In Praise of Remainder Books
Food that no one really wants to eat is called leftovers. Lengths of cloth that no one really wants to buy are called remnants. And books that no one really wants to read are called remainders.
The Dutch call remainder books ramsj, pronounced romp with a shh! at the end. It’s a Yiddish word, and it translates as “junk,” as if the idea of leftovers, remnants, and floaters weren’t damning enough.
In the bookstore context, the term junk sounds like it refers to low-brow reads like Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. But it isn’t so: “Remainder” is just a category book the publisher has decided to mark down in price. And “Remaindered” doesn’t have to carry a stigma. Sure, a hardback gets remaindered when it isn’t selling. But it can also get discounted when upstaged by the paperback edition. Sometimes in-demand books get remaindered just to make room for a new edition.
Remainder books in English are easy to find in Amsterdam. Waterstone’s has them, the American Book Center sells them, and the swanky Het Martyrium reliably carries remainders.
What’s great about remainders: they’re wild cards. Among the remaindered books found in Amsterdam bookstores: works by Esther Freud, John Updike, Philip Roth, Fay Weldon, Jeanette Winterson, and J.M. Coetzee—and nonfiction by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Martha Gellhorn, Rousseau.
Who named them remainders? Frankly, who cares; whatever they’re called, these books are classy reading indeed.
– Lisa Friedman