In a series of interviews conducted by ABC’s Maria Minaya, we’re going to introduce you to (almost) everyone who works at The American Book Centers in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Books form an integral part of our lives not only because they’re our bread and butter, but because our passion for them came first. Our mission is to pass them on. By reading these interviews you’ll discover the faces behind your favorite sections and get a glimpse of who we are.
I was born in the Hague.
What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?
I love griesmeel pudding with a red-berry sauce. Griesmeel pudding is a kind of semolina oatmeal. I hated bitter vegetables like fava beans and Belgian endives. I do eat them now.
Were you read to as a child?
Yes, regularly by both parents.
Did you have books in your house while growing up?
We had a lot of books in the house. My mother worked in bookstores. She reads a lot. My father reads less as he has less time.
Quick free associations:
Sale: First floor.
Magazines: Quick sales.
Piano: Beautiful instrument.
Price gun: Challenge.
Cash Register: Cash.
Discount Card: Loyal customers.
“I’m looking for a book…”: What kind of a book are you looking for?
What is your connection to books and the written word now?
My connection to books right now is frustrating. I don’t get to read much since the birth of my little girl, Marie. I miss it. So I read quick stuff like magazines, graphic novels and articles on the Internet. Every now and then I can get in a quick thriller or fantasy book. As for good fiction, I just don’t have the time to get into it. I used to read between 11pm and 1am but now I just crash and go to sleep.
What sections do you oversee and what are your other responsibilities in the Den Haag store?
My sections are humor, sport, science, social sciences, core titles, fantasy and graphic novels. As one of the two store captains I have various other responsibilities. I’m in charge of the budget. I’m also Agnes’ back-up for marketing, Treehut activities and magazines. I’m also in charge of the building, I’m the handyman around here, and I’m the construction contact person. Builders and contractors get in touch with me. Finally, I’m the general clean-up-after-your-ass-man. I throw everything away. So people know better than to leave anything lying around. I hate messes. I try to keep everything tidy! Another responsibility is hiring and firing. I’m a pretty no-nonsense hands on kind of guy. I’m not an idea man, but I execute the plan.
What is the best part of your job?
That varies. It’s great when you finish a big project that’s successful like our remodeling this past year. A good conversation with a customer is super. Finding a book for a customer after a long search is great. Having a good time with my co-workers laughing between customers and work is wonderful. When your section looks great and sells like crazy that’s a great feeling. During the day everybody wants a part of me, so I do what I need to do. When I look back, at the end of a productive day I think and feel, ‘Yes, today was a good day.’ This is the best part of my job.
How would you describe your customer service, i.e., how do you do your job in terms of: cars (Ferrari or Fiat?), pastries (Hema or Holtkamp?), or shoes (Puma or Prada)?
I’m very thorough. If I can’t find a book, it doesn’t exist. I’m not the most social ABC person. I’ll chat, but not for long. No chit in my chat. My customer service is efficient.
How long have you worked at ABC?
Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?
Now I’m re-reading the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. I think they’re great. I think everything he writes is great. The Lord of the Rings has always been one of my favorite books even if in the past five years I haven’t read any more fantasy. It got to be all the same after a while so I started reading fiction. I like all of Jonathan Safran Foer. I loved Cloud Atlas. I thought it was brilliant. On the average I read about 25 books a year. And I only read fiction.
What is the opposite of bookselling?
I would say a non-retail function like working in an office, in a cubicle, where you don’t see any people the whole day. Where your only contact with people is via the telephone.
There are people that still don’t know about our special order service. I think a lot of people don’t know how we order books and that staff order for their own sections. Most people think we’re an American company, a kind of franchise, but we’re a family business and an independent bookstore. Sometimes I can’t decide if we’re very cool and hip or hopelessly old-fashioned. We’re probably a little of both.