About Us: Barry

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.

Meet Barry

Where were you born?
I was born in a little town called Uitenhage in South Africa. It’s smack in the middle of nowhere. Later, when I was still very young, we moved to Cape Town.

What was your favorite food as a kid and what did you hate?
My favorite food was oatmeal, the thick porridge kind. I can’t remember hating anything. My parents always said: “You don’t have to eat it all, but you have to try everything.” That was cool by me, but I remember my brother and sisters sometimes sat at the table looking at their plates for hours and hours and hours. This was the you’re-not-leaving-the-table-until-you’ve-tasted-it-deal. I didn’t have that problem.

Were you read to as a child?
Yes, I was read to every night by either my mother or father.

Did you have books in your house while growing up?
My parents read a lot and right from the word go I was an avid reader. My earliest recollections are of going to the library and getting piles and piles of books. It was also upsetting because I could never take all the books I wanted and was limited to only three books at a time. I was reading before I went to school but remember, there was no television. Reading was the only form of entertainment.

Quick free associations:
Paperbacks: Savior of mankind.
Sale: A lot of fun.
Magazines: Mind-candy.
Piano: Love it.
Price gun: No affinity whatsoever.
Cash Register: Pass.
Discount Card: My favorite tool.
“I’m looking for a book…”: Excitement.

What is your connection to books and the written word now?
They are a source of knowledge. I read for pleasure, but I read much more selectively because I’ve got much more at my disposal. I read things that prick my interest; it could be a conversation with a customer or a subject I’m already interested in and want to know more about. So, to answer your question, its educational, stimulation, and pleasure obviously.

I usually read three books at the same time and all the magazines and journals in between. I must add that I’m a compulsive reader. If there is no book to read, I read anything – jar labels, anything.

What sections do you oversee at ABC The Hague?
My sections are history, current affairs, travel literature and some biographies. Those are my official sections, but when I get a catalogue of soon-to-be-released titles I read it from beginning to end to see everything that’s available and everything that might be interesting. For other people’s sections I write “tip” next to the titles in the catalogue. And then I see if they order it or not! Because we are a general bookseller I want to know as much about everything in general, possibly not in depth, but I want to know what is hot in other sections, what’s coming out. I want to be informed.

What is the best part of your job?
Giving customers what they want.

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 doing the best I can. Going the extra mile and a half if necessary. I give good customer service.

How long have you worked at ABC?
19 years.

Who is your favorite author? Or what are you reading now?
My favorite author used to be Hunter S. Thompson until he stopped writing, he died! Right now I’m reading a biography of surfer Allan C. Weisbecker called Can’t You Get Along with Anyone? I’m also reading a book of surfing short stories, The Best of Surfer Magazine.

What is the opposite of bookselling?
The opposite of bookselling is what I see in many Dutch bookstores. I mean predominantly Dutch book stores where the people selling the books do not have any obvious affinity with the product they’re selling. I don’t see that spark, that love. They could be selling anything anywhere. They are sales clerks and not booksellers. Bookselling to me is a trade. Something you work at.

What do you think people should know about ABC?
The scope of our ability to find what they’re looking for. More and more people are recognizing that if all else fails The American Book Center can find what they are looking for. Still, a lot of people don’t know that. And there is still out there a connotation that it’s the American Discount Dump Book Store, that we’re not a real grown-up bookstore. This is such a shame because I don’t think there’s any company, any bookstore I’ve been to in the last 19 years that offers the level of expertise, knowledge and ability we do.