While the recent identity outing of the Italian author who uses the pen name Elena Ferrante has caused a stir in the literary world, indie booksellers and Ferrante's American publisher are focused on celebrating two new books by the bestselling writer.
Europa Editions has unveiled a week-long celebration of Ferrante's work with FerranteNightFever. The week kicks off on November 1 with the release of a new collection of her writing and interviews, Frantumaglia, and a children’s book called The Beach at Night that is based on an incident with a doll that informs the Neapolitan quartet.
The idea for the celebration began this summer. In July Europa announced that any bookstore agreeing to participate in FerranteNightFever would be entered to win a trip for one of its booksellers to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
That may have been a carrot, but booksellers who are fans of her books, like Nicola Orichuia, co-owner of I AM Books in Boston, would have planned an event anyway. Ferrante is the top selling author at Orichuia's shop, the country’s only Italian-American bookstore. He plans to hold a party on November 1, which will serve as the kick-off event for the store’s one-year anniversary.
At Main Point Books, which moved to Wayne, Pa., two months ago, owner Cathy Fiebach is planning to send out e-vites to customers to encourage them to join the conversation about Ferrante’s work and to visit the new store. She said the store has sold well over 200 copies of Ferrante’s books.
Some stores are partnering with restaurants, like Changing Hands in Phoenix, Ariz., which will offer Italian food and wine pairings at Cibo. Books on First in Dixon, Ill., will hold its event for children and adults at nearby Orom Restaurant. It’s also one of the few bookstores that will actively promote The Beach at Night at its event. Most stores are focusing on Frantumaglia.
University Book Store in Seattle, where Ferrante continues to be one of the bestselling authors, is inviting customers to read their favorite passages from Ferrante’s books as part of its November 3 festivities.
But the most ambitious events may be the ones planned by five bookstores in the New York City area. With scheduling help from Europa Editions, McNally Jackson Booksellers, Word Bookstore in New Jersey, Community Bookstore, Astoria Bookstore, and BookCourt will hold a group of conversations, over the course of five days, that will include translator Ann Goldstein, actor John Turturro, and writers Roxana Robinson, Ayana Mathis, and Garth Risk Hallburg.
The events parallel a Ferrante Fest sponsored by Slate last year for the publication of The Story of the Lost Child at BookCourt, which drew 200 people.
Ultimately, online booksellers may benefit the most from the extra attention on Ferrante thanks to the reveal of her identity. Most booksellers PW spoke to agree with UBS’s Baker that pre-sales have been “quiet.”
As for the controversy itself, many booksellers have expressed their displeasure quite loudly, if largely among themselves.
"Every bookseller I know is irritated to angry about it,” said Pam Cady, manager of general books at UBS. "The mystery was part of the charm and conversation about the books. Having a true mystery in this age of instant media gratification was singular and gave the author, and the books, some major street cred."
"Personally," said Camilla Orr, assistant manager at Changing Hands, “I don’t know why her identity needed to be revealed. There’s a beauty when you feel that [an author] understands you. Not knowing who the author is is nice. You’re both anonymous.”
Orichuia, who had a customer call and buy a complete set of the Neapolitan books in Italian on the day of the outing, said reading about the author's true identity in a news story was "not the way I wanted to find out.”
As for whether Claudio Gatti, the journalist who outed Ferante's identity (in a piece in the New York Review of Books that also ran in numerous international publications), is correct, Michael Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Europa, said it might not matter, in the end. “I don’t think the NYRB article constitutes the unmasking of Elena Ferrante. I have heard nothing from our author on the subject. For me it remains simply more speculation about her identity, [and speculation] of the kind that we have always been uninterested in either denying or confirming.”