“How cool is this?!” I just kept repeating to myself as Simone and I drove from our home to Amstelveen, all within a 25 km radius of Amsterdam. Too bad our own car, a 20 year old pink Toyota Starlet, was in the repair shop. We parked the undefined-color car that we’d borrowed in front of an old police building. The building is now occupied by Marc Barteling. Marc is the creator of the website WhyILoveThisBook.com, a site that contains one-minute videos of book reviews by passionate book readers.
Marc is a passionate book reader himself. And he has a mobile workspace. He has a camper. Or motorhome. Or whatever the correct English word for it is. It’s a studio on wheels where people join him and tell stories about their favorite book.
“How cool is this?!” I repeated to myself.
Bas: What kind of work is done in this work space? Well, it’s a work space but it’s, ah, well.
What do you do with this van or camper?
Marc: Yeah, a motorhome, I think you’d call it.
Marc: Well, that’s kind of a long story.
Bas: Well, I have some time. [Marc laughs]
Marc: We are now in my book camper/studio and what I do here is I interview people for the Web site WhyILoveThisBook.com. I always ask only one question, and that is “Pick a book and tell me why you love this book.” I record a one-minute video in this camper that I bought, like, 2 months ago. This is the perfect place to do this, because when we close the door it’s quiet. I’m very often at events, book fairs and exhibitions. This camper is the perfect place, because there’s usually a lot of noise, people talking everywhere, and music. And so here we can record in silence. Also, it is very intimate.
Marc: You are here with just two people. Especially if you close the door, I’ll show you later [Bas laughs] when the photos are done. [Background sounds of Simone snapping photos can be heard.] And its, you have to imagine that there are a thousand people outside, we’re at a book fair, like Manuscripta, or at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, for example. And there’s all people, people, people. And then boom, I close the door, and there’s just two of us. Two. And you can really say what you want to say about it and tell me why you really love this book.
Bas: What did you do to this bus, camper, to make it a studio?
Marc: Well, if you look up, you’ll see a lot of books. You can stand straight. It’s really high. So this is just to make it more bookish. My logo is the red heart, so we re-decorated the couch here in the same red. I made a back screen behind the couch, to make a background for the videos. I am still working on it, but I’ve already put some lights up there because obviously you need good lighting for video. And, um, I put my logo really big on the outside of the van, so it is really an attraction at these book fairs. People see it and recognize it or come and ask what it is. That really helps.
Bas: The kitchen was already in it? There’s a kitchen!
Marc: Everything was here. Yeah, there’s a two-pit stove. Also, a small fridge, and a sink, and yeah. It’s a camper. I bought it second hand on Marktplaats, which is something like eBay.
Bas: So, did you have this idea for a long time, to have a van?
Marc: Yeah, well. It just grows, you know? I started with just a flip-cam, that was it. That’s all I had. And then I came up with forms, because it’s very handy if people fill out something. And then I thought well, they should sign something, because I don’t want to be in trouble.
Bas: Some kind of a release form?
Marc: Yep. And then there is the one-pod, on which I’ve put my camera. And there is, there’s always more. And now there is the van. Yeah, it’s growing. [laughs]
Bas: Alright, so, how did you come up with the idea for Why I Love This Book? You must be a book fan.
Marc: Yeah. I’ve been reading books ever since I was able to, which was really early, I believe. So yeah, I love books. I’ve always been reading books, and I really like books. And I really like reading good books. They can really capture your imagination and you can totally emerge in them.
So I love books, that is one. Also, the other thing is I’m an internet guy. Previously I had two different internet companies. And the first one was doing ok and then I left after 7 years.
Bas: Ok, that’s a long time.
Marc: Yeah, six or seven years. Because I felt I wanted to do something else. And then I started something else, which failed terribly. [laughs] So there I was, I had to move to a cheaper house because I couldn’t pay it anymore, so I was in trouble. And I came up with this, and I had something nice. I had to work, for money, but now I also had something creative and cool on the side. This is growing and growing and eventually this should be my day job.
