Can You Save a Dying Italian Town with the Art of Storytelling?

23 April 2019
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From The Literary Hub:

When Angelo Carchidi returned to Rosarno in 2012, the peak of Europe’s debt crisis, the place of his birth and home of his youth had become a ghost town. The piazzas, the public squares that are at the heart of Italian social life, were quiet and empty. Homes and apartments were boarded and padlocked and “for sale” signs hung from their façades. Persistent neglect from all levels of government had spurred the collapse of social services, including the public library—one of the town’s only cultural spaces, which seemed neglected and imbued with the smell of mold. Thirty-year-old Carchidi, an architect by trade, was accustomed to the city’s rural slumber. But this time, it was if a malaise had descended upon the town.

Once known as Medma, a name given by the ancient Greeks for this city in southern Italy, Rosarno now exists at the margin of a margin. The town of 15,000 people is located in Calabria, one of Italy’s most disadvantaged regions and the stronghold of the ‘Ndrangheta, the country’s most powerful mafia. For decades, the violence of poverty, crime, and a lack of opportunity has caused young Calabrians like Carchidi to flock to the prosperous north, or others—like my own grandparents—to emigrate elsewhere.

. . . .

“The place you are born forms you, it makes you grow, it makes you frustrated,” Carchidi said. “But in some way, you are indebted to it.”

Seated outside Rosarno’s Bar Spagnolo on a languorous late summer evening last year, Carchidi recounted this story to me, interrupting his musings on urban renewal to joke in Calabrese dialect with friends who pass by. Humble and welcoming, tough and stubborn, Carchidi embodies the Calabrian character that is magnified in the people of Rosarno. When he returned to the city seven years ago, Carchidi was lucky to find people who shared his interests—and more so, his hopes for what Rosarno could be. Along with four friends—Ettore Guerriero, Giovanna Tutino, Umberto Carchidi and Miriana Zungri—the group formed A di Città, an association that exists somewhere between an arts collective and a cultural enterprise. Their first project was a Festival of Urban Regeneration, an attempt to resuscitate the city through art and, in turn, revive the community. But, once the festivities ended, the city’s local council—who were, for a time, attentive to the needs of the people—relapsed.

“We realized that our work through the festival had limitations,” he said. “So we asked, if we were to recount Rosarno in a book, a tourist guidebook, what would we include in it?”

. . . .

“When you say to a person who has always lived in a place, who sees it every day, ‘If you could tell the story of this place, how would you tell it?’ It awakens a whole series of questions that can bring out even the possibilities of a place,” Carchidi said.

In late 2014, A di Città began work on Kiwi: Deliziosa Guida di Rosarno, or as it translates from the Italian, “a delicious guide to Rosarno.” The guide’s name, Kiwi, is both ambiguous and fitting. Across the plains of Gioia Tauro, an area that encompasses Rosarno, the juicy, prickly kiwifruit has begun to supplant the region’s orange groves. While the switch from oranges to kiwifruit is driven by economics, the latter—foreign and exotic to Calabria—is representative of a changing region. The guide would encompass both the old and the new, the local and the foreign, the past and the tentative future.

Over the course of three years, A di Città held workshops and meetings, involving the public in the planning, writing, and distribution of Kiwi. The team decided that their office would be the city and held meetings, much like my own with Carchidi, in the cafés, pizzerias, and piazzas that dot the historic center. During Kiwi’s production, the public library became a makeshift editorial office and the “beating heart” of the guidebook. But just before the book was published in early 2017, the council decided to close the library.

“Culture is not a priority in this city,” Carchidi said. “And this was a question of priorities.”

Kiwi, on the other hand, was the product of prioritizing culture through storytelling and, to paraphrase the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, prioritizing the stories of those for whom Rosarno is “in their blood beyond anyone else’s understanding.” As a hardcover book with more than 200-pages, the guide is punctuated with color photographs, historical illustrations, and chunks of lime green paper that divide it in two. The first half follows the structure of a conventional guidebook with maps, history, notable people, and places of interest. But the preface to this section, aptly titled “before you leave,” begins with a rumination on the perfume of orange blossoms and ends with a note about the book’s underlying purpose: to tell a nuanced story of a typecast city.

“The media have often (and sometimes with reason) written about Rosarno as the land of mafia and exploitation,” it reads. “Before continuing, we recommend leaving the labels and prejudice at home and being open to discover a contradictory place, full of contrast and surprise, with which you will fall in love.”

