Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Amsterdam is for (book) lovers!
I had the good fortune of getting sent to Amsterdam for a work conference and I took advantage to stay another 5 days after doing the tourist thing with my wife. I was so busy leading up to the trip, that it didn't dawn on me that there could be some serious used book potential in this northern european city with many expats and lots of anglo traffic. My wife had already done some excellent research and asking some of my well-read colleagues who work in Amsterdam helped as well.
My first stop was The Spui (pronounced spow), which is pretty centrally located on the tram line (though that city is so labrynthine, that getting from the stop to the actual square a distance of maybe 100 metres is not obvious at all). It's a square and every Friday they have booksellers. There are also several large english-language bookstores right near there as well. The American Book Centre is almost entirely new stuff (and quite an excellent selection and layout) but they have a tiny shelf of used books that is really a treasure. Super cheap prices and some good stuff. I found a Duncan Kyle and a Sven Hassel, each for a Euro.
I was particularly excited by the stalls, though. The emphasis was more on art books and they did have way too many english classics (snoooze, like those are hard to find), but there were two stalls with a lot of good paperback genre fiction. One in particular was exactly what I was looking for: an older gentleman dressed sensibly and smartly, but slightly shabbily who totally knew his crime fiction. He told me that John Christopher was out of vogue now and it would be very hard to find anything but his young adult novels. We had a good discussion about C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian, which was joined by another book browser. They both agreed that Forester was the real deal, but the vendor drew the line at the browser's attempts to make O'Brian seem like a bit of an imposter. The vendor did have an entire series of naval fiction by some real impostor that he said he was ashamed to carry (but I guess they sold okay). I ended up getting Commander Hornblower and another WWII Forester book. He also strongly recommended me Ross Thomas (I was attracted by the cover) and he was definitely on point with that recommendation. Prices were kind of what one expects in this day and age except inflated by the high price of living in Europe, so like 4 Euros a book. A very satisfying start to my Amsterdam tourist experience!
The other good place to check out is the Book Exchange. A pretty classic looking used bookstore that had tons of promise. I was very psyched just walking in there.
Unfortunately, despite a decent mystery and sci-fi section, I found nothing in paperback that really interested me. I did find a shelf of hardbacks and found a nice edition of Anarchaos. It was some kind of reprint, because though it was a first edition, it had Donald Westlake as the author. Still, I am glad to have it finally. The guy working the desk was friendly, but a bit distant when it came to actual discussion about books. He was forthcoming about how they got books and the history of the store. As we were talking, I noticed three stacks of fruit boxes filled with books. On the top of one was a very promising box indeed. I could see several british paperbacks with the kinds of covers and paper that I know could spell quality and I really wanted to look through. Unfortunately, all the boxes were of books that had just been sold to someone else (another bookseller presumably). The guy was a bit cagey on this point (probably more out of motivation of avoiding adding any work to his life of standing behind the counter). I kept eyeing the box and seriously considered just stealing it. Maybe getting my wife to get the guy to help him in the back and then just grabbing the 40-box and running into the Amsterdam streets where I don't know my way at all. It just seemed crazy enough to work. I'm an ethical guy and would have found a way to pay the store back. As these thoughts were running through my mind, the guy started doing some re-arranging, moving the boxes around and put the one I was eyeing on the bottom of the pile! I guess I didn't case the joint subtly enough. I came back a couple days later and the boxes were all gone. Strike while the iron is hot, man! I could be on the lam now in Central Europe, trading rare paperbacks on the black market to buy some charred rat on a stick, clinging to the two Samuel Youd novels, refusing to give them up even though I desperately need some boots to make it through the snow to get around the checkpoint! Ah, lost opportunities.