I was absolutely born a bookseller. Even now, I feel the joy of belonging as soon as I put my nose inside a bookshop. And my bookshop is like me. Like me, it is, well, a bit of a mess sometimes. Sometimes it seems that the books skip around the shelves of their own accord, because it’s also too much effort for them to stay in strict alphabetical order. I always find Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo among the cookbooks. If you ever read it (and you should, my friends) you will understand why. I take it and put it back among the ‘C’s where it should be.
I forgot to say that I sell Italian books …
You’d think it would be difficult to sell Italian books here; a losing bet, even. In fact, English people love Italian books! Those who read Italian books come to our shop to find them in translation and in the original language. Above all, the English love to learn our language. And we Italian booksellers are ready to help them with advice and encouragement.
What do you read when you first come up against Italian literature? My clients cover a big range. They don’t have any qualms about variety … moving from the classics to the latest ‘giallo’ (detective story) because now Italian writers know how to create a great thriller – by dint of being jealous of the Anglo-Saxon writers, we have become pretty good thriller-writers ourselves!
Among my most passionate clients I have many children. They are not discouraged by a foreign or a strange word. They open books, full of courage. They chant the nursery rhymes of Gianni Rodari, even when they don’t understand every word. But the beauty of poetry is that you don’t understand it all straightaway, is it not?
I always offer advice, whether to the grown-ups or to the smallest children. But I also like to leave them the total freedom to fall in love with a cover or an alluring beginning, or a fleeting phrase they find when they open the book somewhere in the middle.
My bookshop hasjust transferred to a new address. Now we are combined as The European Bookshop and Young Europeans Bookstore and The Italian Bookshop in Warwick Street W1. When I first heard this would happen, I was desperately sad, but now I have come to the conclusion that walls don’t matter much. What matters is the writers who are folded away inside the books and all the people who are curious enough to open them.
And now I am happy again …
Ornella Tarantola, The Italian Bookshop
The European Bookshop and Young Europeans Bookstore and The Italian Bookshops' website
Watch out for Independent Booksellers Week, a campaign celebrating independents on the high street, which this year takes place between 30th June and 7th July.