Monday, 14 February 2011

Death of a Bookshop – Michelle Lovric

In view of the date, you’re probably expecting something romantic. If so, hie thee to or FuzzybearluvsMaggotyknickers.blogspot. I object to institutionalized romance, and disapprove of commercialized love, so instead I’m going to tell you a sad story: it’s my blog-day, and I’ll cry if I want to.

Venice has suffered a bereavement. (And, as ever, Venice functions as a microcosm of the bigger world.) Venice’s bereavement is literary. She has lost her one large bookshop. After seven years trading, la Libreria Mondadori has closed its doors just steps from the Piazza San Marco.

The Mondadori bookshop has not failed. It was not downsizing. It has simply been evicted by its landlords, Benetton, in favour of a Louis Vuitton shop.

(In scandalized tones, Lady Bracknell: ‘A HANDBAG shop?’)

For Venice, the loss of Mondadori shows just a little more dumbing down, a little more bully-business trouncing the arts, a little more globalization, a little more bling, another dark inkling of la Serenissima’s bleak destiny as a picturesque high-end shopping ghetto rather than a cultural destination. Venice becomes a shop window – people look at the merchandise, not at the city. So Venice’s identity is eroded. So the world goes.

For me, the loss is also personal. I have lost my local bookshop. My fellow-writers will know how nasty that feels.

As far as bookshops are concerned, I am a little promiscuous. Or, as it's more charmingly put in Italian, sono un po’ farfallina – I’m a bit butterfly. There isn’t a bookshop in Venice that I walk past without entering for at least a browse. But that Mondadori bookshop was the one to closest to home, the one that I visited most often. The staff were ever kind to my novels – which were frequently placed in the window, and were always in stock. My third novel for adults, The Remedy, had its launch in Mondadori’s third-floor event space, which hosted 1200 such ‘appuntamenti culturali’ in its too-short life. The children’s book section was particularly magnificent, so when I heard that the wonderful Italian publisher Salani had bought the rights to The Undrowned Child, the first thing I did was rush to the Libreria Mondadori to see how Salani style their covers and what kind of production they do.

When the news came out about the planned closure, there were eloquent editiorials. Two thousand signatures were collected in a petition. To no avail. On January 5th the shop held a final stock sale with discounts of 20 per cent and offered a farewell drink to customers. Then it closed its doors.

So. Designer bags instead of books. It makes you wonder what plans our politicians have for the shells of Britain’s closing libraries, doesn’t it? Somehow I doubt there’ll be a rush of Louis Vuittons to rent the British libraries that will soon be stripped of their books and readers. The lights will go out. They’ll shut the door. And file the key under ‘Irreparable and Senseless Loss’. But has anyone, i.e. the cost-cutters, given thought to the built environment of the post-library world? The best way to keep a building safe and sound – is to fill it up with people. Turn your back on it, and a building weeps angry leaks. It crumbles. Lonely, it invites in a rat or two. A rough sleeper. A woodworm or million. Some kids break in, start a fire. The pipes burst. A sodden beam comes down. A year or two later, the building is condemned. Then there’s a scar on the environment where a beloved library used to be.

A curmudgeonly Happy Valentine’s Day from me, then.

(I did give you a heart at least, even though it’s dark and made of stone.)

Michelle Lovric’s website

See the new video trailer for her children’s novels, The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium.

Angel heart tombstone from


Stroppy Author said...

Oh no! So sad to hear of the demise of Mondadori's. How many Louis Vuitton shops can one city sustain?

An excellent question about what happens to locked libraries. I suggest we all move into them as squatters. I'm up for it. I can rent out my house and live in a library and write and I won't even need to chase my publishers for money as I'll have all that rental income. Maybe we could invite in feral children who will become socialised and intellectual. I feel a book coming on.... the children who live in libraries. It will be a post-apocolapytic utopia.

michelle lovric said...

Anne, it's brilliant idea to use the abandoned libraries as writers' colonies, including feral young writers!

Yes, it's very sad about Mondadori. But there is hope, in Venice anyway. Giovanni Pelizzato, who ran Mondadori and is proprietor of the three small Toletta bookshops, says that they are looking for other premises of a similar size. Staff at the shop this weekend said that nothing had yet been found. But the events space is to be transferred to the Casinò di Venezia, continuing under Pelizzato’s management. And one positive aspect of the reorganisation is the establishment of a bookshop dedicated to children in the premises that used to house art books (now transferred to the architecture shop). When I went to visit The Undrowned Child, newly published in Italian, I found the genial Sandro presiding over a happy child-friendly Toletta Kids shop with soft stools and ample space for pushchairs. While most of the vast Mondadori stock (two large floors of it) had to go back to the distribution centre, nearly all the children’s books were transferred to Toletta Kids. A little candle in a naughty world.

Sue Purkiss said...

I hope the bookshop finds its premises - at least, it's good that it had to close because of the dictates of big business, rather than because people weren't using it. As for libraries here, you do wonder if they've thought ahead at all. It was pointed out at a recent council meeting I went to that it actually costs quite a lot to close buildings; you can't just leave them to rot, and who's going to take them over in the present climate? It seems to be all about cashing in in the short term - now, it's the forests, for heaven's sake! Do they really think they can get it all out of the way in their first year of office, and then we'll all have forgotten about it by the time of the next election? Forgotten that they've sold off our heritage, the family jewels? Honestly, this lot make Dr Beeching look like a public benefactor...

Penny Dolan said...

Wondering what's the point of any handbag, Vuitton or otherwise, if it's not for carrying books about in?

Glad there are better plans ahead in Venice.

Celia Rees said...

I mourn the passing, too. The presence of a shop like Mondadori makes Venice seem like a real place, a working city instead of a tourist fantasy island. Louis V will have the opposite effect. Good news that the shop may be moving rather than disappearing. You'll just have to go and admire your book somewhere else. Salani certainly do exceedlingly nice covers!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

And yesterday I just started to read your novel The Book of Human Skin.... so sad to hear of the demise of another palace of dreams.

Leslie Wilson said...

Very sad, and very well put, Michelle. Sigh...


Leila said...

Ah. Interesting. Our local city is Salerno, and I am always astonished at the sheer number of bookshops there are there. There's a small Mondadori, a middle-sized Feltrinelli and a bundle of small independents. And these are proper bookshops, not WH 'we really sell sandwiches but we stock Harry Potter too' Smiths. A British town of equivalent size would be lucky to have two Waterstone'ss (THINKS: What *is* the plural of Waterstone's?). I was all set to make something of this, to Italy's advantage - but I guess not.

Leila said...

Also, there is now And while I browsed for my books in the independent in Salerno, it was 18 euros there and only 12 euros online. This cannot be ignored.