One of the pleasures of spending a week in a place like Amsterdam is having the opportunity to browse the numerous bookstores that dot the city. I can spend hours in bookstores, especially antiquarian bookstores where the added bonus is the smell of old leather-bound volumes. There were quite a number of small-independent bookstores and the people who work in them are very helpful. Unfortunately, they are dealing with the same pressures that independent shops here are currently facing. Luckily, there were a few stores that stocked English titles so I was able to find and purchase books about the history of the city. Some might think it a waste of time, but one of the things I enjoy when traveling is spending time in a cafe with a good book on the history of the city in question. As absorbed as I am with American history, I am always surprised by how easily I can distance myself from it when overseas. It’s a healthy diversion and one that I should engage in much more often to deal with any lingering vestiges of “American Exceptionalism”.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the selection that you can find in Amsterdam’s bookstores, especially in the area of American history. In fact, the selection of American history books is actually better compared with what I can find at my local Barnes and Noble. It would have been somewhat depressing if the only book on the Civil War was the Politically Correct Guide, but there were plenty of new titles to choose from and even a nice selection of new Lincoln titles.
What do the number of bookstores and quality of selection tell us about Dutch culture? Not exactly sure, so perhaps I need to return at some point to investigate further.