Friday, September 14, 2012
Libreria Marco Polo Celebrates 10 Years, This Evening
The fascinating little bookstore Libreria Marco Polo, right behind the beautiful little church of San Giovanni Grisostomo, celebrated ten years in business this evening with food, drinks and live music.
Since the advent of the internet it's not easy for any bookstore anywhere to survive 10 years, but Libreria Marco Polo has managed to do so with an extensive and interesting selection of used books in English (mostly fiction), a choice selection of used books in Italian, and an equally interesting selection of front-list books in Italian, both literary and non-fiction. They also offer courses in writing, photography and--a new five week course to start soon--in playing the harmonica (for beginners).
Last week I attended a bi-lingual reading by, and interview with, the Los Angeles-based American writer Aimee Bender at the bookstore.
I've read one American blogger remark that the books are priced too high, but I don't agree. Books are generally more expensive in Europe than they are in the United States, and they'll inevitably be even more so in a small town like Venice in which the flow of used English language books is extremely limited and rents are high.
Moreover, as one who managed and acted as a consultant to independent bookstores for a number of years in New York City, I can tell you from first-hand experience that a book lover can have actual bookstores in which to browse and interact and (sometimes quite literally) stumble across books and into people she'd never see on her computer, or she or he can have the rock-bottom prices of the internet.
But you can't have both.
I remember coming across an anecdote by Jill Krementz, the wife of Kurt Vonnegut, in which she suggested that instead of him having to leave their New York apartment to go buy a large mailing envelope every time he needed one, she could simply order him a box of them online from one of the monopolistic office supply chains.
Never, he said. If she did that he'd lose the whole human experience of going out into the world, of seeing things and people, of encountering the unexpected or the familiar, of chatting with this person or that: of the utter and ultimately gratifying unpredictability that lurks in even the most mundane errand--turning it into something not so mundane after all.
I've had the misfortune of seeing cities without bookstores like Libreria Marco Polo, which makes me value it all the more.
And soon I hope to post a review of a book I'm just beginning to read that I was lucky to come upon there--entirely unexpectedly--by Guido Ruggiero entitled The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. Don't let the scholarly title fool you: it's a well-written, entertaining (if sometimes troubling), and very revealing examination of the sexual mores of 14th & 15th-century Venice culled from the extensive state archives.