Bas: Ok, so it gives you a lot of energy.
Marc: Yep, it does, yeah. And why I came up with it is, I felt that negative reviews of books or other stuff are just a waste of time to read. I’m not looking for a story that really tells me how bad something is. I’m just looking for a good book. So I thought it would be better to have only positive reviews of really good books. But that’s, of course, difficult to do for yourself. So I decided to ask people.
So what I do is I just find someone willing to get on camera and ask them to tell me why they love this book—any book they pick, any genre, any time, any language—it doesn’t matter. Any book.
Bas: There’s no constraint. Just whatever you like.
Marc: Fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.
Marc: Yeah, the encyclopedia. [Bas laughs] One has already spoken about that.
Marc: No, one has spoken about the Bible though.
Marc: Yeah, which kind of surprised me, because I thought more people would be choosing that one. But so far it’s only been one. And no Koran yet or other religious books.
Bas: So it’s just one question for people?
Marc: One question and one minute, yeah. And just, like, you’re a talking head in the frame. I film you. There’re no fancy video things, and it’s just one answer in the video itself. I ask no questions, I just nod or smile. Or. [Bas belly laughs while Marc makes a cut-throat gesture.]
Marc: Meaning cut.
Bas: Exactly. It’s not just about reviews from celebrities or famous people, is it? But you have some—well at least for me as a Dutch person— people I know, I recognize.
Bas: Is that on purpose or is that a coincidence?
Marc: Well, a great example—I don’t know how well known he is in America but in UK, everybody knows him, is Mr. Stephen Fry.
Bas: Yes! I saw him on the site, it was wild.
Marc: Stephen Fry is the king. What I do is I make videos with readers and with writers. Readers make one video, just pick a book and tell why I love it. And with writers I make always two videos: one about their latest book, their own book, and one a book that has truly inspired them.
Marc: So this makes it very easy to catch authors.
Bas: It’s also a platform for them.
Marc: Of course.
Bas: To promote their book.
Marc: Yeah it is. I tell them “it is not a commercial”. And I stop them if they make it too commercial. I want something real. Something from the heart. Which is the logo. My question for authors about their own book is also “Tell me why you love this book.” And very often they find this difficult, because its, well, it’s not very modest. I don’t know. It’s kind of a difficult question about your own stuff. So then my alternative question is “why did you write this book?” There’s always a big story behind why someone writes a book.
Marc: So they tell me that.
Bas: How did you end up with Stephen Fry?
Marc: I know tons of publishers. And a lot of authors, of course. So it’s getting easier and easier. Very often publishers call me “Do you want to make a video with such-and-such?” And this is also how Stephen Fry came by, because he is with Penguin. And there’s a lovely girl at Penguin who has helped me out a few times already. She put me in a room with Stephen Fry, which was pretty amazing.
Bas: Yeah. So the van, the camper, the bus you have now for two months. And when did you start the actual web site?
Marc: The web site started December 1, 2010, so approaching.
Bas: Two years. Alright.
Marc: Two years.
Bas: And did you know people in publishing at that time?
Marc: No. Nobody.
Bas: Ok, so you just showed up at events.
Marc: No, the first deal was with my mother, I think. [Bas laughs] And then my brother and my sister and my friends. In the beginning it was very difficult because I didn’t know how to do it and also, it’s very time consuming, this way. Approaching individual people. I have to make appointments. That takes a lot of time and it doesn’t bring a lot of videos. You’re busy for a long time and you have one video.
So there’s the Day of the Literature, Dag van de Literatuur, that was my first event. It is a really big event in Rotterdam every year: loads of authors and loads of students, high school students. I emailed the organization if it would be cool if I was there. And a friend, a girl, and I together—she often comes with me to these events—we went with a camera and no clue [Bas belly laughs] basically.
Bas: Just a camera and one question.
