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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco

The centennial Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco was founded by Lorenzo Pregliasco in 1911, continued by his son Arturo who gave it greatness and renown, and is now under the command of his grandson Umberto.

The BVReppucci, with the acquisition of a large number of works from the Libreria’s catalogues, created a bond of friendship with Arturo, maintained with Umberto. Proof of this is a copy of the edition, in mid-2022, of 50 numbered and non-trade copies of the platelet umberto eco e il terzino nella grappa ovvero su alcune Italian translation dal '400 to '900, dedicated to Juan Carlos Reppucci.

In homage to Arturo and Umberto Pregliasco, we have translated and reproduced below the notes that the author makes to his homonym Umberto Eco.

I believe that one should not begin a text on any aspect of bibliophilia without mentioning Umberto Eco. I will not dare, of course, to speak of the philosopher, the professor of semiotics, the contemporary Italian intellectual best known in the world; I will limit myself to talking about Umberto Eco, a bibliophile, recounting the Liasons dangereuses between the collector and the real pusher of old books: a unique experience, which enabled the bookseller to benefit from the spirit, even before erudition, above all being the collector that he is. Also the fact of having the same name facilitated our relationships: in addition to the “Piemonteseness” and the love for books, I share with Eco the pleasure of playing with words.

The world of ancient books owes him a lot, because through his novels he helped to make medieval libraries and ancient books familiar to the general public. I had the good fortune to meet him at the beginning of my career, when he was writing what remains a masterpiece, Il Nome della Rosa; at that time, he frequently stopped by the bookshop in Turin, and it really pleases me to suppose that, already in the 1950s, an unknown student and short of money, Eco would timidly look for used books in my grandfather’s bookstore, next door to the Collegio Universitario, where he lived for his studies crowned by a thesis on the aesthetics of Saint Thomas.

I zealously keep missives from other illustrious customers of my centuries-old bookstore, such as Benedetto Croce, Luigi Einaudi and the countless letters -- requests for catalogues, but also notes of inaccuracies or complaints about a book sold to someone else -- that Umberto Eco addressed to me as “Dear Namesake”.

For years I asked myself whether in Eco’s novels the chicken or the egg had come first, or rather, whether it was the inspiration that guided his collection of books, or whether it was the very possession of certain texts that inspired his writing; it is beyond doubt, however, that the writing of all his novels was supported by deep consultation with older editions. For example, Il Nome della Rosa with texts about drugs, labyrinths and the Inquisition. Needless to say, my dream would be to find a handwritten record of the lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, the one that legitimizes laughter, the cause of Jorge’s murders and the burning of the library, which continues to be the theater of my most atrocious nightmares. The same meticulous search Eco undertook for the alchemical texts and the Rosicrucians in the writing of the Pendolo di Foucauld, as well as for the works of astronomy and navigation for L’Isola del Giorno Primo. Only an attentive bibliophile is able to notice how almost all the titles of the 40 chapters correspond to the very suggestive titles of more or less well-known seventeenth-century books, from the Grand’Arte della Luce e dell’ Ombra to Serraglio degli Stupori, from the Orologio Oscillatorio to Nautica Rilucente: the index itself already represented a true and fair hymn to bibliophilia. I was really happy when I discovered your game. For Bandolino it was books and documents about the siege of Casale and Barbarossa, while magazines from the Thirties for La Misteriosa Fiamma, in which the protagonist is precisely an antiquarian bookseller with the emblematic name of Giambattista Bodoni. And so on to requests for books on forgeries, mystification, and plot construction for Il Cimitero di Praga and Numero Zero.

As time went by, the most important Italian intellectual of the last fifty years came to me many times -- and unfortunately also to other booksellers... A relationship of friendship was born, sealed by reciprocal exchanges of advice, impressions and culture, before even goods and money. In any case, I could never guess the exact subject of the novels Eco was writing; however, he himself would occasionally present me with the last published work, accompanied by the dedication “così capisci perche cercavo il tal libro...” [Now you understand why I was looking for that book...].

