Vincenzo Campo, publisher of books with a soul

Discovering the Henry Beyle Editions. Over two hundred titles, fifteen series, short texts on very elegant papers. But don’t call them snobs

His interviews are like the books he publishes: limited editions but valuable (and if this isn’t, don’t blame him). Because Vincenzo Campo, by birth professional teacher of letters, editor by subsequent definitive choice, shows a marked propensity for public silence and private chat, that art that expands and condenses in “conversing”, as opposed to the verb “interview” as they know only the happy few. Here the abused Stendhalian reference is widely legitimized, because the great French novelist is the eponymous god of the Henry Beyle Editions: the “y” in the name is not a typo or is a deliberate typo, as Vincenzo Campo, Sicilian of Giuliana will explain shortly ( Frederick’s hilly village in the Palermo hinterland) that has moved to Milan for many years. Where he lives and produces the texts of his publishing house.

Over two hundred titles, fifteen series, generally very short texts on very elegant papers made in monotype or offset, counter-current craftsmanship for readers, even bibliophiles, or for bibliophiles who even read what they buy. All united by the desire to “host” rather than stacking books on their shelves. Are the cover prices, considering the costs and the very small print runs, high or in any case reasonable? It depends on the point of view: those who still enjoy the pleasure of smoking can compare them to the expense of a carton and evaluate the book on the number of cigarettes deducted the sense of guilt. Those who do not smoke will be more disadvantaged for once.

Professor Campo, what do you aspire to with a book?

The pleasure of having on the table, or on the shelves of your library, a valuable and unchanging object from the times of Aldus Manutius to us.

When was your publishing house born and why?

She was born in Milan on March 19, 2009, St. Joseph’s Day, a partially random date because it was the date on which the notary set an appointment for me, which later became a symbolic date because the saint draws on a rich religious tradition and spanned my childhood. . So the case turned out to be, in retrospect, of particular interest and pleasure. Why was Henry Beyle born? Of course I did not imagine everything that would happen, the original purpose was much more modest: to make a book a year as a gift for friends with a bibliophile theme. In short, a book about other books. But with great attention to every detail, with typographic techniques that are now remote or almost abandoned, therefore in a limited number of pages and copies by force or by virtue of costs. A book object at the antipodes of the botched and unpleasant ones that already then, and even more so now, are often seen around.

How did you come to the publishing world?

I had been in school publishing since 1984, when I started teaching in high school. The horizon of the readings for the students was confined to ‘I promessi sposi’ and the ‘Eneide’, so that I felt, like other teachers, the need to widen it. Reading by obligation is already an uncivilized paradox, it is the certification of an impossibility. Let alone if you start with ‘I promessi sposi’, which are rather the essential point of arrival, one of the many possible, in the path of a reader. In this initial activity of mine, I had the opportunity to meet fundamental figures such as Salvatore Guglielmino and Federico Roncoroni, who managed with their texts for the school to best express the need for a richer but more qualified offer to students, today very much less felt than in the eighties. At that time Adelphi also collaborated with La Nuova Italia in enriching scholasticism, following the path opened by Einaudi with the series of readings for middle schools. Initially I worked with the historic Neapolitan publishing house Morano, and when that experience ended I continued it with Elvira Sellerio. I met her in 1996 and I still remember her with infinite esteem and admiration. We extrapolated from its general catalog the titles that could best lend themselves to adolescent reading by themes, situations and narrative style.

Is this background already the genesis of the Henry Beyle Editions?

Henry Beyle was born when I reached and alas passed the synodal age of perpetuals. I made this boutade on another occasion and I received some resentful e-mails from young publishers, as if by placing a reference to the registry I intended to prevent them from any survival.

And instead?

I have no doubt that being a publisher is the last leg of a final journey by rail. Let’s turn the page, let’s take a picture of the film ‘Karate Kid’: the teacher, the child who wants to learn the art, has the car cleaned with a rag because with those gestures, apparently unrelated to specific learning, he assimilates the fundamental movements .

But we have not yet told the reason for the title to Stendhal, or rather to his personal name: Henri, his is with the “i”, Beyle.

First of all because I would very much like to join the Stendhalian club. Let’s be clear: I am a simple reader, not a scholar, one who re-reads it almost every year and loves it beyond measure, always being captured page after page by the succession of vicissitudes and movements of the heart, changing every time depending on the mood and the time in which each new rereading takes place. As we know, detesting his father, Henri spent a lot of his life inventing pseudonyms behind which to hide his identity. He took Stendhal’s one perhaps from a German city where he had contracted, incidentally, also a venereal disease. So it is written at least, and therefore it is true.

Instead, you have taken up the writer’s real name for your publishing house.

I thought that if he had used Stendhal to hide Beyle, I would have used Beyle to hide my name.

But the “y”?

Here the reference is to Leonardo Sciascia and his Stendhalian scale: he put readers at the first level for whom the masterpiece is ‘The red and the black’, on the second those who opt for ‘The Certosa di Parma’ and at the top those who believe both ‘The Life of Henry Brulard’, an autobiographical book. This is the Henry with the “y” I put in front of Beyle. If it looks like a typo I find it even more pleasant. Indeed, a sort of warning and talisman against typos.

