Hi Richard! Can you start by telling us about Luddites -where and what it is?
We’re at Hopland 34, which is in the city centre; the street that goes by the back entrance of Stadsfeestzaal. We’re a bookstore, wine bar, and hideout from the modern world, all rolled into one, and lodged in a beautiful 1902 townhouse. We have classic wooden bookshelves and no wifi; hidden just upstairs is our wine bar, where you can lounge and read a book or converse with your friends and family over one of our delicious wines. The idea is that if you buy a book, or make any purchase of €10 or more, that first glass of wine becomes half-price. I find that wine drinkers get excited about that deal, whereas book readers are more indifferent and, if you are both, then you are over the moon.
Also, our book selection is about half Dutch, half English. We have about three thousand titles, so if you are looking for a book in English, look no further.
What about yourselves? Where are you from and what’s your work background?
I moved here from New York, but grew up outside of Philadelphia, and studied mainly Classics and Literature. Naturally, there’s not much of a market for that, so I turned to contract killing. It worked for a while, but suddenly I was getting too much heat from the Feds, so I had to move to a city no American could point to on a map. Antwerp was an obvious choice. I had so many friends back home congratulate me on my big move to Germany.
Jorien was a librarian in a small Flemish town for a number of years, so she is keyed into the Dutch book scene, and has been dreaming about opening a bookstore since she was an adolescent.
Ja, Antwerpen ist sehr schon: what do you like about living and working here?
It is cosy, perhaps sometimes too cosy. The city has this way of sucking in unsuspecting people, such as myself. I was only supposed to spend two years here, and when I first moved to Antwerp, which was during the winter, I didn’t think I would make it that long. But then the summer hit, and I experienced the beauty of the city: the long, warm nights sitting with friends on terraces, the thriving arts and music scenes, all of the great restaurants and shops. You could feel the collective sigh of relief from everyone after the first rays of the spring sun hit—followed, of course, by a mad dash to the closest terrace to bask in them. I realised that the city had been hibernating all winter, and that I had to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about it. Now, it has been six years.
What do you read yourselves? Any good book recommendations for us to keep us occupied during lockdown?
Well, we try to cater book recommendations to the tastes of our customers; Jorien is exceptional at that because of all of those years working as a librarian. Personally, the last book which struck me as poignant and left me wanting more was Paul Auster’s 4321, in which he examines the four vastly different arcs one character’s life can take, based on small decisions by his parents. The first one hundred pages are a bit of a struggle, but then you get hooked (I guess I have a type). At 880 pages it is a whopper, so it is great if you are stuck inside with nothing to do. Perhaps also Crime and Punishment? We have this lovely Norton Critical edition of the novel, which provides a lot of footnotes and makes the classic much easier to digest. Now, I think, is the time to read those long books that have been on your list forever—those books that are marriages rather than flings—because if you don’t read them now- at this perfect moment for them- when will you?
5) We can’t -unfortunately- avoid mention of the C word. It must have been gutting for you to have to close so soon after opening, because of Covid 19. How are you planning to cope over the next few weeks, and are there still services you are able to offer?
Good question! I’m frantically building a webshop (update: it’s now live- see links below) at the moment, but that probably won’t be up and running for another week or so. In the meantime, people can still inquire and order books (and wine) from us through our general email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). We offer free delivery within the city of Antwerp, and delivery at cost everywhere else in Belgium. I’m also in discussions with a couple food delivery services, so in a few days you should be able to order our wines through your favorite food delivery app.
Lastly, if you want to support us now but would prefer the full Luddites experience, you can order gift cards through that same email address, and come visit us when our doors are open again.
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All images in this post courtesy of Luddites.
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