Over 25 years ago, when Laurens Wielaard (42) was just 15 years old, he was given a copy of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World as a present. The book was a huge hit at the time. “Far too thick”, was Laurens’ first impression when the book was thrust into his hands. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

He was not much of a reader and had no interest whatsoever in weighty tomes with nearly six hundred pages. Nevertheless, he gave the book a go whilst on holiday in Spain, reasoning that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. The novel has been a hit with Laurens ever since. He even read it twice so as to maximise his understanding of the content.

Favourite genre: history and biography.

Motivation: prompted by topic or personality. “My mother, brother and girlfriend are avid readers. If they recommend a book, I’ll read it. I’m not really one to go looking for books.”

Number of books per year: six.

Last book read: De man die werk vond – Herman Brusselmans.

Greek philosophy

The story explains the history of Western philosophy in an accessible way and is based around the life of a 14-year-old girl, Sofie Amundsen. One day, she finds herself receiving some letters containing philosophical questions, such as ‘who are you?’ and ‘where are you from?’ The sender, mysterious philosopher Alberto Knox, becomes her teacher and teaches her all about the history of philosophy: from the first Greek philosophers to the present day.

It was Greek philosophy in particular that got the young Laurens thinking. As a teenager, he attended the Erasmiaans Gymnasium in Rotterdam, where he was taught Greek and Latin language and culture. At first, he did not see the point in learning about civilisations of the dim and distant past. “But reading the book, I realised that Greek and Latin culture formed a common theme permeating my life.” He spotted it in films, in the Dutch language and in his favourite football club, Sparta Rotterdam. His teachers must have been pleased with him: he suddenly wanted to know everything there was to know about Greek heroes and he became better and better at reading ancient texts.

One sentence by the Greek philosopher Plato has always stayed with him: ‘You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of working with him’. He started doing lots of sport during the period when he read the novel. He got heavily involved in a wide array of sports – from ballroom dancing to kickboxing – and has now been an event manager at Erasmus Sport at the university for a decade. “I love bringing people closer together through sport.”

Growing self-confidence

Sport helped the young Laurens to grow in confidence, but the book contributed to that process too. “I was a little nerd with blue glasses and had no idea who I was and what I’d be doing in the future”, he explains. “The book taught me to reflect on these questions better, which boosted my self-confidence.” In the story, Sophie gets all sorts of questions about existence, which she has to reflect on philosophically. “To some extent, I trod the same path as Sophie along with her.”

But only to some extent, as Laurens’ mindset is not quite so philosophical. And so the ideas in the book didn’t stick. “Puberty is all about self-discovery, but I actually went in the other direction after that”, he admits. “I’m much more of a doer than a thinker.” He is happy that way, as last summer, when he first experienced depressive feelings due to a physical issue, he noticed that ruminating on existential questions didn’t make him any happier. “It’d drive me crazy to get bogged down in wondering why we’re here. I need to be doing things, in motion, active.”

Unsurprisingly, then, the kind of books Laurens reads now are completely different. Tommy Wieringa’s Joe Speedboot, Hein Meijers’ Encyclopedie van de leuke feitjes, biographies of athletes. “I mostly read when I’m on holiday, when I don’t want heavy reading material”, he says. “I’ve also started reading less because I’ve got two young children, but I’m still not really much of a reader anyway.”

In the bookcase

Nevertheless, the blue-purple philosophy book still occupies a place in his bookcase at home. “Which is telling, because I’ve thrown away many books”, he says. “I’ve moved house ten times and have always dragged this book along with me.” This is evident from the fact that the white letters on the book’s spine have faded. Now, having held onto the book for 25 years, he is considering reading it again. “It’s one of the few books that made an impression on me back then.”

Laurens Wielaard studied Law at Erasmus University Rotterdam, but he didn’t enjoy it. He left the programme and set out on a career in what he enjoys most: sport. He has now been an event manager at Erasmus Sport at the university for a decade. This year, he is helping out with organising the university’s anniversary celebrations.

Oskar Wolthoorn _ Verslonden _ Leroy Verbeet _ 9.2023

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