Published by W&N
Publication date – 3 November 2022
Source – review copy
‘Romano, I’d like to open a bookshop where I live.’
‘Right. How many people are we talking about?’
‘A hundred and eighty.’
‘Right, so if a hundred and eighty thousand people live there, then . . .’
‘No, not hundred and eighty thousand, Romano. Just a hundred and eighty.’
‘Alba . . . Have you lost your mind?’
Conversation between Alba Donati and Romano Montroni, founder of Italy’s largest bookselling chain
Alba used to live a hectic life, working as a book publicist in Florence – a life that made her happy and led her to meet prominent international authors. And yet, she always felt like she was a woman on the run.
And so one day she decides to stop running and go back to Lucignana, the small village on the Tuscan hills where she was born, to open a tiny bookshop.
With a total of only 180 residents, Alba’s enterprise in Lucignana seems doomed from day one but it surprisingly sparks the enthusiasm of many across Tuscany – and beyond. After surviving a fire and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the ‘Bookshop on the Hill’ soon becomes a refuge and beacon for an ever-growing community of people: readers who come to visit from afar, safe in the knowledge that Alba will be able to find the perfect book for them.
A tale of resilience and entrepreneurship and a celebration of booksellers everywhere: the real (and often unsung) heroes of the publishing world.
Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop follows six months in the life of Alba Donati and her little Tuscan bookshop. Here she notes the shop’s resurrection from the ashes after a fire, the villagers and visitors who wander the shelves, how the shop and people cope with lockdown and how books have saved or helped both her and others.
Oh I do wish I could visit Alba’s bookshop. I found myself searching for it on the internet. Despite not understanding what was said, sadly I don’t read or speak Italian, I could immediately see the appeal of the small yet perfectly formed shop.
There’s the sense from the book that Alba is a little like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, calling for people to follow her to the hills of Tuscany. Or rather the shop is a siren, calling book lovers from beyond the mountains.
The bookshop is more than a place to buy a new story. It is a haven for some, it is a port on the storm that was lockdown. It tethered Alba to her roots, brought her back to her childhood home and allowed her to reconnect with her parents and her heritage. It allows conversations to spark, introverts to step outside of their usual confines and find new outlets for themselves. Volunteers help run the shop and there they find new connections, or rekindle old ones.
There is a great sense of community. There may only be 180 residents but they pull together when needed. When there is a fire at the bookshop it is the neighbours and friends who help put it out, help clean up, rebuild and restock. There are personal anecdotes and references to many Italian authors. Whilst they are not familiar names to this British reader, the relationships and interactions between them and the author, the recollections and reflections on how they helped her or saw her through periods of her life, are ones that can be recognised by many.
It was lovely to read about the little moments. The joy of a child walking into the shop, hearing of people booking and coming from miles around just to visit, of books chosen as wedding gifts for a bride and groom and the excitement of a regular customer on receiving her latest purchases. I also loved the list of orders placed at the end of each entry. As booklovers will know, it’s always fascinating to see what other people are reading.
There is something comforting about entering a bookshop. So many possibilities there to discover, so many different worlds to explore or information to absorb. Similar comfort comes from reading books about books, about bookshops and booksellers, book readers and book lovers. Reading after all is a solitary pastime. Yes there are buddy reads and book clubs and if we are lucky book programmes. But usually, except for when we read aloud, or are read to, the actual action of reading is solely ours, as is the world imagined when those pages are read. Books like Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop let people into the world of another book lover, to see that personal attachment and fulfilment reading and books in general bring.
2 Comments Add yours
Sounds like a real treat, Janet – there’s nothing like a good bookshop!!
Sounds lovely. Thanks!