One of my favourite pastimes is to walk around a city and browse through all the different bookstores. Firstly, because it is an interesting way to get to know a place and secondly, because it is a more special experience to buy a hard copy book as opposed to buying online from sites such as Amazon, Bookdepository and Bol.com. It can also be much more rewarding to find a book that reaches out to you when you’re scouring the shelves – and a big, international city like Amsterdam holds a wide array of bookstores, each with a different character and supply. There are huge bookstores with an endless amount of books and smaller bookstores that are more minimalist. I will take you around and recommend a few of my favourites.
Waterstones was the first English bookstore that I fell in love with. When I first started reading YA novels in English, Waterstones was the perfect location to find the latest gems – and it still is, with the biggest Young Adult section in Amsterdam. I was lucky to talk to one of their employees, Tim Butler, who gladly gave me some information about the store for this article. He told me about the importance that Waterstones has placed on having the biggest YA section in Amsterdam; there is a big demand among teenagers in the Netherlands for English YA fiction. They also made a separate LGBTQ+ section, so their young readers can find the books that concern a specific topic even faster. According to Tim, it is very important to sell books that are diverse, with characters representing different experiences.
Waterstones is a large, established chain in Britain, but the store in Amsterdam is the only one in the Netherlands. From the moment you walk in the door, it feels like you’re transported straight into Britain. Perhaps this is because the interior is very much the same as the stores in the British cities; or maybe because they sell signature British products, such as Cadbury Roses, Yorkshire Tea and Walkers Biscuits; or it is due to most of their employees having a British or Irish background. Whenever I’m at Spui and I have time, I can never stop myself from popping in to have a look around.
American Book Centre
The American Book Center, also situated at the Spui, is another English bookstore. From their ground floor, where you can find magazines and photography books, flows a beautiful, wide, winding staircase. The stairs lead to their first floor where all of their wonderful fiction resides. You can find genres such as fantasy, Young Adult and graphic novels, on the second floor, poetry, and spirituality and science on the third floor.
The store also has a cosy cafe with space for only a few people at a time. My friends and I often relax there after class. I strongly recommend the iced coffee and carrot cake. ABC also has its own printing press where you can print the manuscript of your up and coming novel. This service is great for authors who want to self-publish their novel as well as authors who simply want to send a hard copy to publishers. It is also great for students who are nearing graduation and want to print their thesis.
Browsing books in the ABC is a unique experience with its winding shelves and wooden steps. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff for their personal picks, as every employee is as much of a book lover as most of their customers.
The Book Exchange, right around the corner of the UvA building Oudemanhuispoort, is no ordinary second-hand bookstore. They only sell books in English, German and French and have been there for over twenty years. You can bring your books to them for exchange of others, but only a limited amount. The Book Exchange will only take books that they think their readers will want to read, which means the shelves are carefully selected, which ensures customers being able to browse effectively, without the hassle of scrounging through big dusty jumbled piles of books
The Book Exchange sells books by classic authors, such as Virginia Woolf, Foucault and, Sontag as well as more contemporary authors. The prices are refreshingly agreeable; finding a book costing more than 10 euros is rare at the Book Exchange.
Because of the rising cost of rent in Amsterdam, second-hand bookstores are becoming extinct. Many other stores have had to close down, but The Book Exchange is still alive and kicking. Make sure to give them some love by getting a few books with a past life.
My Bookstore Amsterdam
Situated five minutes from metro station Spaklerweg is My Bookstore. With its sleek modern interior and wide tables with multiple stock outlets, it is the perfect place to relax, work or study. Their book assortment is not broad, but you’ll be sure to find books from The New York Times Bestseller List, or books that have appeared on De Wereld Draait Door. The young bookstore has only been open for a year now, but is slowly establishing its place on the market. One of their employees, Richard Nagel, talked to me about the importance of staying innovative and fresh. My Bookstore does this by having a clear social media presence and by organising relevant events. Often, there will be events where new authors will debut their book or there will be book clubs and workshops where people from the book industry will come by. Don’t worry, if they do not have the book you are looking for, they will gladly order it for you and it will arrive the next day.
My Bookstore is the perfect place to have lunch, drink a cup of tea and leave with a book on your way out.
If My Bookstore is a place of minimalism concerning their amount of books, Scheltema is a place where you will easily lose a day and a half looking through all of their shelves. Spread over four extensive floors, Scheltema sells books in every category, although they are mainly in Dutch. From high-brow literature to casual fiction, each floor has its own speciality – each with a register and information point. This means that there is always someone walking around to answer your questions. Every floor also has a comfortable place to sit and there are tables where you can work or study. On the second floor is a cosy café, where you can have a nice cup of coffee if you wish, although I must warn you it is often busy. Apart from the café, there are also many comfortable chairs and couches on which you can lounge for a little while. A perfect opportunity to sit down for a moment to see if the book is really for you. I have done this myself many times, in fact, this is how I bought An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. I sat down in one of the large armchairs in the English section and couldn’t stop reading. I had to go down to the cashier and take the book home.
To conclude, I would encourage you again to visit a bookstore, be it one of the stores I mentioned or one in any other city. It is International Bookstore Day on the 25th of May this weekend. Make sure to attend one of the many events that will be hosted all over the world by the many bookstores in Amsterdam. It will be the perfect day to buy a book and celebrate your favourite bookstore. Or perhaps celebrate a store you have never been to, especially if it is one mentioned in the above list.
A special thanks to my friend Rosa for being my photographer!