Finally, an English version of the Parool article celebrating our Rick’s 25th ABC Anniversary! The article is by Lorianne van Gelder for Het Parool, translated by Alexander Moust and edited by Bryna Hellmann-Gillson. March 12, 2013. Republished here with permission of the author.
That Canadian with one sweater.
Rick Lightstone, the enthusiastic PR-person at the American Book Center, has close to 5,000 Facebook friends. He remembers anyone who’s been in the shop longer than merely dropping in to find and pay for a book. Without his presence and efforts, many international stars, like Stephen Fry, Dionne Warwick, Ziggy Marley, Spike Lee and David Sedaris, would not have come to the bookshop on the Spui.
ABC’s PR-man is a real networker, so his friends and colleagues say, but not in the tedious ‘good-for-business’ sense of the word. “He’s the man through and with whom people come together,” says Gary Goldschneider, writer and dear friend to Lightstone for years. “He often says, ‘This is someone you need to meet,’ and he’s always right.”
Recently Lightstone celebrated his 25 years’ jubilee at ABC. “It was a beautiful party,” director Lynn Kaplanian-Buller says. “We sang for him and gave him a Holtkamp pie and a blank-paged book in which we spur him on to finally write his autobiography.”
Born in Montreal in 1954, Lightstone is a man with a story to tell. Even the way he came to work at ABC is a narrative worth sharing. In 1987, his Dutch wife Yvonne walked into the shop and asked if they had a vacancy for her husband. Kaplanian-Buller hired him after one phone conversation. Lightstone was still employed at a bookstore in Vancouver, Canada. “He sent in a fantastic resumè in which he described his extensive experience in the book trade. Getting a work permit was no problem, as he was married to a Dutch woman.” With so many good references, she simply couldn’t refuse him.
However, he had to be in Amsterdam before the 1st of December for the busy weeks before Christmas. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, I work 80 hours a week!’, to which I replied that nobody is allowed to work 80 hours a week, and would he please just be here in December?”
They settled the deal, but weeks went by without any news from the sympathetic Canadian guy. “I finally called him up,” Kaplanian-Buller says, “and, of course, he hadn’t yet told his boss he was leaving. They needed him there for Christmas too.
“That’s Rick: completely loyal!” she goes on. “But, assuming that not everything will work out, he bets on more horses than one. Promise everything and then see what happens ‘when the shit hits the fan,’ has become his motto. He finally arrived in March, and we’ve profited from his way of working ever since.”
Lightstone’s patience and drive have brought many international stars to the store on the Spui. Usually many years of networking preceded their arrival. It took years to make contact with Patti Smith, the American singer and poet and get her commitment, but he made it happen.
Publisher Oscar van Gelderen describes Lightstone as a man with an abundance of enthusiasm. “He always reminds me of Woody Allen: slightly neurotic and maybe a little too enthusiastic, so that he almost stumbles over his own words. He can be tremendously taken by things.” Van Gelderen often asks Lightstone for his advice in relation to events. “He’s got a keen eye for success and a feel for what might work. Rick knows a lot about street art, and at Lebowski we work a lot with publications in that field. He’s a terrific organizer, in touch with his audience and aware of what’s going on in the market.”
Besides his work at the bookstore, Lighstone is involved with the programming at ABC Treehouse, where workshops, readings and social meetings take place. Van Gelder: “ABC and Lightstone know there’s more to the book business these days than just selling books.”
Kaplanian-Buller: “Rick always talks to people when he’s in the shop. He knows what people are looking for or what they need, and he’s a good listener.” The extent of Lightstone’s enthusiastic interest in other people is matched by his own shyness. “He found having that party quite difficult,” his colleague Wensink says, “but when Rick is working, the atmosphere is different. He’s an extrovert, he makes jokes, and he tells amazing stories. He’s had a full life!”
Before he got married and started working at ABC, Lightstone traveled the world. Between 1980 and 1984, he lived in a kibboets in Israel, where he met Yvonne, his wife. He was a penniless hippie. “I was so broke that I had to save up for four years before I could leave,” he says. “And when I had saved enough for a ticket to fly to Amsterdam, the city made me feel totally miserable.” Those were the eighties when there were no jobs.
Just before he retreated to Canada, he found a job at the Sonesta Hotel, the city’s ‘Rock and Roll Hotel’. “He had some wild times,” his colleague Wensink says, laughing. “At first I thought he was boasting about meeting Elton John, Lionel Ritchie and so many others. Then eight years later he told the exact same stories and, when Lionel Ritchie walked into the store, they started reminiscing.”
Another Lightstone trademark: he always wears the same sweater. “I know few people so picky as he is,” says Kaplanian-Buller, laughing, “but he never has more than one sweater – well, actually, he owns a fleece too – that he’ll wear until it falls apart. He’ll only wear a suit for special events or book fairs. He’s a man without vanity, and he’d certainly never think he’s better or more important than anybody else.”
If Lightstone has a fault, Goldschneider says, it’s “People who are very good at giving generally don’t know how to receive too.” He hopes Lightstone will invest some time in making music, as he’s quite a skillful pianist. And he should write his adventure-filled autobiography, his Rickanekdotes, in the book his colleagues gave him. Until now, he’s written and published only the travel guide Traveler’s Advisory. Kaplanian-Buller spurs him on once again, “Rick, write your story!”
To which Lightstone answers, “I belong in the book business.”