During our conversations, Umberto often confided his thoughts on bibliophilia to me:

“There are collectors who even read the books they accumulate. But they want the object and preferably a first edition. There are bibliophiles I do not approve of but I can understand, who do not open the pages of an untrimmed book, so as not to violate the object they have conquered. It would be like a watch collector breaking open the case to see the mechanism.”

When I was invited to evaluate -- and therefore examine for myself, with different eyes -- his library in that room he kept cold and gloomy, I realized that the books were already “separated by novel on each shelf.” Almost all ancient or precious, except for the most “medieval” and famous of his novels: the shelf with the documentation on the abbeys, the herbariums, the labyrinths did not contain rare editions. Eco had the opportunity to start the real “curious, lunatic, magical and pneumatic Library”, with the proceeds of his masterpiece:

“My collection of old books started when I wrote Il Nome della Rosa. Since I made money from a book, I spent the money on other books.”

He claimed that a library of rare works was a living organism with an autonomous life:

“It is not the place of your memory, where you keep what you have read, but the place of universal memory, where one day you will be able to find what others have read before you. The private library is not just a place where books are kept: it is also a place that reads them to us... My collection of old books contains works that tell lies. I don’t have the works of Galileo, but I have those of Ptolemy. I like to investigate the oddities of the human mind... Intelligence does not fascinate me, but believing that the earth is square is a symptom of the flexibility of the human mind.”

Having had the good fortune to accompany him on what he knew would be his last trip abroad, I could see how much more esteem Umberto Eco was abroad than in Italy. In October 2013, he was invited to give a lectio magistralis at the UN and one at Yale for the 50th anniversary of the Beinecke Library, the world’s largest library of antique books only, whose splendid building was expressly designed with transparent marbles having crystal cubes for the books.

At Yale, they approached me -- which was already an honor -- in order to convince and accompany him (but they asked me, an even greater honor) to make the presentation of his intervention, discussing his enthusiasm as a collector. Loving puns, I titled my presentation A Bibliophile Huge Echo.

There would be many episodes of this trip to be told, but that of 2004 will lead us to some considerations about translation over the centuries. While visiting the Paris antique book fair, from the Grand Palais we crossed the Seine to have lunch in a bistro with his female French translator. His Dire Quasi la Stessa Cosa [Saying Almost the Same Thing] had just been published and we had to discuss the French translation.

The anticipated title was Dire À-peu-près la Même Chose [Say Almost the Same Thing]. Something didn’t sound right to me and sipping a whiskey at the end of the meal (Eco almost always ate his meals with whiskey; his doctor told him that wine was bad for him...), I started to repeat presque, presque [almost, almost]. He immediately understood what I meant and agreed that presque was much more expressive and closer to the original than the previous à-peu-près foreseen could express. An essay on the complexity of translation already proved to be complicated in the translation of its title...

However, to avoid problems, in 1997 Eco had translated Secondo Diario Minimo under the title Comment Voyager Avec Un Saumon [How to Travel With a Salmon], two years before the essay Kant et L’Ornithorynque [Kant and the Platypus]. I got up from the table proud of having made a minimal contribution to the bibliography of a great person like my namesake Eco, and of not having played the part of the salmon, much less the platypus, in the philosopher’s presence. “Everything is found in the presque of the title”, Myriem Bouzaber would later write.

The volume brings together his essays on translation theory, based on his personal experience as a translator, editor of other people’s translations or translated author. (Eco followed the translations of his works almost obsessively.)

Many things -- in the history of bibliophilia, in the culture of the twentieth century, as well as in my education -- refer to Umberto Eco. An episode concerning him opened this text; to close it, I would like to return to one of his essays La Memoria Vegetale e Altri Scritti di Bibliofilia [The Plant Memory and other writings on Bibliophilia]: I am sure that the printed book, vegetal support of the memory of human civilization, coming after the first mineral memory of the rock incisions -- and after the animal memory of parchment manuscripts -- may perhaps be shaken, but never supplanted by the diffusion of the new mineral memory recorded in the silicon of computer chips. And to paraphrase the title of the essay N’Esperez pas vous debarraser des livre [Don’t think you’ll get rid of books], which Eco wrote with Jean-Claude Coarrière, I’m still convinced that we’ll never get rid of books.

Umberto Pregliasco

Umberto Pregliasco

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