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Why Read the Classics?

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From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the fore From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how many odysseys The Odyssey contains, and why Hemingway's Nick Adams stories are a pinnacle of twentieth-century literature. From Ovid to Pavese, Xenophon to Dickens, Galileo to Gadda, Calvino covers the classics he has loved most with essays that are fresh, accessible, and wise. Why Read the Classics? firmly establishes Calvino among the rare likes of Nabokov, Borges, and Lawrence--writers whose criticism is as vibrant and unique as their groundbreaking fiction.  


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From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the fore From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how many odysseys The Odyssey contains, and why Hemingway's Nick Adams stories are a pinnacle of twentieth-century literature. From Ovid to Pavese, Xenophon to Dickens, Galileo to Gadda, Calvino covers the classics he has loved most with essays that are fresh, accessible, and wise. Why Read the Classics? firmly establishes Calvino among the rare likes of Nabokov, Borges, and Lawrence--writers whose criticism is as vibrant and unique as their groundbreaking fiction.  

30 review for Why Read the Classics?

  1. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    You start your reading of Calvino’s explorations. You do this mainly to get to know a wonderful list of classics to tackle, of the thoughts of a loved author, and to know of how to approach these sometimes daunting works. After the masterful first essay which defines ‘classics’, you realize that Calvino is up to something here. You look at the long list of books and realize that too many of them fall in the invented category of ‘personal classics’ (‘his own classics’ in other words), the choice You start your reading of Calvino’s explorations. You do this mainly to get to know a wonderful list of classics to tackle, of the thoughts of a loved author, and to know of how to approach these sometimes daunting works. After the masterful first essay which defines ‘classics’, you realize that Calvino is up to something here. You look at the long list of books and realize that too many of them fall in the invented category of ‘personal classics’ (‘his own classics’ in other words), the choice of which are artfully explained away by his irrefutable first essay. You are now sure that the book would be an interesting window to Calvino’s literary world and his evolution but not to the vast classical education you were hoping for from the book. You put off the book many times over the year but eventually get back to it. But as you finally read through the rest of the essays, you realize that it is more fun than anticipated to hear Calvino talk of the books you have already read and enjoyed and just infuriating to read of ones that you haven’t. So you quickly buy the books as Calvino talks of them. Then you vow to read again his short essays on Anabasis or Pliny before you delve into these books, which might have been postponed indefinitely if not for Calvino’s gentle (but at the same time caustic) coaxing. Of course, you know that you would have to read the essays before you read your new acquisitions and then again a month after the reading is past just to compare experiences with Calvino, which as you already know is great fun. You also begin to discern a few jarring notes… but they do not put you off - a reading life is not complete without an explanation of the spirit that animates the reading quest. Calvino’s obsession with how history and its enactment is to be viewed begins to shine through. And, sometimes to your disappointment, he examines many of the authors primarily from the lens of how they tried to invent history and their own conceptions of it - slightly distorting his analysis in the process but with a distinct purpose. To you, some of these extrapolations seem like inventions but, it becomes difficult to draw the line between serious experiment and play. You console yourself with the fact that, luckily, Calvino’s obsession is a favorite pastime of your own as well. In the end, you scribble a quick one line review before moving eagerly to the heady pile of books that Calvino has collected for you on your desk: This book is a treasure. A Goodreads Corollary: Classics are those books which when you rate them, you only rate yourselves.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Perché leggere i classici? = Why Read the Classics?, Italo Calvino From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how Perché leggere i classici? = Why Read the Classics?, Italo Calvino From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how many odysseys The Odyssey contains, and why Hemingway's Nick Adams stories are a pinnacle of twentieth-century literature. From Ovid to Pavese, Xenophon to Dickens, Galileo to Gadda, Calvino covers the classics he has loved most with essays that are fresh, accessible, and wise. Why Read the Classics? firmly establishes Calvino among the rare likes of Nabokov, Borges, and Lawrence--writers whose criticism is as vibrant and unique as their groundbreaking fiction. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز شانزدهم ماه می سال 2003 میلادی عنوان: چرا باید کلاسیک ها را خواند؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: آزیتا همپارتیان؛ تهران، کاروان، 1381؛ در 276 ص؛ چاپ دوم 1384؛ چاپ سوم 1386؛ شابک: 9789647033527؛ چاپ دیگر: نشر قطره، چاپ پنجم 1392؛ شابک: 9786001191602؛ چاپ ششم 1393؛ چاپ هفتم 1395؛ موضوع: تاریخ و نقد آثار کلاسیک ادبی - سده 20 م در این سیر تاریخی، از «گزنفون» باستانی، و «نظامی گنجوی»، به «ژرژ پرک» معاصر می‌رسیم. عنوان برخی از مقالات درج شده در کتاب: «آسمان، انسان، فیل»؛ «گزیده کوچک هشت بیتی»؛ «کتاب بزرگ طبیعت»؛ «جیاماریا اورتس»؛ «ناخداهای كنراد»؛ «همینگوی و ما»؛ «خورخه لوئیس بورخس»؛ «فلسفه ریمون کنو»؛ و «ژرژ پرک»؛ ا. شربیانی