Marc: Yeah. And then we were, at this event. There were also loads of authors, signing and doing special things. And we were next to the signing booth. We were just there making videos with students. And then an author would be done autographing and it would be very easy to catch them and bring them to the camera. They were very willing because of the, um, publicity power or something.
Marc: So it was not so difficult to do, actually. And to come back to your question, about the celebrities. Very often they are authors or they are celebrities who have written a book, which is maybe slightly different. [Bas laughs] Or maybe not, some of them write really nice books. So, they happen to be famous, but they’re also writers.
Sometimes when I’m at these events, there are all kinds of actors and other people who are not authors, doing stuff there. And I just ask if they want to do it. And this is how I made a video with Katja Schuurman.
Marc: She was really nice.
Bas: Do you have a favorite story about this bus? Something that happened to it?
Marc: I almost crashed it.
Marc: I went with a friend of mine to the Edinburgh Book Festival this summer. To go there we drove down to Calais. We took the ferry to Dover and then drove all the way up.
Bas: Together with this bus?
Marc: Yeah. It was the cheapest route. [Bas laughs] I drove off the boat into Dover. So I was in England for, like, 10 minutes on my way to Edinburgh. And I did remember to drive left.
Bas: I was going to say, you’re not going to tell me you forgot to drive left?
Marc: But I did forget to look right. So there was a junction, like a T-junction.
Marc: I was approaching it. And was looking really very much to the left. Having been just 10 minutes in the UK, and from the corner of my eye I saw something and I slammed the brakes and it was like 2 inches, or something, and Whew! The car came by. So almost my whole adventure ended [Bas laughs] before it started. So I was really shocked.
Bas: Did you just show up with your bus in Edinburgh?
Marc: No. No.
Bas: How did people respond to it?
Marc: Yeah, always nice. Edinburgh was my first event with the van but I’ve done many events with just the camera. And I always contact the organization and tell them about Why I Love This Book. About what I want to do: make videos with visitors and the authors. And ask if they can get me a press card or something. And they always do. [laughs]
Why not? Everybody’s always happy to see me because I do only good things, you know? Publishers are happy. The authors are happy. The audience is happy.
Bas: It’s a win win for everybody.
Marc: Yeah. And for the organization of the event there’s something extra. It’s not the main attraction, but it’s fun.
Bas: Does it help that it’s positively oriented? You saying “I’m not interested in trashing books?”
Marc: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know. I explain what it is and they invite me, but I don’t know what part of the explanation that is. [Bas and Marc laugh together]
Bas: What are your plans with it?
Marc: I’m a man with a plan and a van.
Bas: Is this a man with a plan? You have it now for two months. You’re driving to events. What are your ideas?
Marc: I was at the Manuscripta in Holland, a really big book event at the Westergas Fabriek in Amsterdam. And there it really worked very well. I was just in the middle of the whole thing, people everywhere, and it was like 80 videos or something. And now I, just yesterday, got my press credentials approved for the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
Bas: Oh, that’s a big one.
Marc: That’s really big. It is like maybe the biggest.
Bas: In Europe.
Marc: Yeah. Really big. So now I’m going there. My plan. Why I went to Edinburgh in the first place is that while WhyILoveThisBook is a Dutch Web site, I have always been planning to also make, like a clone in English. English spoken videos. So I needed English-speaking people, so I went to Edinburgh. And also I hope to find a lot of English-speaking people in Frankfurt, at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the book fair. If I find a lot of German people I might even make a German version of it.
Bas: Ok. Good plan.
Marc: Yeah. I think the van really helped. And they don’t really know I have a van yet. [Bas belly laughs.] They just approved my press card. Next question will be “Is it ok if I come with my van?” And I have a really cool picture of the last event.
Bas: Yeah. It sells itself.
Marc: Yeah, I think they will like it. I’ve experienced that I’m really well connected now in the Dutch book world. And now things for me are really easy to fix, over here. But in Edinburgh it was really difficult. Everything was very complex and official. I’m afraid in Germany it will also be quite official.
