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 Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?
That’s easy, Kraft macaroni and cheese! And it still is my favorite much to my wife’s dismay. She calls it vomit. I hated Heinz pork and beans.
Were you read to as a child?
Yes, my parents read to me until they died. They died when I was ten years old. I started reading from a very early age and I remember the very first book I read. It was called The Snake Who went to School.
Did you have books in your house while growing up?
Yes, we had a lot of books. From what I remember my parents read a lot. My mother was a fashion model with Vogue in New York. She stopped working after she met and married my father. He had owned some movie theaters that went bankrupt and ended up becoming a ‘tin man.’ He sold aluminum siding in Canada.
Quick free associations:
Magazines: I read a lot of them.
Piano: I’m a musician.
Price gun: Price slashing.
Cash Register: Customers and turnover.
Discount Card: Good marketing.
“I’m looking for a book…”: Glad to help you.
What is your connection to books and the written word now?
I live and breathe books. I’ve been in the book business for over 30 years and now I’m a published writer. So I’ve dealt with virtually every aspect of book culture: publishing, writing, reading, selling and marketing. Done it, seen it. Everything. Nothing left untouched.
I don’t think of a book as a book per se, but as an aesthetically beautiful object. To me it’s an art form physically. A lot of people can’t associate with that. They associate a book with the written word, text or the cover. To me it surpasses all that and goes to another level. It’s like looking at a painting in a museum if you like. That’s books to me. I love to touch them, feel them and finally I like to read them when I have the time.
What sections do you oversee and what are your other responsibilities in the store?
I’ve done everything. I’ve ordered virtually every single thing in thirty years. Currently I order graphic design, photography, fashion, graffiti, a certain amount of street culture books and sidelines which encompasses Moleskin and diaries. I also order hip and hype, anything that falls between the cracks which is considered weird or untouchable according to book buyers. I’ll take the challenge and order a lot.
I also do PR. I classify my position as a liaison for publishers (in the English language) based in the UK and the US with Dutch media based in Holland. I’m quite innovative and create a lot of events. I’m very event-driven these days. Anything which I can associate with a book whether a fashion show or music concert – as long as there’s a direct link between the book and what I do then to me I define it as PR and productive. And hopefully lucrative from time to time!
What is the best part of your job?
Well, I’d have to say the freedom that’s always been given. I’ve worked for a lot of book companies and what sets the ABC apart is the fact that here I have incredible freedom to do whatever I want, of course, within reason or should I say as long as the outcome is beneficial to the company. That’s usually translated into money, into profit. That being said I’m working for a company where I’ve taken enormous, enormous risks, the kind no other company would let someone get away with. My success rate is very high. Otherwise I’d be out of a job very fast. One that started out risky was my As the World Turns event when I invited a soap opera star from Hollywood and had a little minor riot on the Heiligeweg with 250 people trying to get into the building. I called the store for help and said: “Giorgio, Giorgio, get your ass over here. We have a problem.” There were 250 people standing outside the Treehouse all trying to get an autograph from Eileen Fulton. That was a success plus we sold a few thousand books. I’m proud of that as my first big event thing. And I’ve done many more since then.
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)?
My customer service is definitely at the Ferrari, Porsche level. I’m a Ferrari/Porsche guy for sure. I play a game. I suppose it’s like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you’re talking to somebody you can link it or network it to something else. For instance someone may come in and ask for a book on knitting and I’ll try and connect it to something else. I’m not doing a hard sell, but I’ll connect knitting to a book that will be coming out. In a sense what I do is always very PR/marketing driven. This comes out every time I open my mouth to a customer. So I try to give a little bit more and it’s not extra work for me because it’s the way my mind works. I also try to inject a little conversation if possible.
How long have you worked at ABC?
Twenty years now.
Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?
I do not read as much as I use to. That being said I tend to read books on Middle Eastern politics. That’s my hobby. I’m not reading anything now because I’ve been extremely busy writing. There’s one book that’s always fascinated me and has stuck in my head my whole life: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. That book had a big impact on me. It appeared a long time ago, 1978, but it one of the few books that has affected me enormously. The impact was life-changing.
What is the opposite of bookselling?
The opposite of bookselling I suppose would be to do something you do just to earn money whether it’s selling underwear or life insurance. I suppose I’d say doing something without passion.
What do you think people should know about ABC?
That we’re not just a bookstore. It’s an idea center. It’s a place involved in getting ideas out, not necessarily our ideas, but giving people a platform for their ideas. And the fact that this is a very interactive bookstore. It’s not linear. It’s not come into the store-buy-a-book-thank-you-hope-to-see-you-again. There are many different facets to ABC. Which is highly unusual.