From a distance of nearly 5,000 miles, I commissioned a pair of twenty-somethings to pop into a bookstore in Amsterdam to see how the good people of The Netherlands were treating the brand-new Dutch version of The Spy’s Son.
My two-person reconnaissance team – siblings Andrew and Austin Quinlan – found the table where De Verrader en Zijn Zoon was displayed in Scheltema booksellers, a shop that’s been around since 1853. They propped up a few of the books for grander display. Then they cracked copies and stood around looking utterly mesmerized.
Their theatrics remind me of something the author-humorist H. Allen Smith wrote years ago: “I think there ought to be a law barring all authors and all relatives of authors from bookstores.”
Here’s the story Smith tells about publication of his first novel:
I recall that on a Sunday afternoon my wife and I took a walk down Fifth Avenue. We wanted to look in the windows of the big bookstores and see if my masterwork was being displayed.
At Scribner’s we found a lone copy stuck down in the corner of the window. To me it loomed as big as the Lincoln Memorial, and I could easily have spotted it at a distance of one hundred yards. We stood and admired it for a while and I was ready to move on. Just then another couple came up to the window and began looking at the books. Suddenly my wife let out a yip.
“Oh look?!” she cried. “There’s that book, Mr. Klein’s Kampf! Oh, I’ve heard so much about that book! They say it’s marvelous. We’ve got to get that book, Mr. Klein’s Kampf, first thing tomorrow! Don’t you remember, darling? Maxine just raved about it! Funniest book she ever read! See it there? Mr. Klein’s Kampf!”
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I grabbed her and dragged her off down the avenue, and when I started to raise hell about such behavior, she simply said:
“Why, you know very well those people will buy it tomorrow.”
I suppose my Dutch reconnaissance team, the Quinlan kids, came about their promotional instincts naturally. Their mother, who earns combat pay for serving as my long-suffering girlfriend, has been known to enter bookstores and surreptitiously rearrange copies of my book from back in the stacks to prominent tables. When she leaves, the red covers light up the stores like small fires.
But her children! They took things to a whole new level.
While pretending they could read Dutch, the duo stood in the store with copies of my book until perfect strangers happened along. Then they recruited them into their little scheme. The good people of The Netherlands played along, allowing the Quinlans to shoot photos of them.
Ah the Dutch -- full of mirth. Love them to pieces.
Now if they'll just return to the store and buy the damned book.