In Sicily, my home, books are becoming a lost art. Bookshops are closing, and reading seems to be a less important part of our culture than ever before. The rate of illiteracy in the region is one of the highest in Italy, and it is increasing at an alarming rate. I felt that the government and major publishers weren't doing their parts in stopping this trend, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
When embarking on a new project, there are many ways to go about getting it started. I imagined an island, my island, Sicily, and a journey through lightly trodden streets in search of small towns and villages off the beaten path. I wanted to bring books, read them out loud, and sell them.
So, I got an old Fiat seven-seater, half broken down, uncomfortable, with a grumbling engine. I removed all the seats and I assembled a bookstore inside: I named it "Leggiu," which in the Sicilian dialect means "slow." Then I called some independent publishers and got over 30 of them to provide books. And that's how Pianissimo - libri sulla strada, or "Books on the Road," was born: a mobile bookshop that travels around southern Italy with hundreds of books for adults and children.
By way of the blog Pianissimo - libri sulla strada (in Italian) and a Facebook Page with the same name, I told the story of my journey and the people I met, shared photos, and revealed the beauty of what we were doing. I posted the route and the schedule on Facebook, and many came to find us. I was thrilled to reach so many people and to make reading social and fun.
Of course, things don't always go off without a hitch. One afternoon at the end of March, in Milan, the first time that we had left Sicily, I couldn't find Leggiu in the place where I had parked it just a few hours prior. Someone stole my van. My body went numb. I was frozen. It was as if someone removed my ability to feel.
Together with Chiara, my partner in life and on this trip, I went to the police to report the theft and stayed until late that evening. I informed my family. My brother, who knew how much this project meant to me, cried when I told him the news. I posted the news on Facebook to let everyone know that the tour was canceled; that was all.
Right from that moment, I received so many phone calls and messages of solidarity, offers for help, and expressions of confidence that I'd find the van. The publishing house Terre di Mezzo posted a photo of my van on their Facebook Page with the caption "Help us find it." Many journalists, writers, artists, and friends --even the well-known musician Roy Paci-- shared the news on Facebook. The amount of support I received was overwhelming.
Despite all this, I didn't believe I'd find it. If anything, I was ready to buy a new van and start again. I even found one online that was the same make and model of Leggiu. So, two days later, I was about to return to Sicily when I received a phone call. A man who was walking his dog had seen the van by a canal just outside of Milan. He recognized it thanks to the announcements on Facebook. I made arrangements to get it and was soon reunited with Leggiu.
It was wonderful to feel the warmth and the respect that many have for my project. From an unfortunate event came a new awareness for my mission. It's a beautiful thing. It's like Fabrizio De André said in a song, "Nothing is born from diamonds; but from manure, flowers are born."
Now, we are starting our trip again from Apulia: children and adults in town squares in small villages, crossing paths in the streets and on the web.
Filippo Nicosia lives in Messina, Italy, where he runs a traveling bookshop Pianissimo - Libri Sulla Strada, or "Books on the Road."