While it’s not a good idea to judge a book by its cover it is a good idea to judge a town by the number of bookshops it has. What Bagni di Lucca has lacked for too long a time is a proper bookshop. True, it’s possible to buy maps and books of local interest at Petri’s but theirs is also a tobacconist, and sports shop. At Fornoli there’s an edicola (newsagent), there are books for sale but it is not a dedicated bookshop.
Now for some weeks Bagni di Lucca has a bookshop: (libreria- don’t get it confused with library which is ‘Biblioteca’) to do it honour.
Named Shelley House in homage to the stay in this town of the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, it is run by an enthusiastic duo, Luca Guidi and Rebecca Palagi, supreme devotees of literature and art.
Shelley House is, in fact a lot more than just a bookshop. It’s a publishing house (Edizioni Cinquemarzo, always on the look-out for new and promising authors of novels, essays, poetry, cartoons and art) and the books it produces are of a very high quality both in printing and contents.
Shelley House is also a place where authors can present their new creations, and where discussions and conferences can be held. On 13th February, at 5 pm, for example a book of poems and prose by Maura Bertolozzi ‘Cassiopea’, will be unveiled to the public through Shelley House at the Circolo dei Forestieri.:
Shelley House is even more than that because its walls are a free exhibitions space (currently hosting some stunning photographs).
Shelley House’s aim is to turn Bagni di Lucca into a centre of poetry excellence: ‘Bagni di Lucca, città di poesia’. The town is already situated in a landscape of natural poetical beauty. As the hot thermal waters flow from its hill so surely will inspiration for writers and artists as it did for the likes, not just of Percy and Mary Shelley, but also for Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Heine, Montale and so many more.
Luca and Rebecca are great organisers In 2010 Luca and Rebecca started the first Shelley Festival dedicated not just to Shelley but to English romanticism in general which has gone from strength to strength. Rebecca’s re-creation of Shelley’s Adonais (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/a-sea-change/ ) was magical.
Eleonora, la principessa dei sogni is a theatrical monologue written by Luca which describes the love of Rilke for Eleonora Duse which inspired so much of his poetry.
In Bagni Di Lucca Luca and Rebecca also organised the enchanted evening on the river described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/a-romantic-evening-of-poetry-along-bagni-di-luccas-river/ .
What books does Shelley House have on its shelves? Naturally there is a corner dedicated to Shelley: not just his works but those of his re-appraised and pioneering wife, Mary Shelley, (who wrote not just Frankenstein but several other novels of outstanding interest and quality). There are works, too, about Shelley and some unusual items like the travel diary Percy and Mary published when travelling on the continent just after the Napoleonic wars (see also my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/a-city-centres-marble-rooftop-forest/ ).
There is a good selection of classical and modern Italian authors, English literature in Italian translation and Italian literature in English translation. There are travel books, cooking books, nature books. Most books I saw there seduced me to want to open their covers so carefully chosen had they been to arouse interest.
I asked Luca and Rebecca, (who hail from Viareggio, off the coast of the town where Shelley met his death by drowning at the age of just 29) how and why they started Shelley House. ‘Because we’re crazy,’ they simultaneously answered. I thought to myself, ‘if this is craziness then a lot more of it is needed for Bagni di Lucca to rise up from its sleeping- beauty-like semi-lethargy.
In an age where fewer and fewer people (especially children) seem to be able read at least one book a month (the figures for Italy are frightening – more than half don’t even read one book a year!) bookshops need to make their presence felt for they are not just selling books, they are spreading love of reading and awakening the mind to higher sensibilities. Caffé talk is fine, even a chat on a park bench is too. But there are moments in life that are too precious for even the most convivial small-talk. It’s then that we turn to the talk of great minds and that means opening a book and not just looking at its cover, no matter how nicely designed that is, but reading words that have entranced so many generations and truly define the highest values of civilization.
Shelley House is open from Thurday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 6 pm. Here are some further details:
PS As a Shelley acolyte (something which my Leavisian English teacher at school felt was incorrect) I have always been attracted to his poems. At my posts at:
I refer to places where some of his wondrous verse was conceived.
As for Mary Shelley, see my post at
to find out where ‘Frankenstein’ might have started out from.