  3. 5 out of 5

    Silvia Cachia

    Italo Calvino, in his Why Read the Classics?, expresses it best: 8) A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all thi Italo Calvino, in his Why Read the Classics?, expresses it best: 8) A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives a lot of pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity. From all this we may derive a definition of this type: 9) The classics are books that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon reading, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about. Naturally, this only happens when a classic really works as such—that is, when it establishes a personal rapport with the reader. If the spark doesn’t come, that’s a pity; but we do not read the classics out of duty or respect, but only out of love. Except at school. And school should enable you to know, either well or badly, a certain number of classics among which—or in reference to which—you can then choose your classics. School is obliged to give you the instruments needed to make a choice, but the choices that count are those that occur outside and after school.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karen Witzler

    I did not read every word of this book about books as I have not read more than a few of the classics discussed...but I still loved it. The first chapter is Calvino's fourteen point definition of a "classic" (with elaborations after each point). I copied it out word for word (including that wonderful word "pulviscular") into my own Notebook of Books (it has manatees on the cover) so that I can read this perfect rendering of all I have ever felt for all of literature over and over again in my own I did not read every word of this book about books as I have not read more than a few of the classics discussed...but I still loved it. The first chapter is Calvino's fourteen point definition of a "classic" (with elaborations after each point). I copied it out word for word (including that wonderful word "pulviscular") into my own Notebook of Books (it has manatees on the cover) so that I can read this perfect rendering of all I have ever felt for all of literature over and over again in my own hand. Then, in thirty-five short essays, Calvino shares his thoughts on the classics that he himself, holds dear. (I'm making a Goodreads shelf of his selections.) No women. A lot of Italians, a lot of French, one Persian I hadn't heard of before - Nezami's Haft Peikar - and bookskimmers beware, the writer Cyrano de Bergerac, NOT the play by Rostand. Calvino loves Dr. Zhivago (the longest piece), and Ariosto, Stendhal, Gadda, and Montale each get TWO essays. They are in chronological order and begin with The Odyssey and end with Pavese's The Moon and the Bonfire. No Shakespeare, no Dante, no religious texts, and as I said no women -- but still all a pleasure.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Italo Calvino brilliantly review some most known classics, such as: Odissey by Homer Anabase by Xenofante Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand Robison Crusoe by Daniel Defoe Candide by Voltaire Jacques le Fataliste by Denis Diderot La Chartreuse de Parma by Stendhal Our Mutual Friend by Dickens Daisy Miller by Henry James Doctor Jivago by Boris Pasternak among many other celeb Italo Calvino brilliantly review some most known classics, such as: Odissey by Homer Anabase by Xenofante Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand Robison Crusoe by Daniel Defoe Candide by Voltaire Jacques le Fataliste by Denis Diderot La Chartreuse de Parma by Stendhal Our Mutual Friend by Dickens Daisy Miller by Henry James Doctor Jivago by Boris Pasternak among many other celebrated authors.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    Calvino is not only a brilliant author but also an enigmatic bookworm. He weaves his multi-layered logic with the specific authors and books he’s referencing (one author per essay; 36 essays). If one have read the author/book he’s referencing, it’ll add deeper insights/logic of thought. If not read yet, one’ll be encouraged to read that author/book ASAP. Highlights: Ovid and Universal Contiguity Candide, or Concerning Narrative Rapidity The City as Novel in Balzac Jorge Calvino is not only a brilliant author but also an enigmatic bookworm. He weaves his multi-layered logic with the specific authors and books he’s referencing (one author per essay; 36 essays). If one have read the author/book he’s referencing, it’ll add deeper