Magazine reporter Romana Petkovska introduces her favorite bookshop in Amsterdam in an interview with the owners running it.
Java Bookshop is a small independent bookshop located on Javastraat in the east of Amsterdam. Whenever I feel sad or I just want to see a friendly face and be surrounded by books, I know I can choose this place to make my day. Not only is there a good collection of books in Dutch, but also in English – readers can find many interesting titles, from classics to bestsellers. You can try to fight the urge to buy a nice book, but I personally leave with one every time I visit this beautiful bookshop. The smell and atmosphere always get me.
Twelve years ago, two friends who met at soccer practice had the idea to open up a bookshop. Sharon Perlee and Sanne Fase used to talk a lot about their jobs and what they wanted to do with their futures. After two years of planning, they opened the Java Bookshop. Just a few years after that, they welcomed Sanne’s sister Lisa to their little bookish family and the story continued.
“Sanne always wanted to have her own bookshop. I really liked being my own boss and really enjoyed reading books,” says Sharon, who is now one of the four owners of Java Bookshop. Her passion for reading was born with her and it seems to stay forever, like a long-term relationship. “It’s an important part of my life. It’s not only work. After twelve years, I still love reading books and look forward to new ones that are coming,” she continues. For me as a fellow reader, it is good to hear that they also organize readings, activities, and a reading group within the bookshop.
From what I encountered during my visits to the bookshop, I can tell that a day in the life of a bookseller can be pretty hectic. Weekdays are less crowded, while people gather on weekends to spend their time surrounded by people who share the same hobby, either to chat about books or to simply soak in the sense of community one gets in a place like this.
Sharon explains: “No day is the same–it depends. We receive new books five days a week. We help customers find a book that suits them or we answer emails or the phone. We have conversations with people from publishing agencies to buy new books that are being published within the coming months, or we try to come up with new plans for the shop, activities, reading groups, and so on.”
It was not that long ago when the city was under lockdown. Most small businesses had difficulties during the Corona crisis. Sharon thinks that for some publishing agencies, the virus caused quite a headache, as they could not organize any activities or promote their books, and some bookshops could not buy as many books as they would have liked to. Since the pandemic began, the bookshop has had to be more flexible while respecting the restrictions. Although Java Bookshop mostly stayed open, it became difficult for people to reach the books they liked in person. “We stayed open throughout the whole period. The only two times that we had to close were in December, and we did. We delivered books instead. It was more of a mental switch, but the shop did well,” says Sharon as she reflects on the lockdowns. But for each bad thing, there is a good one too: people had more time to read during long days and nights at home, increasing their interest in books. “I think some people discovered reading again.”
One of the last questions I asked was focused on Dutch books and writers. Sharon gave me some recommendations for anyone interested in Dutch literature, for example, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s De avond is ongemak, or in English, The Discomfort of Evening, which won the International Booker Prize. Another book that is particularly popular at the moment is Aleksandra by Lisa Weeda, which tells a story about the author’s Ukrainian family. Some other popular Dutch writers are Philip Huff and Tobi Lakmaker. But who was an influential writer for Sharon herself? “Jón Kalman Stefánsson is an author I find inspiring. He writes beautifully about life and all its ups-and-downs,” she says about the Icelandic writer, known mostly for the Heaven and Hell trilogy.
In case you would like to visit Java Bookshop, it is easily accessible by tram to Javaplein. Get ready to find your new favorite book!