The variety of the selection makes the bookshop a reference point for the operators of the Turin artistic field, from design to all the modernist and postmodernist forms
Origins and History of Libreria Luxemburg, Turin
The Libreria Luxemburg, Turin, in Piazza Carignano, is an institution in the Piedmontese city. Gigi Raiola, one of the two current owners of the bookstore, recounts the origins of the project and traces its history: «Libreria Luxemburg was founded in 1872 as the Beuf bookstore, when a bookstore owner from Genoa came to Turin and opened a bookstore by royal decree. It was then sold by the Beuf family at the beginning of the twentieth century to Francesco Casanova and became the Casanova bookshop, one of the first bookshops in Italy to have methods for learning foreign languages».
Casanova was also a publisher and he published the first works by Verga and De Amicis. The store also included scientific, technical and educational releases, historical guides and the first books on art. Casanova was the first in Italy to introduce the Elzevirian editions, building partnerships in the field of illustration — the series Biblioteca Elzeviriana. He was the first to adopt the photoengraving for the publications and he was appreciated by De Amicis, Serao, Fogazzaro and Verga.
«Another transition, both in name and identity, occurred in the early 1970s when Angelo Pezzana opened a historic bookstore in Turin called Hellas», Raiola continues. Hellas was located in Via Bertola, in front of the old offices of La Stampa. It specialized in foreign books. It had become a meeting point for a section of readers including a large group of journalists. «Pezzana decided to move its headquarter to Piazza Carignano, acquiring the Casanova bookstore, which then became Libreria Luxemburg».
Regarding the actual name of the bookstore, Raiola reveals that «it is shrouded in mystery. It is thought to be due to the Luxemburg gardens, to the name of an aunt of Pezzana who bore this surname and to Rosa Luxemburg. But we don’t know for sure, there has always been a game in not telling why Casanova became Luxemburg».
Angelo Pezzana and the identity of Libreria Luxemburg, Turin
Angelo Pezzana, bookseller, journalist, writer and politician, was also the founder of Fuori! in 1970, the first Italian homosexual liberation movement. He enriched the bookshop activities by including some series devoted to different genres, like cinematography, arts and literature and fostered a photographic collaboration with the Fondazione Piemontese Candiolo for cancer research.
The sign at the entrance has remained the same since the seventies, The British Bookshop, an example of attention of that period to Anglo-American fiction, after the collaboration with the publishers Gallimard, Anagrama, Penguin, and Random House. Allen Ginsberg went there to read some of his poems, Philip Roth to present his book and Primo Levi went there as well. It became an official meeting place for intellectuals looking to exchange rare literary productions.
In an article by Fernando Pivano in Corriere della Sera in January 1992 titled Ginsberg is coming, full of laurels and utopias: «Allen Ginsberg came to Italy to open with Philip Glass the celebrations of American culture at the Teatro Regio in Turin on the 24th January[…] I remember that reading very well. It had been organized by Angelo Pezzana in his bookshop at his own expense. The adjacent square and streets were packed with boys who did not succeed in coming in and for whom Pezzana improvised a loudspeaker system: the crowd was gathering around four police vans, worried about some possible disorders, at that time so irreconcilable with the terrorism of the following decade».
Tonino Pittarello and Gigi Raiola, the owners of Libreria Luxemburg, Turin
Angelo Pezzana took over the Libreria Luxemburg in 2004 and then he handed over management of the business to Tonino Pittarelli and Gigi Raiola.
Raiola recounts: «Tonino began working in the world of books in 1974, when I was born. I met him in the late ’90s when I accidentally arrived at the bookstore. We took over the bookstore from Pezzana in 2004. In these twenty years, we have worked with the same enthusiasm as before. I have always worked in this bookstore as if it were mine even when it wasn’t. It’s a question of attitude towards places».
Raiola goes on to explain that when he and his partner took over the business, together they tried to preserve the identity given by Pezzana, intervening with their own ambitions: «The most successful thing about the Libreria Luxemburg is that it has remained a place of beauty, not just as an aesthetic concept, but as a place where you feel good. We have a working group made up of guys with a great cultural and technical background and a love for this work. This was the turning point, to continue to stay true to the line and give space to those who work inside the bookstore».
The variety of the selection makes the bookshop a reference point for the operators of the Turin artistic field, from design to all the modernist and postmodernist forms. The reader finds both an Italian and an English section of essays, classics and new releases. The bookshop is famous for collector’s texts which can be often found in museums only. The volumes live side by side with international magazines, novelties of experimentation and avant-garde about the local scene. Gay and transgender literature is also available.
Book and magazine selections at Libreria Luxemburg
At the entrance to the bookstore is a large, bright room with windows overlooking Piazza Carignano. Crossing the threshold, the first encounter is with the international newsstand, with a wide assortment of international newspapers and magazines.
The selection of the titles offered for sale takes place through a meeting with the publishers, through direct contact: «It is the independent magazines that contact us or we contact them: six people work in the bookstore who are six readers, six curious people, who go around and discover new realities, new niches», says Raiola.
Regarding the criteria through which a new title is included in the assortment of the international newsstand, he adds: «The criterion must be the ability to have a project and the will to create a magazine supported by an idea of research». Continuing through the bookstore, one enters the part dedicated to Italian publishing: «There are shelves dedicated to publishers we love, like Adelphi. There are sections dedicated to poetry, theater, a lot of space is dedicated to non-fiction».