. . . .

At Bar Duomo, as we snack on olives and crunchy bread, Carchidi opens a copy of Kiwi and flips to this second half of the book entitled, Rosarno Ulterior. The section begins with a preface, written by the A di Città team, on the idea of “possible places” and the importance of paying attention to the everyday spaces in which we spend our lives. What follows is a series of essays that together form an oral history of Rosarno and, more so, an ode to places that exist on the periphery.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG couldn’t find Kiwi: Deliziosa Guida di Rosarno on Amazon US, but here is a link to the book’s Home Page (which has a “Buy Now” button in English which, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to work) and its Facebook page.

Here’s the introduction to a video about the book (translated from Italian via Google Translate):

Kiwi is a shared guide of the city of Rosarno, written by citizens and travelers, a choral story of the territory made up of internal and external voices. It is a laboratory to find a collective narrative of one’s own community. The path started in October 2014, with the Terra Terra Restart workshop, during which the skeleton of the guide was defined and the involvement of the citizens was started through the construction of a walking cart, a wooden structure that represents the book itself. which will gradually be enriched with pages. Kiwi is taking life thanks to the parallel work of two editorial offices: a local one, made up of citizens who have joined the project and therefore strongly rooted in the territory, and an extra-territorial one, which keeps its eye on the entire national scene.

World Book Day

20 April 2019

Amazon Crossing, Amazon’s imprint for translations of books around the world, is celebrating World Book Day by giving away ebook versions of several of its best works.

The list includes mysteries, historical fiction, biography, true crime and “Book Club Fiction” (a new term for PG).

The nine books Amazon Crossing is featuring will be free until April 24.

Here’s a link to the page.

The books being featured are:

I Was Brought up with Paranoia

20 April 2019
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From The Guardian:

A Stranger City, Linda Grant’s eighth novel, which begins with the burial of an unknown woman discovered in the Thames, is a portrait of the disparate but interconnected lives that make up contemporary London. Grant was born in Liverpool, but has lived in London for 34 years. She won the Orange prize for fiction in 2000 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008.

A Stranger City is all about how living in London has changed post-referendum, but the B-word only appears once at the very end. Would you describe it as a Brexit novel?

Yes. I started writing in September 2016 and certainly what was on my mind was what was going to happen, where were we heading? But I didn’t want to write about the politics of Brexit. I was thinking not so much about leaving the EU, but about the idea of home. Because London is a metropolis, because it is cosmopolitan and feels like a city state, I was thinking of what happens when that begins to crack and you start to wonder, is this really my home after all? What does home mean?

The book is extremely of the moment, with references to the London terror attacks in 2017 and so on. How did it feel to be writing almost in real time?

Very odd and very nerve-racking. I didn’t know where the novel would end up, because I never do, and obviously I had no idea where any of this was going. I tried to keep a very light hand on the tiller in terms of the politics, but I was mostly undermined by worrying that maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad, or maybe we wouldn’t leave after all and then I would look really stupid. But by the time I’d actually finished it, I thought it had all got a lot worse: the violence and xenophobia and the physical attacks. And of course, I couldn’t have anticipated the inability to pass a deal in parliament, and this sense of stress, the anxiety of uncertainty, that so many people are feeling.

. . . .

Several of your novels share that sense of anxiety similar to that felt by Francesca’s immigrant Persian-Jewish family. Is it something you’ve experienced?

I was brought up with paranoia. My parents saw antisemitism everywhere. They said that if you marry a non-Jew, sooner or later he will call you a “dirty Jew”, that you have to stick in your own community, it’s a raging wilderness out there. But I didn’t buy it. I rejected that idea.

. . . .

Which novelists and nonfiction writers working today do you admire the most?

She’s written her last novel, but I’ve been reading Margaret Drabble since I was a teenager, from A Summer Bird-Cage to The Dark Flood Rises. I get such satisfaction from her mind working on the page.

Do you prefer to read on paper or a screen?

I was a Kindle early adopter because of the luxury of being able to change the size of the typeface and its introduction coincided with our local independent bookshop closing down, but now we have a Waterstones I’m back to print Paper, except when I’m travelling.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Tokenism in Books Led a Father to Self-Publish Stories for His Mixed-Race Sons.

18 April 2019

From The BBC:

Suhmayah Banda, from Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said he wanted to write stories that “would allow my kids to see characters that look like them”.

