When the books one is currently reading accumulate and the pile shows a half-dozen titles crowned by the red band of Acantilado, it is clear that the interest raised by the volumes is inseparable from the intelligent discrimination with which they have been selected for the catalog of the publisher, and if they resist being moved from the work desk to the shelves, it is thanks to the exquisite choice of typography and paper, which keeps them close at hand as objects to delight in. Based in Barcelona, founded in 1999 by the philologist and professor Jaume Vallcorba, directed by him until his death in 2014, and since then run by his widow, Sandra Ollo, Acantilado keeps up a standard of intellectual and aesthetic quality that makes its list of titles a register of excellence, and its red label a guarantee of good choice.
Among the books I am reading by turns, the oldest is the extraordinary Through the Eye of a Needle
, where the great classics historian Peter Brown shows his erudition in matters of Late Antiquity through a panorama – in clear profiles and vivid colors – of the period from the 4th to the 6th century, the rise of Christianity, brought to life through texts by Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, and sewn together by the thread of renunciation of wealth, summed up in the title with a saying of Jesus, as quoted by Matthew: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” If the book lingers on my table, it is due to its more than 1,200 pages, but also to my desire to prolong the pleasure provided by a prose excellently translated and enameled with stimulating discoveries. And anyone thinking that the matter has little architectural importance could perhaps have a look at Less is Enough
, the book by Pier Vittorio Aureli about the current demands for austerity, in which the cofounder of Dogma finds precedents in monastic life, from the first hermits to the altissima paupertas
of the Franciscan reform movement, reviewed at length in Arquitectura Viva 158
For its part, the most recent addition to my reading list is one with a rare title, La hispanibundia
, a neologism coined by Mauricio Wiesenthal, a Spaniard of German origin, to name an essay developed over the course of half a century on the identity and culture of Spain, a subject many historians consider more suited to the times of Américo Castro or Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz – Golo Mann appropriately mentions Ortega and Madariaga in the letter that serves as a foreword – but which the author’s narrative elegance and critical serenity make particularly recommendable at this painful juncture of our collective life.
The translation of Brown’s book was published in November 2016, and the work of Wiesenthal in May 2018; in the interim came two in 2017 which I dare suggest as splendid summer reading, since neither exceeds 200 pages and both are divided into chapters that can be enjoyed independently. L’usage des ruines
presents 22+1 sketches of destroyed urbs, from the Mesopotamia that gave rise to cities to the New York of 9/11, passing through numerous episodes of sieges, or by the Berlin of Albert Speer, who learned about the Ruinenwerttheorie
from Gottfried Semper: a literary essay that refers to Sebald, Sloterdijk, and Enrique Vila-Matas, to whom the art critic Jean-Yves Jouannais jokingly attributes the book’s authorship. Classici per la vita
contains fifty extensive quotes of authors of universal literature, reproduced in their original languages and in translation, accompanied by the always intelligent remarks of Nuccio Ordine, who initially published the texts in the weekly supplement of Corriere della Sera
. Do not forget to put them in your baggage.