They tell of certain years in the Italian literary-prize business as the French would speak of a good or bad vintage year: the giddy splendors of 1965 prize-feting and fighting, the multiple crises of ’68 culminating in the sad death of Nobel poet Salvatore Quasimodo while presiding at some minor poetry prize event at Amalfi, and the year Moravia, out of pique or paradox, went out to found his own prize, giving the first award to his ex-wife in lieu (it’s said) of support payments.

  Italian literati have more prizes for each other than there are grapes in all of the Loire. And enough gossip about them during the lulls to provide endless storielle—always dearer to competing writers than tales of switches among lovers or spouses or sexes.