The reactions to the presentation of the ‘Dutch-language literary canon in 2022‘ were, as befits such a ranking, loud and versatile. There was outrage at authors or titles being missed, and alternative canons were soon suggested. For example, the poet Arnoud van Adrichem came up with a top hundred of only books by female authors. Of course, some literature buffs cherish the “dead white men” on the list, and others missed the poets. This new canon was compiled on the basis of a survey of more or less professional readers. Anyone who objects to this is not arguing with a cultural elite, but with a reading status quo. And that is positive: a conversation about and adjustment of the canon keeps it alive. Therefore, ten discussion points with corresponding title suggestions, to keep the conversation alive.

    1Being dead is an advantage, but is being alive a disadvantage? The 21st century is still too fragmented and too close to be able to properly assess what belongs in a canon. The fight scene between the hangover and the pastor in Van den vos Reynaerde has lasted for more than three quarters of a millennium. Therefore: Van den vos Reynaerde.

    Also read: Yet again many dead, white men in the new literary canon

    2Can a canon also have pedagogical value? Being innovative certainly does not guarantee sustainability, but you want to keep works that have brought about a new social consciousness ‘alive’ because they have shaped what literature is capable of. Therefore still: Multatuli, Max Havelaar.

    3Can ‘The Big Three’ Finally Be Abolished? The risk with canons is that they quickly fall back on calibrated works. That both The attack if The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch in the top ten of canonical works testifies to a Pavlovian reaction to the word canon. Title suggestion as an antidote to Pavlov: Anton de Kom, We slaves of Suriname.

    4Where is the poetry in the canon? A curious paradox: no one doubts the importance of complicated books like The Kapellekensbaan by Louis Paul Boon, but poetry is considered too difficult. While there are few poems that contain as much tragedy and tension as ‘Het uur U’ by Martinus Nijhoff.

    5Does the meaning of a canonized book change over the centuries? Erasmus has been history for centuries. He symbolized the open, tolerant Netherlands that never existed, and was a European who ridiculed hierarchical thinking with venom and humour. A story that is currently in great need. Title suggestion: Praise of Folly.

    6Has ‘canonized’ become the same as ‘popular’? The new canon contains many recent bestsellers. That may surprise you, but a bestseller is not by definition suspicious. The hope that a recent book might still be relevant fifty years from now keeps the conversation about the canon alive. We hope for Manon Uphoff, Falling is like flying.

    7Is diversity a buzzword? A broader view of the historical spectrum has never made a canon worse. You don’t have to be a reformed boy to struggle with your identity. Title suggestion: Bea Vianen, Sarnami, hi.

    8Does the canon only exist on paper? The tradition of recited poetry goes back even further than De Reynaert and is still very much alive. The spoken word can also be literature. Title Suggestion: Ramsey Nasr, ‘Mi have a dream’.

    9Can you book in the resit? Female writers were easily pushed aside and were therefore often immediately without a chance to conquer a place in the canon. There is nothing for it but to read them. For example: Marianne Philips, Wedding in Europe.

    10Should the canon determine the reading list? Although it never hurts to take note of the books that have literary-historical status and a title like The bitter herb by Marga Minco is therefore recommended, a canon remains alive especially if you discover for yourself what to read.

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