celebrating one of the great independent bookstores of Italy (in Florence)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just before I left for Florence, Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives and bold instigator of the upcoming YA: What's Next conference (mark your calenders for November 28; I'll be there moderating), asked if I might stop by a Florentine bookstore and find out what is happening among Italian and expat readers, and the brave proprietors who cater to them.  "Sure," I said, not at all certain that I'd find the proper spot or willing participants.  But that's just the kind of fearless reporter I am.

From the moment we deboarded at Santa Maria Novella, I was on the hunt.  Three days into my trip I'd chosen my store—the Paperback Exchange, located in the shadows of the Duomo.  Here was a store owned by an American-born woman and her Italian husband that catered to a special kind of readership and bowed to no one's dictates.  I spent parts of two mornings in the store interviewing and taking photographs and continued the conversation online.

My story, which runs today and can be found here, begins like this:

FLORENCE: I wanted to walk where Dante might have walked, wanted to stand where Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Uccello, and Ghiberti might have stood, wanted to make a visit to Galileo’s tomb, and so I went to Florence. I found the rare alleys the tour guides neglected, the time-burnished side-street churches, the sun-wedged cloisters that are, miraculously, silent. I ate where the real Florentines eat and photographed the city at dawn and then again at midnight, when it was most like itself, or, at least, most like I had imagined it would be. Fewer umbrella-led tours. More room to breathe.

And then I set out for one of the best-loved Anglo-American bookstores in all of Italy — Paperback Exchange, just off the Piazza del Duomo — to find out what people like me read when visiting or living in a city like Florence. There I found owners, Emily Rosner (of New York) and her husband Maurizio Panichi (a Florentine), who have been trading in books and real conversation since 1979.


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