Books & Rough Business
Books & Rough Business
Red Hen Press, Paperback, 9781597091299, 226pp.
Publication Date: February 1, 2009
Books would seem to be one thing, and rough business another -- except that the life of Tullio Pironti has brought both together. This mover and shaker in Italian arts and publishing began as a scuffling street kid in Naples, then enjoyed a boxing career that included two trips to the nationals, and only after that entered the book business. Yet in the decades that followed, he ended up working with the likes of the Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfuz and the Maestro of Italian film, Federico Fellini. Not surprisingly, then, Pironti's memoir won wide attention in his home country, with more than 100 notices. Red Hen Press is excited to bring it out now in an American edition.
Before anything else, the young Pironti had to survive a war. His memoir begins with a refugee experience, as he and his family are driven out of their homes in downtown Naples by the American bombing of 1942-43. Then after the liberation, Pironti must make his way with his wits and his fists, amid a colorful array of Neapolitan street figures. His recollections of youth provide rare insight into coming of age in a culture so ancient, so full of secrets.
Then once Pironti quits his boxing career, the real fight begins. His rise as editor and publisher presents the Italian version of up by the bootstraps -- during a period of near-Biblical changes for the country. In the arena of the arts, Pironti experiences those changes first-hand. As he improvises his way onto the best-seller lists and into the film industry, his work makes a larger and larger place for women, and for books by Arabs and Africans. Then too, many of his publications boldly expose the destructive collusion between the Mafia and the politicians in Rome. At the memoir's climax, Pironti himself suffers for his exposes. He faces trumped-up charges from some of the most powerful forces in Italy, and finds out just how gratifyingly broad his support is, across native city.
Anyone who wants to know the real Italy, and what it's been through over the last half-century, will find Books & Rough Business a source of endless fascination. On top of that, this autobiography offers the timeless pleasures of watching a wily player work his way from next to nothing to great success, overcoming just about every kind of adversity along the way.
Tullio Pironti’s Books and Rough Business is, on the one hand, a wonderful metaphor about the publishing world today. Indeed, it could be both the metaphor and the reality of both worlds, Pironti’s and that of Italian publishing. Like Pironti’s own life of bobbing and weaving his way out of the squared ring and into the world of book production, the publishing world is, to be sure, a place where head feints and body shots can mean the difference between success and failure. The challenges of surviving in the ring anticipate those of the mid-size Italian publisher who, with clenched teeth and sweated brow, not only makes it through the last round but actually ends up winning the fight. No editor, big or small, can boast better writers than those who appear in Pironti’s catalogue. Books and Rough Business is nicely translated in a style that aptly replicates the author’s voice, a book that may very well keep the reader on the edge of his (even her) seat rooting for the underdog.
Anthony Julian Tamburri
Professor and Dean, Calandra Institute, Queens College/CUNY
Every book should be a hard uppercut. A blow struck with the intention of awakening and bringing the reader face to face with the world in all its blinding brightness and illuminating details. Tullio Pironti’s autobiography Books and Rough Business is a reminder of what it means to be an active and uncomfortable presence in the world, what it is to be an intellectual. Pironti’s is a view on Italian and international culture from the narrow streets of the belly of Naples and his life is that of his city and his times. The street-smart kid become publisher recalls a life spent in the apparently contradictory realms of the boxing ring and the cultural salon. The names associated with Pironti and his publishing house (Fernanda Pivano, Nagib Mahfuz, Don De Lillo, Raymond
Carver, Raffaele Cutolo to mention a few) go to show that culture is nothing if not accompanied by sweat and good footwork.
Prof. Pasquale Verdicchio, University of California San Diego