A report for the Book Trust said one third of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors and illustrators in the UK self-publish.

That compares with 11% of white authors and illustrators.

“As a family we read a lot together, and there are so many varied characters out there – animals, monsters, cars, firemen,” said Mr Banda, who is originally from Cameroon.

“But when it comes to ethnically diverse, in my case black or mixed characters, there is just not that much choice out there.”

A study by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in 2017 found only 1% of children’s books published that year in the UK had a BAME main character, and only 4% included BAME background characters.

The 2011 census found 14% of people in England and Wales were non-white. In Wales the figure was 4.5%.

. . . .

[O]ne of the catalysts for his first story was a comment Tancho made after reading a book in school.

“He came home from school one day and told me that people in Africa don’t have water in their houses. And as an African, and a Cameroonian specifically, I was a little surprised,” he said.

“I was like, ‘Really? All of Africa?’…there are a lot of people who have and don’t have things everywhere in the world, so I didn’t like that generalisation.

“Books are the first exposure a lot of kids and adults have to the wider world. And if those books are always written to the same narrative, in many cases misleading or wrong narratives, then it is dangerous on a lot of levels.

“And I wanted to expose my kids, and hopefully others, to a lot more perspectives.”

. . . .

Mr Banda, whose day-to-day job is in IT, is sceptical about efforts in the publishing industry to improve representation.

“They have a lot of competitions going on about promoting diversity. I find them flawed at best….

“You end up having a black or ethnically diverse character put in a story that doesn’t really reflect their reality. A lot of the time that is just tokenism,” he added.

. . . .

Aimee Felone, who co-founded publishing company Knights Of, shares Mr Banda’s frustration with much of the sector.

The company’s starting point was to hire “as widely and diversely as possible to make sure the books we publish give windows into as many worlds as possible”.

It has just published its first novel, a children’s murder mystery where the detectives are two young black sisters in London and, in October, they will be publishing a story about a character who is hard of hearing.

They purposefully chose a deaf editor to work on it, to make sure the story was “genuine and authentic”.

. . . .

In her view, the approach of the industry to BAME stories often grouped together non-white people from different backgrounds.

“I think what is missed is that there are different challenges that are faced within each community,” she said.

“We’re not looking at representations of Asian women, Chinese women [for example], we’re just putting everyone together in one box [and saying] ‘Oh look we have a BAME character’.

“What does that actually mean? Whose story are we actually telling?”

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG is skeptical that traditional publishing can move beyond tokenism given the background of 99% of its employees ranging from unpaid interns to the CEO. Of course, traditional publishing also deals with traditional book stores which have the same problems.

PG suggests the possibility that indie authors who self-publish may be the only avenue by which authentic voices can actually reach readers.

Amazon’s E-Commerce Adventure in China Proved Too Much of a Jungle

18 April 2019

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. is checking out of China’s fiercely competitive domestic e-commerce market.

The company told sellers on Thursday that it will no longer operate its third-party online marketplace or provide seller services on its Chinese website,, beginning July 18. As a result, domestic companies will no longer be able to sell products to Chinese consumers on its e-commerce platform.

The decision marks an end to a long struggle by America’s e-commerce giants in the Chinese market. The firms entered the Chinese market with great fanfare in the early 2000s only to wither in the face of competition from China’s faster-moving internet titans.

. . . .

In a statement, Amazon said it remains committed to China through its global stores, Kindle businesses and its web services.

Amazon China’s president will leave to take on another role within the company, the company confirmed. The China consumer business team will report directly into the company’s global team.

. . . .

When Amazon first entered China in 2004 with the purchase of, it was the largest online vendor for books, music and video there. Most Chinese consumers were using cash-on-delivery as their top form of payment. Today, Amazon China chiefly caters to customers looking for imported international goods like cosmetics and milk powder and is a minuscule player in the booming Chinese e-commerce market.

Amazon China commanded just 6% of gross merchandise volume in the niche cross-border e-commerce market in the fourth quarter of 2018, versus NetEase Kaola’s 25% share and the 32% held by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall International, according to Nomura Securities Co.

“Everyone has merged with someone,” said Chris Reitermann, chief executive for Asia and Greater China at Ogilvy, which advises Alibaba. “It became clear that as a Western internet company you wouldn’t be able to succeed at scale without a Chinese partner.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Library Catalogue Reveals Books Lost to Time

10 April 2019

From The Guardian:

It sounds like something from Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind and his The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: a huge volume containing thousands of summaries of books from 500 years ago, many of which no longer exist. But the real deal has been found in Copenhagen, where it has lain untouched for more than 350 years.

