also notice that more and more authors are coming forward themselves, because they would like to contribute to our magazine. Our international crowdfunding campaign has certainly contributed to that.” As a result of the crowdfunding campaign, Studio Europa Maastricht also became a founding partner of The European Review of Books. “They encourage us from a great content drive,” Pleij said.
‘At the moment, culture in Europe is treated far too much as a consumer good.’
Culture and ideas
The subtitle of The European Review of Books is “a magazine of culture and ideas. Pleij explains that critical explorations of culture and ideas are central to the magazine. Star reviews are out of the question in this regard. “At the moment, culture in Europe is treated far too much as a consumer good. There are reviews that say whether or not you should buy something or whether or not you should go somewhere. And when a writer is interviewed it is often mostly about the person. With The European Review of Books, we don’t just want to say whether a book is well written or not, but rather to show what ideas come to life in a book, where they can lead and how you can think about them further.”
Postma adds: “For us it is important that ideas that are normally only expressed within national borders come into contact with each other. New things arise when you lift culture beyond national borders. We let books from different countries talk to each other. An example is the essay comparing a book by Albanian writer Lea Ypi about freedom in the Balkans with a book about the concept of freedom by American writer Maggie Nelson.”
European cultural and intellectual climate
The European Review of Books hopes to strengthen the European intellectual climate. Postma: “Cultural-intellectual conversations are now mostly held within universities, at the purely national level or at the political EU level. Instead, we want to facilitate these kinds of conversations to take place on a European scale and outside universities. We want to show that European culture can stand apart the concept of the European Union.”
Pleij: “If anything is clear, it is that we have become much more international in the last 30 years. Because of globalization, we are much more in touch with each other. That includes a good intellectual conversation. In the future, we want to contribute even more to the European intellectual climate with individual articles. For example, in the third issue there was an article that adds an extra layer to the climate discussion. I think that is an important contribution to the public debate.” Meanwhile, public events around The European Review of Books have already taken place in Germany, France and the Netherlands, but eventually Pleij and Postma hope to cover all European countries. “But that needs time, money and manpower,” Postma said.
Within a year of its inception, The European Review of Books has already won three awards: an essay by Austrian writer Alexander Fanta on the influence of Google on journalism received the Pressefreiheit prize from the Bayerischer Journalisten-Verband, and the magazine’s design was awarded the prize for The Best Edited Books 2022 and the European Design Awards. Postma: “The designer, Patrick Doan, is heavily involved in content. He reads all the articles and makes little illustrations to go with them. The inside pages, which you can only see after you tear the ribbon line between the pages, give the writers the opportunity to add an extra layer to a piece with images or words. We also use the inside pages to create a thread for each issue with short text inserts and thematic photos.”
‘We are very fond of multilingualism, and it is not for nothing that we use ‘read it twice’ as a kind of slogan.’
In addition to the English-language paper version that comes out about three times a year, the online pillar of The European Review of Books is also very important, according to Postma. “We publish all articles online anyway. If possible, we also publish the original language, such as Ukrainian, Spanish, Danish, Russian or Arabic, but also, for example, a dialect like Valencian. We are very fond of multilingualism, and it is not for nothing that we use ‘read it twice’ as a kind of slogan. When you read a translation, new images, associations and meanings always emerge. This is a wonderful part of the world and of Europe. Actually, we only use English to put the perspective in Europe, with writers who would normally only have a national audience because of the language. With the concept of language, dialect and borders, we want to do a lot more in the future.”
Pleij: “We try to sit at the level of both the international and the local and thus contribute to a European public space. In doing so, we try to take a position as little as possible. Newspapers already do that. Current events inevitably seep into our articles, but we try to tap into the layer below. For example, in the first issue, on the occasion of the publication of a new history of Ukraine, we had an article about the impossibility of historiography about Ukraine at this time. However, we would never go to the level of discussing whether or not Ukraine should join the European Union.”
Pleij and Postma are convinced that literature can contribute to European integration. Pleij: “Literature helps to humanize ideas and opinions and to see each other as human beings.” Postma agrees: “In books you can discover how much we actually have in common with each other.”
The fourth issue will be available on 22 November on the website of The European Review of Books.