Learning to read, I think I did with Mickey Mouse a little bit before I went to school. And I don’t think I was a particularly precocious reader, or at least, I remember very little important reading in the five years of primary school. In fact, the only book I have fixed in my mind is Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne: only it wasn’t really a book, but an audiobook – an audiocassette – and in English. I think I listened to it so much that even today some of the phrases still echo in my head. However, the fact that from a young age my relationship with literature was through an alternative medium to paper, and in a foreign language, indicates that I was destined to look for alternatives to the traditional book. Perhaps it was also a sort of rebellion against the family that had surrounded me with books of all kinds, in every corner of the house, in the hallway, in the living room, and of course in the bedroom. Almost as if books had been my cradle, and as I grew up, I felt the need to distance myself from them.
But I did not feel the need to distance myself from words, in the various forms that words can take. Indeed, words are still my true home, and will continue to be so; but as perhaps anticipated by my early falling in love with listening to Jules Verne, my preferred format is the audiobook. And the ‘true’ dimension of fiction, for me, is that of listening to it out loud. While on the one hand this is a technological evolution from the old paper format – easily manageable with mobile phone applications like Audible – on the other hand it is exactly the opposite, a return to the origins of our civilisation. To the storytellers. To Homer.
When I moved out on my own in 2015, I decided to take a step that for an intellectual like me might seem strange if not inexplicable: getting rid of all my books, or almost. Keeping only a few in plain sight, the really important ones that I like not only to be able to pick up at any time, but also to simply look at for the beauty of their physical appearance. Decorative objects. And all the rest away, in the cellar, or at my mother’s house, or given as gifts to those who want them, or even thrown in the bin in extreme cases.
I haven’t actually stopped holding onto paper books, only that I get them from the library, keep them with me for a month and then return them. I have always been very taken by the vertigo of novelty, by the urgent feeling of somehow having to control the infinite range of changes that moment by moment make the world go round. And this also applies to new publications: so when I go to the Sala Borsa and look for something to borrow, I would like to put everything that has been written in order of time backwards, from the most recent to the oldest, as in a blog that has come out of the screen to become the daily reality of my life.
Over time, I have begun to think of tactics to appease this obsession of mine, to feed the novelist beast that agitates me.
To do this, I type the name of a publisher in the Sala Borsa catalogue, under the heading “free search”, then display the releases in reverse chronological order, from newest to oldest.
So I can quickly find the latest releases from Adelphi, Quodlibet, Minimum Fax, Guanda, Bollati Boringhieri, La Nave di Teseo, Feltrinelli, Marsilio, Einaudi, Sellerio, Nottetempo, Raffaello Cortina, Carocci, NN, Sur, Il Saggiatore, Voland, Nutrimenti, Rubbettino, Neo, Beat, TEA, Chiarelettere. And in the end it matters little to me whether they are big or small, mainstream or independent, what is important is the result, that is, that they publish books I like.
I’ve also opened a microblog, called Sala Borsa, which is a reminder of the books I’ve found through this research. Of course, I don’t take the time to read these texts in their entirety: I have the pleasure of picking them up, understanding what they are about, just starting to dive under their mysterious surface to briefly admire what lies beneath. But I certainly don’t read them in full.
It’s amazing to think that it was only in 2017 that I subscribed to Audible and thus began to enjoy them systematically. It now seems to me that my whole previous life was a transition, an endless wait before I got to grips with the great classics, as well as many other more or less entertaining or interesting things. In little more than a year since then I have completed works that I had always had there among the duties, the ‘sooner or later I will read it’, but would never really have had the time or the desire to do so. For example Dostoyevsky (The Idiot, Crime and Punishment), Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Melville’s Moby Dick, Kafka’s The Trial, Harry Potter, the whole cycle of The Brilliant Friend, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Pavese’s The Moon and the Bonfires, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, The Leopard, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Nabokov’s Lolita, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Paolo Rumiz’s Trans Europa Express, Valerio Magrelli’s Millennium Poetry – A Sentimental Journey through Italian Poetry, Marco Balzano’s L’ultimo arrivato, Natalia Ginzburg’s Le piccole virtù and Elvira Dones’s Vergine Giurata. And many more remain to be listened to.
