Interesting places in Eindhoven – A Bookshop with a Purpose
March 2022 | Written by – Willem van Hoorn
For many people, the presence of at least one good bookshop is a defining marker of urban quality. If that is the case for you too, Eindhoven will not let you down: the city boasts a variety of bookshops. From a multistory one in the city center, with its own coffee place inside, via well–provisioned stores in the different city districts, to a store in the railway station, where you can get ‘a quick one for the road’.
A little known gem among the Eindhoven bookshops is ‘Books 4 Life’, a dedicated second-hand book store. It is completely run by volunteers, and proceeds go to charities. This article tells the story of three of those volunteers: the chairman and two Eindhoven-based internationals (or ‘new locals’, if you like), who not only discovered the bookshop, but now also do volunteer work there.
Dutchman Robert Hempelman (“I live in the village of Nuenen, within easy cycling distance from our bookshop”), is the chairman of what is formally known as ‘the foundation Books 4 Life Eindhoven’. He semi-retired in early 2018. Before that, he taught English (“for much longer than I now care to remember”). Also, he worked as a translator and co-authored a number of textbooks for students of English. Robert remembers his first encounter with Books 4 Life: “A few years ago, I more or less stumbled on the shop. I remember wondering why I’d never heard of this bookshop before…Well, there was a poster on the shop door asking for volunteers. I went inside, looked round a bit, and signed up. The rest, is ‘history’, as they say.”
Asked about the history of Books 4 Life, Robert explains: “The first Books 4 Life store was set up in 2005, in Tilburg. Today there are six stores in the Netherlands: in Eindhoven, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Groningen, not coincidentally all university cities. And there are even two in Austria: in Vienna and in Graz. Books 4 Life supports several charities by selling books that have been donated to us. These charities include Amnesty International and Oxfam Novib. And every year our volunteers elect several locally operating charities, which are more small-scale. All Books 4 Life shops aim at offering interesting and useful volunteer work for all kinds of people.”
That last remark forms a nice introduction to two other Books 4 Life volunteers: Amal Mansoor and Hamza Yazid Belkhiria. Amal is originally from India but grew up in Dubai. She came to the Netherlands in 2017 to do her masters at TU Delft. Following her graduation, she moved to Eindhoven, where she now pursues a PhD at TU/e.
Hamza is from Tunisia. He traveled to Eindhoven after he was recommended for a job by a close friend: “At the time I was looking for trying something new in life, and living the abroad experience”. Asked how they found-out about Books 4 Life, Hamza recounts: “I heard about it through my teacher, during my Dutch course at ‘New in NL’, when I first arrived”. And Amal tells: “I like visiting second-hand stores, be it clothes or books. So, when I moved to Eindhoven, one of the first things I looked for was a second-hand bookshop. And voilà, I found Books 4 Life”.
Both had more or less similar motives for joining the shop as volunteers: doing something meaningful for a good cause, meeting new people and improving their Dutch. And for the fun of it, obviously. As Amal puts it: “Who would not want to spend their Saturday mornings surrounded by books”? She continues: “I have learnt of so many new authors and I interacted with some interesting people. And hey, it is a good excuse to have an early Friday night, so I can be fresh at the bookstore on Saturdays!” Hamza remembers: “I was new to the city and looking for a volunteering activity. Volunteering was part of my life before moving, and I missed it. I was also looking forward to practice my Dutch. I felt welcome on my first visit and appreciated the atmosphere created by the location and the people, so I knew I wanted to join very quickly”.
Naturally the question pops up: ‘How is it to be a non-native speaker volunteer in a traditionally Dutch environment?’ Amal looks back: “When I first enquired, unfortunately they said my level of Dutch should be a bit better to be able to volunteer. I was bummed out, but it also gave me the motivation to continue learning. A year later in 2021, I visited the shop again. It turned out they were in need of volunteers as some volunteers were not coming due to the corona crisis. And my Dutch was definitely getting better too”. Hamza: “A basic level of Dutch can suffice to start, given one actively practices it without fear of mistakes”. Amal holds a bit of a different view: “I think you need at least the A2 level, and you should be practicing your Dutch speaking skills regularly”. Both appreciate that their fellow volunteers largely speak Dutch with them, as that keeps the learning process going. Also, about the topic of learning Dutch, Hamza notes: “I sometimes see international visitors of Books 4 Life buying Dutch children’s books or comics. To practice their Dutch reading skills”.
Asking all three for any closing remarks about the store, Hamza begins: “I think the store, and thus volunteering there, provides value to Eindhoven, by offering a cozy experience for different kinds of readers and visitors, and by supporting local charities”. Amal takes it from there: “It would be great if we could organize more activities, once the corona situation subsides. Since we do have quite a range of English books, I think the store is inviting to the international community”. Robert reflects a moment, and then takes a look into the near future: “I’d say, we’d like to grow a bit more. But at the same time, remain true to the Books 4 Life concept. And to ourselves, of course.
You can find the Books 4 Life Eindhoven store at the Hertogstraat 2, close to the city center. More information can be found on their website, their Instagram and Facebook accounts and via a newsletter.
And this website (in Dutch) will help you find more second-hand and vintage stores in Eindhoven
Please feel free to ask questions, make remarks, or suggest other sources.