Alba Donati, a poet and a publishing professional opened a bookshop in Luignana, a village – not a town – of 180 people stuck up a hill in Tuscany. Yes, 180 people, but mail order exists as did the notion that people would travel to this unlikely bookshop in a rather beautiful area. This is no Shaun Bythell (Diary of a Bookseller) as Donati likes her customers, but the book is also about the village and her family, including her 101 year old mother.
The format is a diary, starting 20th January 2021 and ending 20th June 2021. A Covid period, which also means the diary is studded with, but not overwhelmed by, references to the various Italian lockdowns and what that means for a bookshop to which most customers have to travel. The village itself remains Covid-free, something Donati compares to the village also being free of fascist supporters during the Mussolini years. It was not, however, unaffected by the war – her mother’s first husband was reported missing, presumed dead, and in one moving section the author’s family is contacted by someone who had seen the missing soldier’s dog-tags on sale in a military memorabilia site.
Donati weaves her family, her neighbours and her own personal history cleverly into the bookshop story, with each diary entry finishing with a list of books sold that day, a mixture of books in English and Italian. On one occasion she lists her recommended LGBT+ books.
But why here? Why open a bookshop in the middle of nowhere? She answers: “The thing is, Lucignana doesn’t know it is in the middle of nowhere; as far as I’m concerned New York is in the middle of nowhere. This tiny village is to me the centre of the universe, because I see it through the eyes of a little girl who braved rickety stairs and freezing houses in freezing winters, a little girl who tried to fix broken things as best she could.” As she suggests, this is not a rich area – her own family house had an outside toilet until the 1990s.
Alba Donati is a feminist, selling mostly books by women to women, something she dwells on, but only in terms of displaying more of the books women read. But she will often wander away to discuss particular writers and their books, some familiar to the British reader, but many not.
The book is charming, well produced, but is completely without internal illustrations or photographs. I’d love to have seen some drawings of her bookshop and of Lucignana.
Copies of the book are available here: