Saturday, April 13, 2013

Standing Up for Bookstores & the City (in Biblioteca Marciana)

Yesterday at high noon over 100 published authors and illustrators who call Venice home gathered at Jacopo Sansovino's great 16th-century Biblioteca Marciana to call attention to the ever-diminishing number of bookstores in the city and present a list of requests aimed to prevent more loss.

The decision to hold the press conference--entitled "Venice, City of Readers"--at Biblioteca Marciana was of course a symbolic decision meant to evoke Venice's immense role in the history of the printed word. The Biblioteca was itself the first state library in the world and Venice the adopted home and workplace of the seminal printer and publisher Aldo Manuzio (or Aldus Manutius, as he's also known). In fact, the city's religious tolerance--inspired no doubt by its commerce with the East--enabled the city to become the center of early print culture, drawing the most talented printers in Europe to work in the lagoon, and both the first complete Talmud and the first printed Arabic Qur'an were published here (in 1520-23 and 1537-38, respectively).

But though the primary focus of yesterday's event was on bookstores and the printed word, and the panel of speakers (including two winners of Italy's most prestigious literary awards) were surrounded by philosophers painted by the likes of Tintoretto, the overarching concern was, as it always is now, whether the city and its residents can survive the onslaught of Total Tourism (or fondamentalismo turistico, as the Italian version of the program put it). It was a call not just to legislators or politicians or city administrators, but to all of us to be aware of our own capacity to help or to harm the city, and to take responsibility for the choices we make rather than indulging in the lazy and willfully mystifying fiction of some purportedly inevitable "logic of the marketplace".

The full text of the requests signed by the more than 100 published authors and illustrators can be found in English, Italian, French and German by clicking on the links below. In the interest of full-disclosure I should note that I contributed some last-minute re-writes to the English translation of the text and was also one of the signers of the document.





A video of the complete presentation in the Biblioteca Marciana can be watched by clicking on the following link (about 1 hour, in Italian):


  1. I;m so glad to see people taking an interest in this issue. I was heartbroken during my visit last year to discover that the large Mondadori store (or was it a Feltrinelli?) near San Marco had closed. Thank goodness the bookstore in my old neighborhood of Dorsoduro is still around. Still, it seems to be getting more and more difficult to shop for books in the city. I wish much success to this great initiative!

    1. The loss of the the Mondadori was a big one, Val, as they hosted a lot of readings and other events throughout the year; it left a sizable hole in the cultural life of a fair number of Venetians. When I first returned to Venice in 2010 after a long absence I was so pleasantly surprised to find a bookstore in an area I'd remembered as being devoted entirely to the priciest boutiques. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

      The bookstore in Dorsoduro seems to be doing well--"seems" being a key word whenever talking about bookstores--and perhaps this initiative will call more attention to the importance of bookstores in the city's life and allow them to survive. Speriamo.