The Libro de los Epítomes manuscript, which is more than a foot thick, contains more than 2,000 pages and summaries from the library of Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus who made it his life’s work to create the biggest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. Running to around 15,000 volumes, the library was put together during Colón’s extensive travels. Today, only around a quarter of the books in the collection survive and have been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552.

. . . .

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

The manuscript was found in the collection of Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730. The majority of the some 3,000 items are in Icelandic or Scandinavian languages, with only around 20 Spanish manuscripts, which is probably why the Libro de los Epítomes went unnoticed for hundreds of years.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Don’t Worry, a School Library with Fewer Books and More Technology Is Good for Today’s Students

8 April 2019

From The Conversation:

A recent article about a new approach to a school library sparked vigorous discussion on social media. Many worried the school had completely abolished traditional library services. The article describes how a Melbourne school changed its library to a technology-focused centre staffed by “change adopters” who host discussions with students and encourage creative thinking.

. . . .

The school’s principal was forced to defend the library’s restructure. She wrote that its traditional purpose hadn’t been lost.

The College Library has been transformed into a Learning Centre that continues to offer all library services to students and staff, including a significant collection of fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers, magazines and other print resources, as well as online access to other libraries.

This school’s approach isn’t unique. Many schools have reconfigured their library spaces to embrace a model of integrating library services – where traditional library resources are combined with technology. Some have installed new technologies in so-called “maker spaces”. These are where students can be creative, often using technologies such as 3D printers and recording suites.

The purpose of today’s libraries isn’t only to maintain the traditional roles of promoting reading, developing information literacy and providing access to a collection of books and other resources. Today’s school libraries are fundamental to broader digital literacy, information provision and developing critical evaluation of information.

. . . .

There is a lack of understanding of what librarians can do for a school community and a belief children don’t need help with learning how to use technology. Information can be inaccessible, and misunderstood, without proper instruction, guidance and support. This is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have good access to the internet at home, or those with learning differences.

As the evidence base for what makes an effective library grows, it’s becoming recognised that

the 21st century school library professional is a digital leader, an innovator, a creator, a promoter, a resource and research specialist, a curriculum adviser, and much more.

Teacher librarians educate children in the core skills of searching and evaluating information. They also support and empower students in areas such as digital citizenship. This enables children to fully participate and engage with the complex digital landscape.

As Chelsea Quake, a teacher librarian at a Melbourne public school, told us:

Students leave school reading fake news, turning to Instagram for answers to their health questions, and falling flat on their first university paper, because they never truly learnt how to research.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

Mexico’s Walmart Pressures Suppliers on Pricing, Forcing Some to Ditch Amazon

8 April 2019
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From Nasdaq:

Walmart’s Mexico unit has penalized food companies supplying groceries to rival Amazon, pressure that has forced some to pull their products from the world’s largest online retailer, four people familiar with the matter said.

The tough tactics come as the two giants battle for supremacy in one of their most important foreign markets, one that Walmart currently dominates.

Two suppliers told Reuters they moved swiftly to pull their brands from Amazon, wary of jeopardizing their relationship with Walmart de Mexico. The companies, both of which sell common pantry goods, said Walmart accounts for more than half their supermarket sales in Mexico.

. . . .

“We could never tell anybody that they can’t sell to someone else,” Ignacio Caride, Walmart Mexico’s e-commerce head, told Reuters.

“If we think there’s an opportunity to lower our prices, because we see better prices at other retailers, we’re going to negotiate for that access,” he said.

. . . .

Amazon declined to comment.

Walmart is Mexico’s largest retailer, commanding nearly 60 percent of the country’s supermarket sales through more than 2,400 Walmart, Superama, Sam’s Club and Bodega Aurrera stores. Its online business in Mexico is growing fast, but it represented just 1.4 percent of revenue last year.

. . . .

Amazon launched its Mexican website in 2015 and is now one of the country’s biggest online retailers. It began selling groceries here in August.

Supermarket analyst Bill Bishop said Walmart wants to avoid a repeat of its experience in the United States, where Amazon quickly took the lead in online grocery sales. Walmart Inc’sMexico unit is its second-largest overseas market by sales after the United Kingdom, on par with Canada.

Link to the rest at Nasdaq

PG says it appears Walmart may have stopped sleepwalking.

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