A Toast to St Martirià is an improvised speech given by the cult Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra at the St Martirià fiesta in Banyoles, the town of his birth. Transmitting his subversive attitude and impulsive lust for life, it is a journey through his formative years and early relationships – established in the nightlife of his hometown – that have shaped his unique conception of cinema, art and life. Read on for an exclusive excerpt from Serra’s book

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time: none, zero. – Charlie Munger 

It might seem strange, but the Laie bookshop in Barcelona is the physical space (along with the Banyoles Tennis Club) which has had the strongest influence on my life, as regards its personal and creative aspects. So for me it is an honour to be able to take part in the celebration of its forty years of existence. I wish it a long life and hope that it will influence many other people, as it has me. 

It’s my favourite bookshop in Barcelona, and I still come here with the same hopeful anticipation that I had at the start, when I was eighteen years old. It’s true that some- times I’m unfaithful . . . but that isn’t so strange either, as I have never been able to walk into a bookshop and leave without having bought something. From time to time I go to the Central bookshop on Mallorca Street and Girona’s Llibreria 22, both of which I also like a great deal, but nowhere am I as happy as at the Laie, maybe because I was only happy at the Blanch bookshop in Banyoles when I was a teenager. I’ve been an Amazon customer since the year 2000 (I was probably one of their first Spanish customers), when I bought a book by Benjamin Ivry on Rimbaud, but I never buy anything there that they have in the bookshops in Barcelona. I always travel with a Kindle, but everything that I have in digital format I also buy on paper; if only everybody was like me . . . 

Cover for Albert Serra’s A Toast to St Martitià.

I’ve been asked to talk about cinema, but I have almost nothing to say about it. Most of the books which have influenced me are not available in a Spanish translation, and some of them are difficult to find: Jacques Lourcelles, Robin Wood, Godard, Truffaut, Paul Vecchiali, Michel Mourlet, Manny Farber, Luc Moullet, Amos Vogel . . . I didn’t buy them at the Laie. In fact, I can say that these authors and critics have without a doubt influenced me a great deal more as a director than the directors themselves and the films that I’ve seen: what an immense power books have! My favourite is a book by Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art – I plugged a new edition in French and wrote the prologue to it; it sold very well and the publisher is very pleased with it. 

I have had no mentors and have never learnt anything from anybody. I have done everything through paper, all my idealism comes from there, from the historical avantgardes of the early twentieth century, from Don Quixote, from Seneca, from the failure Stendhal . . . Everything I’ve earnt has been spent on books (and music): a small fortune for someone without much money. And I’ll spend even more if I feel all right and can keep going: I want to give everything back to the publishing industry that it’s given to me. I can’t help myself, I like writers, publishers, booksellers . . . Like John Waters, I also think that being rich means you can go into a bookshop and buy whatever you feel like, without thinking about the price. Let’s not forget that he’s the author of the unforgettable phrase: ‘We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.’ By the way, I prefer his books to his films. 

Albert Serra.

And for many years Karl Lagerfeld has been an idol of mine. I worship him; sadly, he died earlier this year. He always said that together with a book you should be able to buy the time to read it and, unfortunately, I have done enough things as an artist to find out that he was right. It is true that there is no better decoration in a house than shelves full of books: they give off a warmth and make us appear more intelligent than we really are to our visitors. And if people followed John Waters’s reasoning we could still get something else out of them . . . 

I’m happy that we’re celebrating this birthday in the year that they’ve given the Nobel Prize to Peter Handke, another of my idols, many of whose books I did indeed buy at the Laie. Nowadays, perhaps, he doesn’t sell so many books, there’s nothing anyone can do about that, the world has changed – but he hasn’t. I hope that the Laie never changes, either; nor the people who work here, it goes without saying. They’re fine just as they are. Happy birthday. 

A Toast to St Martirià by Albert Serra, translated by Matthew Tree, is out now from Divided Publishing.