Monday, October 15, 2012

Bookish Adventures in Italy Part One- Bookstores!

Typical Roman Cobblestone Street
My recent trip through Florence, Rome and Sorrento was a family vacation and my first time in Italy, so most of our time was spent visiting landmark sites like the Forum, the Vatican, the Uffizi and Pompeii. Our days were pretty highly structured and I didn't have much time for wandering. But when I did I somehow always seemed to wind up at a bookstore. I wonder why!

In Florence, I visited Giunti al Punto, an Italian chain bookstore with a small section in English and other foreign languages. It's located just down the street from the Pitti Palace. I didn't get a picture, but I did get a copy of Arrivederci Amore, Ciao, by Massimo Carlotto, which is my favorite book by that author. I thought it would be fun to have the Italian version for my collection!

Onto Rome, and here we had a little more free time and a little more luck when it came to running into bookstores serendipitiously. I did some research ahead of time on English-language bookstores in Rome but when I got there I decided
  • I wasn't interested in shopping for English language books in Italy because I can get those at home (duh) and
  • I would rather not worry about seeking out particular things and just enjoy what I happened to discover.
And as it turned out, the one bookstore I went looking for, an English language shop in the Trastevere neighborhood, was closed for a two-hour lunch break when I stopped by. That'll teach me to plan!

The Open Door Bookshop, Rome
I did visit The Open Door Bookshop in Trastevere,  a delightful store featuring used books in many languages. I didn't find anything to bring home but it was here that my husband decided to start hunting for a complete set of the Hitchhiker's Guide series in Italian- which he eventually succeeded in completing.

I also practiced my crappy Italian and chatted with the bookseller about being a bookseller myself.

Libreria Fahrenheit 451, Rome
The second independent store we visited was just off the busy Campo di Fiore, and it was called Libreria Fahrenheit 451, after the famous Ray Bradbury novel. The store featured new and used books, mainly in Italian, and also houses a collection of various editions of Bradbury's novel. I bought a book about the Italian movie La Dolce Vita and continued my campaign of terror against Italians by attempting to speak to them in a mangled version of their beautiful language.

Centro Storico branch of la Feltrinelli
Onward to the second and by far better of the two Italian chains I visited, La Feltrinelli. La Feltrinelli, from what I could gather, is like the Barnes & Noble of Italy but so, so much better. I visited three or four in Rome alone; two near my hotel, one in the Centro Storico neighborhood near the Pantheon and maybe another one somewhere.

The first one we visited, on the via del Babuino, was a straightforward affair and fun to browse through. The Centro Storico location featured books, music and movies, as well as a swell-looking café. I visited at the end of an extremely long day of walking so I didn't spend the time there that I would have if I had been visiting at my leisure, but I did pick up a great book on Italian cinema, Il Grande Cinema Italiano, by Roy Menarini. A year-by-year, movie-by-movie history of Italian movie making, it's going to be a great resource. It's all in Italian but I can figure out most of it.  We visited a third location near the first, this one a specialty Feltrinelli called RED (Read, Eat, Dream. Leggi, Mangia, Sogna), which carries a large selection of Italian food and other specialty items as well as books. Here, Jeff finished collecting the Hitchhiker's series!

Libreria Tasso, Sorrento
In the resort town of Sorrento we visited Libreria Tasso, a small independent bookstore named after two Renaissance poets who hail from the town, father and son Bernardo and Torquato Tasso. Tasso fils is the author of Jerusalem Delivered, one of the most widely read European poetical works up till the beginning of the 19th century, and Tasso père was also a famous poet of his day.

The bookstore is smallish and filled with books for locals and tourists alike; they have a selection of English language books as well as guidebooks and souvenir books and other items. I picked up a 2013 calendar of famous Italian films. Fun!

Libreria la Conchiglia, including many of the books they publish.
Finally, on the island of Capri we visited La Conchiglia, a small bookstore featuring rare reprints of books by and about people who've lived on Capri. The shop is a storefront to the eponymous publishing house responsible for producing these books. Jeff was thrilled to find a guidebook to the ruins of the Capri home of Roman emperor Tiberius; the ruins are a long hike from the center of town, and we didn't have time to visit, but the book is a little treasure for lovers of Roman history like my husband. The store itself was pretty and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Simenon gialli at a Roman Feltrinelli
I really enjoyed the time I spent browsing and shopping in Italy's bookstores. I learned that thrillers and mysteries are called gialli or yellow books, and saw a display of Simenon mysteries in yellow paper covers. Chicklit was called letturatura rosa, or pink books. I admired the beautiful covers and paper that even the cheapest books were published in, and admired even more the many elaborately printed and bound childrens' books and fine editions I came across.

Most places had at least some books in English, French and German as well as other languages as well as travel guides and souvenir books prominently displayed.

Overall I think my visits to Italian bookstores just made me want to learn Italian all the more, so I can read more of the beautiful and fascinating-looking things that are available!