The Luxemburg Bookstore is also a meeting point and cultural hub for the LGBTQ world with a wide selection of themed works: «In the first room, we have a shelf dedicated to the LGBTQ world – it’s been there forever. As far as the LGBTQ community is concerned, there are a lot of young people who are free to come into the bookstore and ask for advice, browse and find readings that you need to have and would be hard to discover elsewhere».
You then pass through a small corridor and arrive in the second room dedicated to art books: photography, architecture, design, etc.. A staircase finally leads to the second floor where you enter the area dedicated to the section of books in foreign languages, mainly in English but also in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. Here, one can also find a selection of children’s books in English.
The idea of dedicating space to literature in foreign languages was introduced by Angelo Pezzana who, in the 1970s, had founded Fuori!, the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano, the first Italian association to fight for LGBTQ rights. Its 50th anniversary was celebrated this year: «I think the goal was to create a source that people could draw on to find a match for their identity in literature, literature that perhaps in Italy was not yet published or translated and did not yet circulate freely. Pezzana’s great love for freedom led him to create an international bookstore where people could find a universe that existed and was difficult to find and that reflected an identity. The internationalization of the bookstore stems from that».
Interiors and decors of the Libreria Luxemburg and the soul of ‘salotto’
Raiola describes the interior of the bookstore: «There’s wood on the floor, the shelves are made of wood, there are rugs and chairs where you can sit and browse or read a book or magazine. The walls are dark, all black, the ceiling is white. On the second floor, the floor is totally carpeted with a Scottish English carpet».
The walls are covered with posters of films, writers, directors and actors. The disposition of the texts follows a merely aesthetic criterion. Quotations and luminous inserts (neons and lamps) draw attention to the design, root of the Turin artistic activity. The two floors of the bookshop are warmed by chromatic and materic choices of the furniture, reminiscent of Edinburgh bookshops, source of inspiration themselves for fictional and magical realities like J.R. Rowling Diagon Alley.
Speaking of the clientele that roams the shelves of the bookstore, he explains that there is no such thing as a typical customer and that their clientele gathers a wide variety of sociocultural groups: «We don’t have a typical customer and this was revolutionized by the opening of the International Newsstand just over twenty years ago. The Luxemburg bookstore is a place where there is always a squeaky floor, classical, opera or jazz music playing in the background, lots of seating. The opening of the international newsstand made it possible for many people who didn’t come into the bookstore to discover a beautiful universe where they could come in, pick up a newspaper, sit in an armchair, leaf through it without anyone saying anything, where there was staff with whom they could chat pleasantly even about books, so this made it possible for the type of clientele to expand», continues Raiola.
Not only a bookshop, but also a place for events and debates in collaboration with the Circolo dei Lettori of Turin and the Salone del Libro di Torino: «The events that we organize are informal signacopies in which the author does not really present the book because we do not have a room with seats, but in which he chats with those who are passing through or who pass by the bookstore specifically to meet him and have copies of his book signed. We have done this with so many international and Italian authors».
The success behind the Libreria Luxemburg
At a time when even historic bookstores are closing their doors, the Luxemburg Bookstore seems to be taking no hits. However, Raiola says that in recent years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Luxemburg Bookstore has had to deal with store closures. The bookstore closes only five days a year: Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and August bank holiday. In 2020 it had to, for the first time in its history, close for more than thirty days.
Since the bookstore was able to reopen on April 19, 2020, continues the owner, «we have not suffered the blow, both last year and this year have been years full of satisfaction». When asked what are the reasons behind the success of this place, he explains, «because we have always invested in the human factor, in preparation, in kindness and in beauty. These two years have highlighted and increased the gap that exists between those who only look for the lowest price and those who look for something else – but that’s not even possible anymore».
In this regard, Raiola explains that on February 25, 2020, a law was introduced that regulates the possibility of discounts in all operators in the book sector, from Amazon to the small provincial stationery stores, and as a result no one can discount more than five percent. «But at a time when that wasn’t the case and many invested in offering the lowest price of the book, which is a product that already has very low margins for those who sell them – we never implemented that policy but tried to invest in another thing that was the beauty of the place, the preparation of the people who work and the offer», says Raiola.
He goes on to describe the idea behind Libreria Luxemburg’s philosophy: «It’s true that there’s the internet, but it’s also nice to be attracted by browsing the shelves. Every now and then they ask me what the typical customer is looking for in the bookstore. I always say that whoever enters a bookstore in the end doesn’t even know what they are looking for or finds what they didn’t know they were looking for – it’s the human algorithm that is different from what exists on the net, where there is a deep study that leads you to identify or select for yourself only what you could read based on what has been read before. The bookstore is a different space where emotions win as all human and physical spaces do».
Therefore, according to Raiola, at a time like this, the success of such a place, as well as for many small independent bookshops that work well and are growing compared to chain bookshops, is thanks to the reader. More specifically, it is the reader who now decides to leave home – rather than buying online – and does so if that place can be a place of exchange where there are people who are prepared and where he or she can perhaps find what he or she did not know they were looking for. «That’s the thing that works, and so the advantage of bookstores like ours, and so many others like ours, is given precisely by this. By having become the home of the reader who still wants to move, doesn’t want to surf online and wants to go to a place where he feels good. In my opinion, this is the secret of success», concludes Raiola.
Libreria Luxemburg, Turin
Via Cesare Battisti, 7, Turin
The oldest bookstore in Turin, its birth dates back to 1872. Classics, guides and books for children, Italian and foreign fiction. It specializes in international literature, English-speaking non fiction, grammars and courses in French, English, German, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Israeli, Portuguese, Russian and Chinese