Between November and December 2018, I listened to Dostoevsky again, with the monumental The Brothers Karamazov. I still remember that old volume in my parents’ house, who knows when I saw it for the first time. And who knows if it’s still there. So big, but above all so dense, written small and with a demanding content, so philosophical. I had certainly longed to read it, and had thought: ‘Sooner or later I will’. And finally, at 43 years old, I actually did, thanks to Audible. To help me follow the story, which is really complex, I used Sparknotes’ providential summaries and the pdf version of the novel.
At the turn of 2018 and 2019, one more classic of English literature, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, was among my list of listens. The author, born in 1818, was a younger sister of Charlotte Bronte and in her day was considered of lesser importance than she was. The family was from Yorkshire in Northern England. Among her readings were Walter Scott, Byron, Mary Shelley, and Blackwood’s Magazine. Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. The book received less than favourable reviews on its release, and the author died of tuberculosis shortly afterwards, at the age of 30.
The years 1847-48 were perhaps the high point in the entire history of English literature, a short period in which the social changes of the Victorian era were reflected in a rapid succession of masterpieces. Wuthering Heights symbolically represents the conflict between the two different souls of English society: on the one hand, the bourgeoisie of Thrushcross Grange, made up of good feelings but also hypocritical and cowardly; on the other hand, the complex of Wuthering Heights, with its chaos, its filth and its violence, but also its terrible charm. The world of the defeated, the outcasts and the resentful, who are left with nothing but a ruthless and perennial quest for revenge. Catherine is as if suspended between the two worlds, choosing to marry the bourgeois but remaining in love with the rebel: and finding herself crushed by the hopeless struggle between her two men, she finally chooses to let herself die to punish them.
One is reminded of the astonishing topicality of this novel, in comparison with Italy today and the entire western world: made up of the same two souls that we find in the work, that of the reasonable but weak bourgeoisie, against which the populists, as strong as they are wild and evil, are hurled. This reading could be compared with Raffaele Alberto Ventura’s Theory of the Wretched Class.
The whole chain of revenge is inaugurated by Hindley, who by not accepting the orphan Heathcliff adopted by his father, and rejecting him out of jealousy, has given rise to the germ of resentment in him. That Heathcliff is different is also evident from the fact that Edgar calls him a ‘gypsy’. Wuthering Heights is therefore also the story of an acceptance of the different, an attempt at integration gone wrong with destructive consequences for everyone.
An analysis of the work can be found on Shmoop.
On Sparknotes there are summaries of the book: for example chapters 10-14. In chapter 10, the renegade Heathcliff – an orphan adopted as a child, but then despised and exploited by his family, who fell in love with Catherine, and disappeared into thin air for three years after she decided to get engaged to the rich good guy Edgar – suddenly returns to Wuthering Heights, meeting Catherine and Edgar, now husband and wife, who had been happy until then. His appearance, like a ghost returning, excites her and triggers his jealousy: it is the end of conjugal peace.
The former bad boy has turned into a good-looking, kind and wealthy man, but with still a flash of wildness in his eyes. Invited by Hindley, he agreed to take up residence at Wuthering Heights. During visits by Catherine and her sister-in-law Isabella to Heathcliff, the latter begins to fall in love with him, who is still clearly in love with Catherine.
Wuthering Heights is a story about the destructive power of passions and emotions: starting with Catherine’s, who is unable to control her own to the point of delirium. The atmosphere is dark and full of horror. Typical of the Gothic novel is the ability to transform a familiar and usually reassuring object into a bearer of fear. In the early part of the novel there is also an appearance of the ghosts of those characters who will later be the subject of the main narrative.« Festival del cinema Fotocopie »