For over 35 years, since my first visit to Luca, Italy, I have kept a pristine collection of the Millelire boxed set of books in its original shrink-wrap. For some reason, doubtless understood by book and action figure collectors, I believed that opening it would be like popping the cork on Aladdin’s lamp or opening the sealed cave of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Silly? Perhaps. But we all have quirks. Well, after years of consultation with a professional shaman, I came to the conclusion that nothing ill was in the offing (and the shrink-wrap was beginning to disintegrate, in any case).
I also found that the collection, published by Stampa Alternativa—a book and record publishing company in Rome, founded in 1970 by author and editor Marcello Baraghini, the creator and animator of the International Festival of Resistant Literature—could be useful to research I am doing on alternative publications. So, off came the fraying wrapper and out came the books (below).
Stampa Alternativa was inspired, I’m told, by American and British Alternative Presses, and is best-known for the Millelire series that opened the market for economical editions of mostly unknown and unpublished Italian authors and poets.
A Millelire is a set of books packaged together, usually 10 per box of various page counts. They are printed cheaply on pulp with simple yet striking one and two color illustrated covers. But the highlight is the container itself. They often riff on famous cigarette packages, like the Camel-style box above. The first of these series is a container based on the Marlboro flip-top package. This idea has led to other parodies of consumer products, including packages of famous chocolate bars. The boxes are collected by major museums, and in Japan they are objects of worship.
I can’t help thinking … if only I kept mine in its original quality cellophane, there’s no telling how worshiped it would be. So worship, or at least admire, my invaluable Millelire below.