Romano Montroni

by Lina Vergara Huilcamán

“Each book looked like a step on an endless ladder,
and I felt I wanted to climb that ladder”

I libri ti cambiano la vita, Romano Montroni

Bologna, via degli Orefici. Sun. Heat.
A small table outside the Coop Ambasciatori and a chat with Romano Montroni, the most famous bookseller in Italy, but above all the historical memory of the Italian bookshops of the last fifty years. In a period of crisis like this, where people panic and seem to have lost their mind and logical skills, and no longer stop to breathe the air of our land, which is still fine, to look at the sun in the sky that has not died out yet, it is reassuring to sit in front of this man and listen to him. I asked him about the crisis and, after saying just a few words about market strategies and global policies, he replied that this is not the first crisis and not even the most serious one and that, as usual, we just have to wait for it to end. No panic, no scaremongering but we shouldn’t stand motionless without doing anything, because it is precisely in times of crisis that we have to search for solutions, make improvements and learn to face the worst in order to get ready for the best. Around the table was Bologna, the red one, the living one! And while we were chatting the clouds darkened the sun. The wind rose and finally it started to rain gently. We got in and Montroni brought in the sun. He was in a good mood he did his best to sell books and teach the boys of the cash register, telling them the wonderful things he had heard and that could be done, with the joy of a person who know that books change your life, his motto but also the title of his last publication. Books change your life ... they have changed Montroni’s life for sure. When he was a kid, he decided to quit studying and work as a delivery boy in a bookshop in Bologna until, at the age of twenty-four, he became the director of Feltrinelli Ravegnana, and they also changed mine, and now, fifty years later, I meet him and once again I see that everything is possible! Just let yourself be kissed by one of the bright rays of the sun and keep going on without forgetting to connect brain to heart, figures to emotions. A summer shower was waiting for me at the Ambassadors' exit and, when I realized that I would have got wet, I burst out laughing because it was just what I needed: a nice bath. It was time to wake up! Because the enthusiasm, passion, dedication and energy of this bookseller are contagious. "Life, death and miracles of the bookshop in Italy": this could be a perfect subtitle for his book Libraio per caso (Bookseller by chance), in which the pages about Giangiacomo Feltrinelli are really moving and seem to tell the exploits of a superman from a planet Earth once inhabited by human beings who were capable of thinking and looking far ahead, of daring and challenging rules, capable of working day and night to reach their goal. A superman – Feltrinelli – who fifty years ago revolutionised the history of bookstores in Italy. But what does it take to cope with a crisis? What does it take not to lose customers? What does it take to improve the world? It is all written in Vendere l’anima (Selling the soul) and Libraio per caso. The first focuses on the management of a bookshop and the profession of bookseller, the second traces the history of bookshops, without neglecting the factors involved in each stage of their development. Books are items, goods, and the purpose of booksellers and bookstores is to sell them, but, as Montroni himself explains, books are able to enclose the world, a world that is sometimes better than ours or that will make it better, and therefore you have to sell them from the heart. His marriage is founded on a great love, which he has cultivated day by day all his life until he has turned it into a very solid bond, because love alone is not enough, as figures are not enough, at least they aren’t when it comes to books, objects in which thousands of authors have enclosed their soul leaving a trace of their lives, objects created and sold by people who love to get often lost in their pages. Setting aside my personal opinions, and what I like or dislike, I think it is a privilege to meet someone who represents at the same time a memory of the world where I live and a hope for the future, because even after he’s gone, his legacy is going to remain, a legacy of passion. Listening to Montroni's words, looking into his eyes and then reading his books, we discover an Italy that is disappearing, the one we so much appreciate in black and white films, that we read in the pages of great writers, the one that went biking with great shopping bags placed on the handlebars, an Italy made of smiles, enthusiasm, love, but also of problems, sadness and disappointments, an Italy full of things that still needed to be done. An Italy of which I have only a few memories but which I wish would never be lost. There are so many deserved joys in his eyes that I also want to get them, I, who like many others when things go wrong, would prefer to do something else, would like to give up because it’s all worthless.