Sunday, 24 June 2012

BOOKSELLER SUNDAYS: Born that way, Ornella Tarantola at The Italian Bookshop, London

The fourth in a new series of guest blogs by booksellers who work with children’s authors in different ways. These Sunday guest blogs are designed to show life behind the scenes of a crucial but neglected relationship – the one between a writer and a bookseller.

Booksellers are like writers. You can learn to be one, but in reality you’re born that way.

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.

Books should be touched, creased, caressed. I fear a time when they will all be contained inside little electronic devices. But by that time I shall be a lovely little old lady seated on a terrace surrounded by books. I shall reread for the umpteenth time about how Marcovaldo found mushrooms in the city.

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.


Emma Barnes said...

What a lovely post! It left me wishing I knew Italian. Who know, maybe it's not too late...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

A lovely post to open up to on a Sunday morning. Having just got back from Umbria and le Marche it makes me want to go rushing over to Warwick Street today! That cover of Marcovaldo is enough of a carrot to entice this rabbit. I love the idea that you are born a bookseller and wish there were more Ornella Tarantolas in this world... although you sound too special to be replicated. Thank you for a bright start to the day!

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely post! Like Emma, I'm wishing I could speak Italian... I did start to learn once. It's such a beautiful language.

adele said...

What a lovely post! Thank you, Ornella! (and Michelle)

Penny Dolan said...

Great to hear all about your bookseller life, Ornella, as well as learning about the European bookshop as I hadn't known about it before. Nor about Calvino's "Marcovaldo", come to that.

I'm also imagining that the Rodari Italian nursery rhymes you mention must be a joy to recite!

Will now check out the website to discover where your newer bookshop actually is. What a great & useful post. Thanks!