There now seems to be little left to say about Italo Calvino, especially after the beautiful portrait that Ernesto Ferrero dedicated to him with «Italo» (Einaudi): where he also reminds us that the writer was, in the 1950s, also an office manager print, and very creative at that. For example, well ahead of his time he understood one thing very well: that there is nothing better than a controversy (serious or perhaps futile) to get people talking about a book and create the conditions to sell it better.
In this regard, there is a reconstruction by Alberto Cadioli in a book from a few years ago, «Letterati publishers» (Il Saggiatore, the latest edition is from 2017), where we see Calvino very active in writing the back covers, but also in organizing – or trying to, to the extent possible – casual press campaigns.
The traces are in the two collections of editorial correspondence, namely «I libri degli altri» and «Lettere 1940-1985» edited by Luca Baranelli, both published by Einaudi. Cadioli finds a very interesting one from ’64, which shows how the writer was already well aware of the direction the market would take. It is addressed to Carlo Muscetta, a great polemicist and then rather doctrinaire communist, and concerns a book, “The wind in the olive grove”, by the forgotten Fortunato Seminara (the novel was published in Vittorini’s Gettoni, and was among other things revived in 2007 by the publisher Pellegrini), which had divided the Einaudi environment.
«There are those who leaf through it and say: Oh well done! We published the book of a conservative Catholic smallholder,” writes Calvino. «I tell him: but no, it’s not like that. However, the majority of my colleagues agree with me, but it seems that an exponent of landownership, having read the book, declared himself enthusiastic…”.
Big trouble ahead with the left? Not really: «So we came up with the idea of exploiting the thing and mobilizing the right-wing and left-wing press to give opinions on the book, possibly defending it from opposing points of view, and trying to generate a controversy out of it». He knew that it’s not always easy, but when you succeed, that’s it; and well in advance he had hit on the magic word of the cultural entertainment to come: the one that would bring copies and glory (so to speak) to a large number of writers, including, last but not least, the now famous General Vannacci .