Marc: So I don’t know what will happen with the van.
Bas: What has working on Why I Love This Book brought to you? What would be the difference for you–imagine what you did workwise two years ago, or three years ago, and today?
Marc: Yeah. It brought me tons of wonderful things actually.
Marc: Like, um, this is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s the thing I love the most out of all the things I’ve done in the past. I’ve had a few career switches. But this is really great. It’s almost 2 years now, and I still enjoy everything. I have so much fun doing it. And I was afraid the videos would become boring, you know?
Bas: Ok, yeah.
Marc: Every person saying “Yeah, well, I really loved this book, because it’s very well written. Blah, blah.” But it’s never like that, you know, because it’s always different. Everybody has a different story. Also my instruction before the video is like “Don’t tell me the synapsis, tell me what you have with this book.”
Bas: Why you love it.
Marc: So it’s a personal thing. Yeah. From them. From the heart. Everybody’s heart turns out to be different. So that is great fun for me to get to do these videos. I really like doing that. Meeting people. I really like the book scene. I feel very much at home in this world.
Bas: What is it that makes you feel at home?
Marc: Well, it’s ah, it’s about books, it’s about creativity, it’s about talent, and it’s about, um. There are a lot of parties, also.
Bas: [Bas laughs] Very important.
Marc: There’s also um, not just men, you know? Because there are a lot of girls working in the book business. And previously I’ve always worked for like an internet company, technical, ah.
Bas: Technically oriented.
Marc: And there’s always men! You know? Too many men. And I like also to work with men and women. So this is also good. It’s like a more normal world, not the geeky world. And I get to meet all these wonderful people also, you know? Like I would never have met Stephen Fry, for example.
Bas: Yeah. Not allowed to speak to him.
Marc: Yeah. And have something to say. And ah, everything is just wonderful. I love every part of it, except for the post production.
Bas: Ok, so the creation of the videos itself.
Marc: Yeah. And the publishing on the web site. But now I’m just organizing an internship for high-school kids, 17, like that. And they will be, next week, for one day in my office and I will do the instruction how to do it. Because there’s like 20 steps from a raw video to a published video.
Bas: Yes, it’s very tedious work.
Marc: And I also have to look up a lot of metadata, publisher, ISBN, synopsis.
Bas: Creating good links to Amazon or whatever.
Marc: Yah, yah, yah, or just putting it on the Web site. So I’m now hoping to have an army of helpers.
Bas: But you actually created this job for yourself.
Bas: It didn’t exist. It’s designed completely.
Marc: Yeah. And it’s totally fantastic. Also with this camper, this whole new world is opening up. I bought it just too late in the summer this year to do one thing that I would really love to do. But it will happen next year. To do a big tour of the European beaches, you know? Everybody’s reading on the beach. [Bas laughs] So I would like to go there, with my girl friend, and just tour the beaches and just approach people who don’t look like they will kick me.
Bas: You designed work where you can travel.
Bas: And have everything on the go.
Marc: Yeah, that is what I really like. And also the English version of the Web site. Actually the idea was to start in Holland, figure everything out here, because obviously I live here and my greatest chances for success are here. Once I figured it out, to go international. And also to travel, I would love to go to America and make videos there and do stuff there, yah? I have to be somewhere to make a video and the rest is all online, so I can be anywhere.
Bas: Yeah. If there are people who would want to move from their current job and create something for themselves, what would be, I don’t know, the biggest lessons you’ve learned? What would be worth sharing?
Marc: I think that it does matter—I was talking to a friend of mine about that—what the subject of your job is–for example you can be a project manager. You can basically manage whatever: chickens or computers or whatever. A project manager is like an organized guy who thinks, makes sure everything is on time.
