In his famous novel, The Betrothed, Alessandro Manzoni identified the book public in ‘twenty-five readers’. Manzoni was humble in talking about his public. Since its publication in the nineteenth century, his novel has been successful and millions of people have read it, including generations of Italian secondary school students for whom Manzoni is “croce e delizia”. Manzoni’s choice to ‘count’ his readers is an intriguing question for every author. I personally find it challenging, when I think about my own monograph Mario Tchou: Ricerca e sviluppo per l’elettronica Olivetti (Egea 2015).
My book did not sell millions, only a few hundred copies over two years, as I can reconstruct from the accounts I received from the publisher. It made me neither rich nor famous, but I still consider it a success. Statistics of book circulation in Italy are not encouraging and finding a public is not easy for beginners, especially when they publish an historical essay. Yet, over three hundred people found time to buy a physical or electronic copy of my book and hopefully read also its content.
I met a few of my book readers in May 2015, when AICA organised a public event where I had the opportunity to present my monograph. It was moving to meet former employees of the Olivetti corporation and relatives of the people I wrote about in my book. They provided flesh and blood to my words, offered comments and criticisms and made me feel that the historical episode I had written about still mattered to them, despite the time elapsed.
In this year’s book sales a detail caught my eye. One of the book copies went missing, I do not know whether from the publishing house storage room or from the shelves of a bookseller. Was it misplaced or stolen? I would be really curious to know. A famous Italian publisher, Giulio Einaudi, argued that theft was the benchmark of a book’s success and the sign of real interest for a publication. Maybe… but I am afraid I will never know for sure if this was my case!