“A bookseller is like the actor of a wonderful theatre,
but now he does nothing but raise and lower the curtain everyday.”
With the above sentence, Maurizio Ranfagni, former bookseller, former manager of Feltrinelli and more … fond of books and bookselling, starts an almost two hour-chat in a café at the outskirts of Firenze, on a hot day of July.
A man who has been working with books all life long, with so much energy and enthusiasm that, one day, as he came back home, he realized he had a 25 year old daughter and hadn’t seen her grow up.
After he retired, he has continued working for one of the most beloved objects in the world.
The wisdom he acquired seeing Italy grow up, together with bookshops and big book chains, the eyes and curiosity due to the travels that taught him what happens around us, prevent him from being scared of the crisis.
“Maybe things are going to change now”, he says. “I hope so”. He hasn’t stopped to watch his work evolve or dissolve, he gets up every morning and reflects on what he may devise in order to promote reading and the trading of this precious good.
A bookseller, but when I asked why booksellers reject (in my opinion) a commercial approach to the product and care about the intellectual side, he spoke in a different tone.
Business, figures… have caused the loss of some of the wealths of Italy today. Beautiful bookstores have sold their rooms that were changed into something different, with the aim of making better profits, forgetting about all the cultural and social life that was developing in those circles.
“The bookseller’s figure is missing”, he maintains “the computerization should make everything so easy and fast as to give this figure more time to speak with clients, to provide a better service, time to think about the best display, the most suitable promotions, the shop windows.”
Whereas… the extreme optimization has turned the bookseller in an “employee that raises and lowers the curtain every day”.
Are figures to be held responsible for the ruin and closing of our bookshops?
Ranfagni believes that the government should intervene. He mentioned the cases in which the power of a politician who loves books has saved a bookshop. The government should care about the situation of books and bookshops, and help to develop projects, not only for financial reasons, but to broaden the space for culture in this country, to create what Italy needs: a basis to shape one’s own freedom of thought and grow.
The pleasure of speaking with a man like Ranfagni comes precisely from the astonishing amount of things he can teach. Wisdom, experience, the memories of many years are a precious good that should be repeatedly consulted, very attentively. Fashion changes, times run, technology, innovations, new ideas mean nothing if they are not supported by the experience of those who have seen more things than us. Even if we lived in different times, there are endless possibilities of adapting experiences to everyday lives, because in the end our nature doesn’t change, or it doesn’t change so fast, according to Darwin.
Ranfagni is an amiable man who has seen time pass, has met the great figures who have made Italy as it is today. In his eyes it is still possible to read the novel of his life and I am happy because I had the privilege of meeting them.
A man who hopes and believes in the future. Who maintains a lively curiosity for all that is around him. Who is still capable of asking questions to himself and searching for answers.