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Antonio Franchini has been the editorial director of the Giunti publishing house for seven years, after a long period in Mondadori during which he built up the esteem and admiration of the Italian publishing and cultural world as one of the most expert and important Italian editors: that is, those people in publishing. who take care both of choosing the books to be published and of following and perfecting them, sometimes with very relevant interventions, up to their final version and publication. Franchini, who is 64, is himself a writer and has just published for the Venetian publisher Marsilio Read own sell burn, a memoir on his personal and professional relationship with books, full of information usually not very visible to readers on the dynamics of publishing. In one of the first chapters he describes his own reflections on the relationship with the texts that an editor receives and with his authors.
When I take phone calls from someone who asks how to send their typescript, to which address, to the attention of those, how soon will they know something, sooner or later I hear a delay in those who speak to me, an uncertainty in their voice , which cracks, or, on the contrary, having to overcome an embarrassment, it becomes arrogant, too loud: “Because, you know, I would have written a novel about …”
“No, look, don’t tell me, it’s useless. The work must speak for itself. Send it first … “
“Ah, here, yes … okay …” then say most of those voices, relieved.
I feel, in those embarrassments and in those reliefs, the same as mine as when I call a tax office, the ACI, any body knowing that, as long as I have clear and precise questions to ask, the official will answer me, but if I digress , if my problem is not expressed clearly, then I may arouse his annoyance, an irritated and abrupt response.
We are the discreet custodians of the most raving narcissisms, of querulous recriminations, unpredictable weaknesses, loss of the sense of reality, of the most cumbersome persecution delusions and of the most pathetic enthusiasms.
We are officials who, aware of the depths of bureaucracy, smile when someone calls us saying: «I can’t believe you can’t publish my work, writer X, critic Z liked it very much and you didn’t? I still come to understand the rejection of the previous job, but this time no, this time I have surpassed myself! “
We know that we hardly have time to issue a half-declaration – one of the rare times we leave our anonymity – that we receive, within a few days, at least four or five typescripts accompanied by letters such as: “You declared, in the interview with the Corriere della Sera of… that he is waiting for a “new” work that will amaze you. I presume to believe that my novel has all the characteristics to amaze you … “
As we are devoid of references to the typescript in front of us, the accompanying letter, like a flash of a star for the ancient navigators, is often the only paratextual aid. We know all kinds of them: bright and creative or flat and informative, direct and conversational (“Hey you, reader! I don’t know what you look like, but I like you … Well, I know that so far you haven’t done too well , but now it’s my turn and I really hope not to disappoint you “) or harsh and bureaucratic (” In reference to our telephone interview on 12th c. m … “), triumphal (” Here is the work you have been waiting for decades! “), resigned (“I know you receive dozens of typescripts a day, so I know I have no hope”) and possibilist (“Even though I know that you receive hundreds of typescripts …”).
Once the typescript came to me along with a sumptuous orchid nestled in a transparent box. The accompanying letter said that it would not be right to postpone the reading of the novel beyond the time it would take that wonder of nature to fade: a couple of weeks.
But an accompanying letter, in the predictability or the bizarre of its variants, is always a staging. Whether you write it very simple or foolish, it is still a pose: a counterfeit of sobriety or histrionics. If one scrolls through the autobiographical notes contained in the Autodictionary of Italian writers, where not the unknown but the published writers are invited to the rite of self-presentation, one will realize that being more or less known is not enough to escape the inevitability of the posed photo.
For this, the cover letters are of little use. Sometimes we don’t even read them, or we do it with resigned sufficiency. There is only the text.
Perfectly packaged, the typescripts, sometimes even with the design of the cover, the title page, the flaps, the publisher’s name and the price, or incorrectly typed and corrected by hand (but many call alarmed to ask: “Is there any correction by hand, what should I do? », for fear of annoying the official), for many the computer allows the illusion of publication as pornography the joys of sex.
The initial four lines are not enough, the first two pages are not enough – said one of my teachers -, sometimes you have to read fifty, of pages, before realizing that it is a dead work, and for fifty pages he walked like one zombies. He was walking but he died with a ball in his forehead.
Beautiful image, but optimistic. If one has read fifty pages, it means that he is on the right track to not notice anything anymore.
The reading of typescripts is always slowed down, as well as by their strengths and weaknesses, by our whims, by our linguistic idiosyncrasies, by deep-rooted convictions that are based on nothing but our habits. Reading the writing of an unknown and unpublished author for the first time is like sharing a bedroom with a stranger.
Even when we seem to be able to share the choices or the idea of literature that emerges from that typescript, many tiny details – which if we read the same published text we would not even consider – can strike us in an unpleasant way, like the habits of someone who blow your nose too loudly for our liking or lock yourself in the bathroom more than the time that seems necessary to us. Thus we become irritated, and the less importance these details have, the more spontaneously we find it convenient to magnify them.
I once read a typescript in which a character was said to be a “head of the cock.” The lexical choice, I don’t know why, made me nervous. I realized I was saying to the author “she then writes” capodicazzo “, but you don’t say” capodicazzo “, if anything” dickhead “!”, And on this capodicazzo dickhead I realized that I was really wasting an exaggerated time, which I should have used to discuss more fundamental issues with the author.
Then I happened, this time as an author, to use the expression “a dickhead”. Thus, in the masculine. The editor who was editing the text for the press said to me: «You wrote” a “dickhead, but why? Don’t you say “one”? ” So I made the connection with that other episode that happened a few years earlier and I was deeply discouraged at how it can be identical and equally humiliating to be in one role or another.
And I apologize for the triviality of the example.
Reading typescripts is like crossing a desert territory, where the slender green areas are made up of those works that two lines or two pages at most are enough to discard. Then you breathe a real sigh of relief: okay, it sucks, this is clearly – beyond a reasonable doubt – suck. Next! But when you have moved on, when you have entered the sand, any blunder, hallucination, mirage is possible.
Any of these mirages can become a reality, a celebrated reality. The others remain buried within us. That is, within the discreet sensibility of the official.
Next to the image of Prince Andrew, who falls wounded from his horse and the immensity of the sky enters his gaze, next to the samovar bubbling gloomily in Kirillov’s room, next to Francis Macomber’s fear that he considers the streak of blood of the lion holed up in the bush, my memory holds the images of a character fleeing the streets of a city whose shops are all decked out in bloody, glittering pieces of meat, of a girl by the sea exchanging her first sentences with the man of he will fall in love with an old sick lion at the Palermo zoo, episodes that I have found in typescripts of novels that have not been printed and perhaps never will be. I can think of a phrase from Frédéric Moreau, in the same way that, one evening, I suddenly remembered a very funny joke that, in a typescript read a few years ago, was pronounced as a catchphrase by a character destined, perhaps, to be known only to the author and to me, who was called Vincenzino Chiacchio. And Vincenzino Chiacchio and Frédéric Moreau have equal citizenship in my brain.
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Antonio Franchini will participate in the series of meetings on Post publishing, About books.