Bas: I’ve heard, yeah. [laughs]
Marc: The lesson that I’ve really learned is that you have to pick a subject that is really close to you and that you really love, and that will stay interesting for a longer time, you know? For example, I met a guy yesterday who’s doing work with chickens and IT. If you’re not into chickens, then it will be boring. No matter how cool the system will be that you design or manage or whatever. If you don’t like chickens, after 6 months when everything is running, and you have to improve things, and figure out how to do things better, it will be boring, I think.
And I love books. And it stays interesting for me. And I love people, too, you know.
Bas: Yah, yah.
Marc: I am a people person. And before, the previous job that I created for myself, the company that didn’t work out, it was brilliantly constructed, in the sense that all my past work experience came together in this new company.
Marc: So I really did well in what I had to do. But I didn’t really like the topic, the subject, of the whole thing. And it was also, very much, only online. And not with people.
Marc: So no people, no interesting topic, and some stupid mistakes, and it failed. And I really worked hard, and I loved starting it up and everything. But now, this never feels like work, what I do now.
Bas: So basically what you’re saying is that it’s more important to have a passion about the topic.
Bas: Something that you would love to do. And then the rest will fill in itself.
Bas: Than what you choose that is in line with your history or what you’re supposed to do.
Marc: Yeah. And it’s pretty simple advice to follow your passion or something. But I think it’s true, and I think very often you can, maybe. I don’t know, I read something about that recently. For that you have to look in your past, your early past, you know? Like when you were a boy.
Marc: Maybe there is something there. Maybe you were always building stuff, like with Lego, or something, I don’t know. Maybe there is a clue for what you really should do and you might have become distracted on the way for practical reasons or whatever. I think I was reading books since I was 5 or something, and now I’m in the book business.
Bas: Yeah, there was this story about your aunt.
Marc: Right. My aunt, she was, Aunt Bep [laughs]. And she worked at the office of the central library. And all the books that were really broken ended up there after they’d been lent out by the library a hundred thousand times. Eventually every book will fall apart. That’s where they gathered all these books. And they put a big stamp in it, like “Obsolete” or “Finished” or “Afgeschreven.” And then the employees could take these books, so she always took her little tiny car packed to the roof with books. [Bas laughs] Then she came to us. And me and my brother and sister we saw her coming. We knew she was coming. We were already waiting for her to show up. She got out of the car, and we were running toward her, past her, into the car! And we started pulling out all these books, and we started a library in the village where I live, like a children’s library, because we had so many books. It was incredible.
So we were, I was reading, I believe, every children’s book from 40 years ago that was there. So that’s how it got started. I really loved it.
Bas: Do you consider yourself as part of a, kind of, culture?
Marc: The question is do I consider myself to be part of a culture or subculture or something? Ooo, I don’t know. I’m just me. [Bas and Marc laugh together] I really wouldn’t know that. I know, there is, of course, tons of blogs. But I don’t really feel myself a blogger. And there is, of course, tons of newspapers, with reviews and stuff. But I don’t feel like I’m that. When I go to these events, I have to get a Press Pass, accreditation to be there. And so I get a Press badge, but it never feels quite right. I feel like I should have a different badge. [Bas quietly laughs] So I always also bring my own badge, which really helps, with the WhyILoveThisBook logo on it. It helps with approaching people and people come to me “Oh, you’re from WhyILoveThisBook!” and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t feel like Press. I’m just me.
Bas: Yah, you explain what you do instead of just put on a label.
Marc: Yeah, yah, yah. And I don’t know, I work and I share an office in Amsterdam in the Vijzelstraat, in Het Duintjer Gebouw. It’s like a creative place. A really big building and there’s tons of really small companies in there, like internet guys, and designers. A lot of photographers, journalists.
Bas: Ok, so a creative environment.
Marc: And I feel very much at home in that world. So maybe I’m part of that, but I don’t know what it is.
Bas: So what will be the next trip?
Marc: The next trip will be Frankfurt. Frankfurter Buchmesse. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s super huge, so I don’t know where to start, but I will just go and see what happens.