A book begins with a reading sheet and culminates with a back cover – or with a flap, in any case with a short presentation by the publisher. And in this long journey we go from the maximum of caution to the maximum of indulgence, if not to unbridled exaltation, between the two extremes of the “more inflexible criticism” and the “less sincere praise”. The observation is by Luca Baranelli, curator together with Chiara Ferrero of The book of implications. Introductory notes, back covers and other editorial writings (Mondadori), which collects the so-called «paratexts» personally written – and sometimes signed – by Italo Calvino, for Einaudi. He reveals a long secret work for those «books of others» to which he devoted enormous energies, and among the many works published on the occasion of the writer’s centenary it is paired with at least two other classics of the genre, one by Roberto Calasso (“One hundred letters to a stranger”, published by Adelphi ten years ago), another, almost Luciferian, by Giorgio Manganelli (“Quarters of nobility”, recently released by Aragno).
Calvino was Einaudi’s press office chief for many years, and knew the tricks of cultural marketing well, as can be seen from the sometimes amused and mischievous editorial correspondence. He knew that in order to get people talking about a book, it might be necessary to stir up a little confrontation, even a fight, and he laughed a little. But the backs and sides of him are perfect portraits in twenty lines, highly intelligent micro-essays on, for example, Sciascia, or Pavese, or Natalia Ginzburg. He didn’t venture an adjective too many, he shunned high-sounding phrases, he feared at a distance even from the mere suspicion of making rash publicity. It is a lesson in seriousness that has certainly borne fruit for him, but it has not been, like all lessons, decisive. If we randomly read a few recent back covers – not to mention the «blurb», the two-line comment signed by a well-known writer in favor of a colleague, perhaps on the volume blurb, often with an exalted tone, which few take seriously and George Orwell included in the category of «disgusting idiocies» – alongside excellent and perhaps majority presentations of what is said in the book we are witnessing a fantastic, whirling (rhetorical) vanity fair.
In this lively sector, or niche, who knows, a novel cannot be, let’s say, only moving: it is in any case at least “heartbreaking”, sometimes “the most poignant” in the overall work of the author who evidently has been tormenting us for some time , but not to this extent; it can rise to a “heartbreaking beauty” (yearning has been really strong for some years now); in general it is “extraordinary”, which is perhaps more obvious but also more inflated, and it rains without distinction on important authors and on professionals, on bestsellers and on hopeful newcomers. Writing, then: we have discovered one among many defined as “rare truthfulness”; but also another ineffably consecrated as a “crescendo of unspeakable narrative power”. In this case, a novel can only be “extraordinarily contemporary” and perhaps will show an “irresistible Mediterranean flavor” in its style, whatever that means.
What matters is always the adjective – sometimes the adverb – exalted and thundering. In Calvino’s collection there is really no trace of it: and reading it now measures at least a distance, perhaps unbridgeable. However, it would be just as interesting to have available a good anthology of the most bizarre, craziest, publicity, shouted, mystical and naturally “yearning” implications of the last twenty years: excellent company, perhaps for the summer, under an umbrella, to have fun bit’. Strange that no publisher has yet thought of it.