To Flanders last week to spend a few days with Stichting Lezen (Reading Foundation). SL's campaigns, publications and websites aim to get as many people reading as possible; if the efficiency with which they undertake their work is reflected in the number of people who read, Belgium must be the most literate country in the world.
Handed out booklets produced by SL for their iedereenlest - everybody reads - campaign at Antwerpen-Centraal station (an enormous and imposing edifice built by King Leopold in the nineteenth century). The booklets celebrate reading and football, which on the one hand is ironic (no Belgian presence in the World Cup) but on the other inspired (more time for reading). Belgian footballers like Dan Brown, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch. One Belgian sports journalist recommended The Good Soldier Svejk.
Belgian commuters are very friendly.
Also heard about the work of the Flemish Fund for Literature, which supports Flemish authors and organisations, and Antwerp's experience as a UNESCO Book Capital. Visited Passa Porta, a literary house in Brussels that organises readings by both French- and Dutch-speaking authors in an attempt to bridge the seemingly uncrossable divide between the two language groups. They have a beautiful, light and airy multi-lingual bookshop/events space (www.passaporta.be).
Also went to Ghent to hear about the PoëzieCentrum (http://www.poeziecentrum.be/), which houses a collection of Flemish poetry and promotes Flemish poets. They are based in a beautiful timber-beamed tower overlooking one of the city's beautiful market squares.
Everyone was welcoming and friendly and, shamefully, spoke superb English.