Thursday 10 December 2009

Giulio Einaudi

One of my publishing idols and models has always been the Italian publisher Giulio Einaudi (1912–99), the founder of Giulio Einaudi Editore. I grew up on Einaudi books: I can see my well-thumbed edition of the Complete Short Stories by Chekhov, Musil’s Man without Quality, Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Proust's Recherche, Yeats’s, Keats’s, Baudelaire’s and Dylan Thomas’s poems, the Apocryphal Gospels, Ian McEwan’s novels and dozens more volumes that I first coveted, then owned and enjoyed over many readings.

What made Einaudi’s books unique was the quality of the editing, translation, typesetting, paper, binding – the whole package oozed with quality. It is unfortunate and tragically ironic that this once great brand – associated with authors such as Calvino, Pavese, Vittorini, Carlo and Primo Levi, to name but a few, and with the Italian Left – has now ended up in the clutches of the Antichrist of Culture, Berlusconi.

I am currently reading Giulio Einaudi’s memoirs, or rather Fragments of Memories (Frammenti di memoria), as the title goes. It is a lovely volume that was sent to me by my friends at Nottetempo, a wonderful publishing house founded in 2002 by Roberta Einaudi and Ginevra Bompiani. It’s around 200 pages in large typeface and generous layout – quite a refreshing change from other publishing memoirs, such as Maurice Girodias’s two-volume A Day on the Earth or John Calder’s Pursuit, a densely printed royal hardback of over six hundred pages.

It’s not that Giulio Einaudi’s life was uneventful. On the contrary – he led a very industrious (and, at times, heroic) life and had dealings with some of the greatest twentieth-century writers and thinkers. But the impression I get from this book is that he was a decent and reserved man who tried to shun hype and walk away from the limelight.

His prose is terse, lucid, totally unpompous. “My interest for books,” he writes, “was driven at first by the pleasure of physical contact rather than by reading. Perhaps this is the reason why I have always taken extreme care, in my profession, in choosing the typeface, paper, printing, binding, typesetting and layout…” Hundreds of well-known authors and publishers are portrayed in finely chiselled cameos, and there’s a wealth of short but vivid publishing anecdotes.

The English publisher Sir Stanley Unwin reproaches him during an international conference in Florence for being three months late with a royalty payment. “However," he says in the next paragraph, "money was not the subject of my conversation with the old Peter Suhrkamp, publisher and friend of Bertolt Brecht. What we talked about instead was the progressive dumbing-down and depersonalization of international publishing, which is gradually turning into a huge business machine. And I didn’t talk about money with the young Klaus Wagenbach, devoted to the promotion of contemporary Italian literature in Germany; neither did I talk about money with Ledig Rowohlt, the publisher of Robert Musil… These are three publishers who love to know and “grow” their authors, whose manuscripts they read during long, sleepless nights…”


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