"Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop"| Reviewed by Pat Sainz
It is impossible to read “Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop,” by Alba Donati, and not wish to go straight to the airport for a ticket to Tuscany or Florence to wend ones way to the small town of Lucignano where “Libreria Sopra la Penna,” or “Bookshop on the Hill,” is located. The bookshop has the reputation of being one of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world.
Alba Donati, a successful poet and Italian book publicist, opened her bookshop in her childhood home of Lucignano, population 180, in 2019. The village of Lucignano was built in stone before AD 1000. It is surrounded by the Apuan Alps and is two hours from Florence by train or bus.
Donati was driven to open the bookshop because of her love of literature, the history and memories of her small town, and her desire to return to an extraordinary setting. Everyone questioned her determination to build a bookshop in such a very small, out-of-the-way village in the hills.
An electrical fire burned the wood-built store just a month after it opened. It was quickly rebuilt by the community with generous donations. Then COVID hit. Donati persisted by focusing on planting the gardens that surround the cottage and by creating her online catalog which kept her going through those dire months.
The cottage is not large. It is filled only with books Alba loves and with an array of unique teapots, some of which hang from the native trees in the gardens. The shop is famous for its daily tea parties; Adirondack chairs and cast-iron bistro tables/chairs in the garden; and for its unique handmade socks and bookmarks. With the mountains in view, people describe the shop as having a fairy tale setting. (It is; I am now on Donati’s Instagram site.)
With grace, humor, and insight, Donati tells the story of the bookshop in her new memoir, and writes of Lucignano, using diary entries she made in a 5-month span in 2021. She reveals bits and pieces of her childhood, her career as a publicist, her fraught relationship with her mother (102 years-old in 2021), her relationship with her father, who abandoned his young family, and of her grown daughter. She tells how building the bookstore has brought her parents together as friends and how community figures have repaired relationships and helped each other through their interaction with the bookstore. The village priest looms large.
People from all over the world visit the bookshop. Donati owns a house near the bookstore which is used for writer’s retreats and to house visiting authors who need a place to stay. The store is famous for hosting bachelorette parties which involve literary themes planned by Donati.
Mostly, I loved the list of titles of books that Donati sold on the days of her diary entries. The “manifesto” to booksellers that Donati includes in the last pages gives succinct advice that holds true for librarians and teachers even with its nod toward European practices (tea and flowers) and famous London booksellers (Sylvia Beach).
A must-view is Donati’s Instagram account at @Libreria_sopra_la_penna. A Google search of “Libreria Sopra la Penna” also reveals the sublime bookstore with its extraordinary location. “Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop,” a beautiful book, gives meaning to the objects and settings seen in the pictures.