A couple of days ago we took our bookshop-loving hearts on a treasure hunt. I don’t know if it’ll be open, Sarah said to me, but it’s worth a wander. The bookshop was open. And it was worth the wander (really, it’s never not worth wandering in Amsterdam).
Jan has owned this nook for 24 years. There used to be 60 of us here, but now there’s only about 10 bookshops like this left, he told me. The Internet, he said, shaking his head. The highlights of his day are drinking constant cups of tea with neighbourhood locals who drop in, but, he says, the problem is that tea-drinking rather gets in the way of managing the books.
Remember that the scene in The Neverending Story when Bastian goes into that bookshop where he finds The Book? The pulpy, inky mustiness. The higgledy piggledy towers of books. The sense that you’re amongst infinite worlds. That’s the vibe going on in Jan’s bookshop. Plus, his beard.
We took to the shelves with hungry hands. As I was combing through the titles, breathing in the delicious smell, I starting stockpiling golden find after golden find (a 1929 edition of fairytales!). But then I saw It, and honestly I had one of those moments when you don’t trust your own eyes.
Ever since last December when my manuscript went out on offer to Oz publishers, my beautiful beloved mum, who read to me every night when I was a kid, has reminded me countless times of when I was two and announced to her I was going to become an author, “like May Gibbs.” As her stories do for so many, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie awoke my childhood senses and imagination to the Australian flora and fauna around me, unlike other European stories I also loved which were about lands far away. When my novel was acquired by HarperCollins, I learned that by glorious coincidence they also publish May Gibbs. In the near-eight years I’ve lived in England I’ve never come across any kind of May Gibbs collection.
So, you can of course guess what I randomly found in Jan’s mostly-published-in-Dutch bookshop.
And the noise I made when I found it.
Oh and the name of the bookshop, where I found the seminal story from my childhood by the sea? Star of the Ocean.
Needless to say, after we left Jan, Sarah and I had to go for a pint to calm the fok down. Because books, as Alice Hoffman says, may well be the only true magic.