The Art of the Publisher

Roberto Calasso, trans. from the Italian by Richard Dixon. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-18823-8
Calasso (Ardor), novelist and publisher of Adelphi Edizioni, the highly regarded Italian press, has meticulously crafted 11 brief, elegant essays on book publishing. Calasso inquires about future book use in a long reflection based on his Adelphi experience. In an age when everyone wants to be a publisher—and can be, after a fashion—Calasso asks, why publish books for a living? Deep down, he contends, few involved in publishing today believe profit to be the prime motivation, given the industry’s self-evident fragility. Calasso examines why publishers from the 16th century (Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer credited with introducing italic type and the modern use of the comma)) to the 20th (Kurt Wolff, Kafka’s publisher) have entered the industry. He worries about what drives content today. In his view, whether a book is cool or uncool and how the author look on television are not the right questions. Calasso asks whether the publisher is to become a “residual organ” in the book business, and emphatically answers no throughout his remarks, which are devoid of nostalgia or wishful thinking. While observing the expanding range of what is considered publishable, Calasso reveals his own publishing ideal, “faire plaisir”—to give birth to literary pleasure and to light a beacon for discerning, if not wide, audiences. Several of these short takes and memoirs are must-reads for anyone interested in serious books, and the collection benefits from Richard Dixon’s strikingly graceful translation. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 06/29/2015
Release date: 11/03/2015
Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-374-53647-3
Ebook - 978-0-374-71183-2
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