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Why Read The Books

Essay by 24  •  August 21, 2010  •  542 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,090 Views

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It has now become clear that Italo Calvino will prove to be one of this century's major writers. In recent years, his work has been established alongside such pan-European thinkers as Barthes and Eco, particularly in the sense that his interests are polymathic. Calvino is an essayist, a literary theorist, a writer of fiction and, to a large extent, a visionary. Paradoxically, much of the modernity he has explored in his narratives has its roots in the simplicity of folk tales, and his own short fiction has the elemental power of myth and allegory.

In these essays, however, we have a kind of summation of all this, albeit in a piecemeal form. By this I mean that within this large collection of literary essays, Italo Calvino mixes critical judgement with literary history, and reflections on the writer's art with sheer readerly enthusiasm. This powerful mix is the result of his assembling a personal 'canon' of texts, and in that sense some of his choices reflect that idiosyncrasy which all readers have: personal passions, a taste in obscure writers; and, a few absolute favourites which have clearly inspired his own creativity.

In the dimension of personal taste, the leaders are Dickens in Our Mutual Friend, Stendhal and Dante, but there are many more, and after an initial essay which tries to establish what a classic is, the essays range from classical to modern texts, not always in terms of accepted classical status. Some of the writers discussed may even merit being rediscovered.

In fact, Signor Calvino is such a good critic that he sneaks in brief chatty references and even fragments of autobiography before we realise it. The case of Hemingway shows this for instance: 'There was a time for me when - and for many others, those who are more or less my contemporaries - Hemingway was a god.' The essay then proceeds to show Hemingway's appeal as well as his limitations.

The book's title is something of a misnomer in this respect, because

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