Have they happened to you? Are you afraid of it?

They should never happen even if, as my typographer says, the last proofreader is the reader. If someone were to write to me on purpose to report a typo, I would remain blackened for days even if it is not the typo that makes the book. In any case, everything must be done so that there are none. One day I gave up: it happened with a text by Valentino Bompiani, ‘Various types of publisher’: instead of throwing everything away, I inserted a minute piece of paper with the errata in each copy. Warning and sign of the finitude of every human work.

Why be a publisher?

I tell you for myself: with the Henry Beyle I have achieved two extremely pleasant goals. The first is to have put together a catalog in which I recognize myself a lot. The second is friendship. I refer to a reflection by Ferdinando Scianna that has had and still has in this editorial history: there is a form of friendship linked to youth, or even childhood, which can last for a lifetime. Then there is, rarer, the friendship that blossoms as adults, the best in this category is that born between people united by the intention of making one or more books. Better to say: to instill the soul in a book.

What is a book with a soul?

He explained it ‘in reverse’ with a joke by Giuseppe Ungaretti, who in his first experiences as a poet was published with very rare skill. When he passed to one of the greatest publishers of the time, Vallecchi, they sent him the relay copy of his volume of poems by him. As soon as Ungaretti had it in his hand he wrote to him: ‘This book has no book soul’. It was just an editorial product. And he refused it.

Roberto Calasso has often emphasized the concept of a “single book”. What do you think?

In my opinion, the concept unfolds in two different meanings: one refers to individual books published compared to others by the same author, the second in the sense that the books of the publishing house become part of a single book which is the sum of all those published. Calasso was an incomparable publisher in this, but of course not only in this. That said, I feel the opposite: I want to belong to the number of publishers who do not write about what they do. The catalog speaks, tells. But if one day I decide, I would follow Vanni Scheiwiller’s desire: to make a book on the books that I wanted and have not been able to publish for various reasons, from legal impediments to those related to the granting or cost of rights, etc. It is a list of which the reader never becomes aware, it is the silences of the catalog.

How important is chance in the formation of your catalog?

It’s not like someone wakes up in the morning and suddenly designs a certain book. While this can happen, I am looking for it. Let’s take an example: I have published three notebooks by the philosopher Guido Calogero, short monographs dedicated to Aristotle, Socrates and Plato: 375 numbered copies, monotype print, Zerkall Bütten paper, hand stitched. How did I find these Calogero? Wandering and rummaging through the markets, I came across an old edition of Eri, which produced books, anthologies above all, full of charm, often transcriptions of radio broadcasts. More than chance in and of itself, I believe in the gift of knowing how to see.

She publishes untouched books for which a letter opener is required. Doesn’t it risk bordering on snobbery?

Uncut books increase the reader’s pleasure. At one time he cut the pages as far as he had read and from there he would start again with this natural bookmark, perhaps having already experienced the pleasure of peeking through the still closed sheets at the pages that followed. It is useless to compare the care that is dedicated to this reading to that of kindle, which does not give the tactile sensation of paper or the visual one of the relationship between print and white space. These are two antithetical universes. The electronic support offers the undoubted practical advantage of carrying around an entire library, but I look to that other universe, to the lines of the paper, to the architectural spaces of the text … Many will remember the beauty and the graphic wisdom of the Nuova Universale Einaudi series, designed by Bruno Munari and inaugurated in ’62 with Giacomo Leopardi’s ‘Canti’. My intent as a publisher was this: to devote all the intellectual forces to build an object of indisputable elegance. Of course, even the taste is a child of his time, so a book that looks beautiful today could be tacky tomorrow. But it is inevitable. We hope not to see it.

Is a text read in different editions and formats, in print or digitally, really the same text? And is a re-read book always the same book?

I bring you the Stendhal case. I was working on Giuseppe Barbera’s publication, ‘A brief history of reading trees’, which illustrates the intertwining of trees and books. At the same time I was re-reading ‘The red and the black’, when I come across a passage in which the protagonist Julien Sorel finds his only friends in the trees. I don’t know how many times I had read the novel, but I didn’t remember that sentence at all. The Barbera book revealed it to me as if I had never seen it before.

What is the typical reader of the Henry Beyle editions?

I’m not interested in drawing identikits. I prefer to think that I have created a group of unknown friends, people who have never met, have not dined together but are united by the taste for the same books and the desire not only to read them, but to host them at home.

Understatement seems to be one of his characters. Isn’t this also a declination of vanity?

No. On the contrary, I am inexorably struck by the impostor syndrome – Franz Kafka writes about it in an admirable way in his Diaries – whose genesis fascinates me a lot. I also feel certain that I have not deserved what I could boast. This conviction overwhelms me so often that it gives me the acute desire, if not to disappear, to tend towards silence. Which is really extremely difficult, almost as much as publishing a well-made book, without typos is intended.

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