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by Roberto Calasso translated by Richard Dixon

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-374-18823-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The eminent Italian litteratus and publisher brings learning and passion to this chronicle of the business of getting books into the hands of readers.

American bibliophiles covet books published by Knopf and the Modern Library. Italians look, foremost among other houses, to Adelphi, where Calasso (Ardor, 2014, etc.) has been working since its founding in 1962. With a look and feel that can’t be mistaken for books published by other houses, the books of Adelphi fulfill what the author considers chief among the criteria of artful publishing: “the capacity to give form to a plurality of books as though they were the chapters of a single book.” Describing publishing as, alternately, an example of what the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called bricolage and, more modernly, as “a hybrid multimedia literary genre,” Calasso stakes a claim for both up-to-dateness and reverence for tradition—for, he argues, the best publisher ever was one of the first, the great Venetian printer and entrepreneur Aldus Manutius. But not too much up-to-dateness—for all that multimedia talk, the author spends a good part of this slender book arguing directly and indirectly with the American technology writer Kevin Kelly, whose embrace of e-books and an end of mass-produced physical books sends Calasso up the wall. Much of this collection hinges on some knowledge of Italian cultural affairs, or at least enough familiarity with history to appreciate a sentiment such as, “the writings of the Red Brigades are always hard going at the start.” But much, too, is pure celebration of books and the devotion to letters that good publishers evidence in abundance and excess, a good publisher being, as Calasso writes, “one who publishes one tenth of the books that he would like to, and perhaps ought to, publish.”

A treat for book lovers, especially those who lust for the productions of Feltrinelli, Bompiani, and, of course, Adelphi.