insights/logic of thought. If not read yet, one’ll be encouraged to read that author/book ASAP. Highlights: Ovid and Universal Contiguity Candide, or Concerning Narrative Rapidity The City as Novel in Balzac Jorge Luis Borges The Philosophy of Raymond Queneau Notes: P83: The Book of Nature in Galileo Philosophy is written in this enormous book which is continuously open before our eyes (I mean the universe), but it cannot be understood unless one first understands the language and recognises the characters with which it is written. It is written in a mathematical language, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures. Without knowledge of his medium it is impossible to understand a single word of it; without this knowledge it is like wandering hopelessly through a dark labyrinth. (Il Saggiatore - Galileo) P124: Knowledge as Dust-cloud in Stendhal Stendhal claims, ‘there is no originality in truth except in the details’. P197: The World is an Artichoke The world’s reality presents itself to our eyes as multiple, prickly, and as densely superimposed layers. Like an artichoke. What counts for us in a work of literature is the possibility of being able to continue to unpeel it like a never-ending artichoke, discovering more and more new dimensions in reading. P223: Francis Ponge Re: read FP’s The Voices of Things Instructions for use are: a few pages every evening will provide a reading which is at one with Ponge’s method of sending out words like tentacles over the porous and variegated substance of the world. P240: Jorge Luis Borges The osmosis between what happens in literature and in real life: the ideal source is not some mythical event that took place before the verbal expression, but a text which is a tissue of words and images and meanings, a harmonisation of motifs which find echoes in each other, a musical space in which a theme develops its own variations. P241: The power of the written word is, then linked to lived experience both as the source and the end of that experience. As a source, because it becomes equivalent of an event which otherwise would not have taken place, as it were; as an end, because for Borges the written word that counts is the one that makes a strong impact on the collective imagination, as an emblematic or conceptual figure, made to be remembered and recognised whenever it appears, whether in the past or in the future. ..maximum concentration of meanings in the brevity of his texts. Re: Borges ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. The hypothesis about time are put forward in TGOFP are each contained (and almost hidden) in just a few lines. First there is an idea of constant time, a kind of subjective, absolute present (‘I reflected that everything happens to a man in this very moment of now. Centuries and centuries, but events happen only in the present; countless men in the air, on land and sea, and everything that really happens, happens to me..’). Then an idea of time determined by will, the time of an action decided on once and for all, in which the future would present itself as irrevocable as the past. Lastly, the story’s central idea: a multiple, ramified time in which every present instant splits into two futures, so as to form ‘an expanding, dizzying web of divergent, convergent and parallel times’. This idea of an infinity of contemporary universes, in which all possibilities are realized in all possible combinations, is not a digression from the story, but the very condition which is required so that the..

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Little bit uneven! Loved his essay on Homer, but the Borges one was surprisingly ineffective for me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Calvino is somewhat less charming as a literary critic than as a novelist. The introductory essay, "Why Read the Classics?," is an old favorite of mine, and I was glad to revisit it. But from there on out, I was mostly left cold. Granted, I hadn't read most of the books he was discussing-- Ovid, Xenophon, Pavese, Gadda, Montale, certain works by Flaubert-- so I was bound to be a bit less engaged than someone who had read the books in question. But even when I had read them (Stendhal, Homer) I wa Calvino is somewhat less charming as a literary critic than as a novelist. The introductory essay, "Why Read the Classics?," is an old favorite of mine, and I was glad to revisit it. But from there on out, I was mostly left cold. Granted, I hadn't read most of the books he was discussing-- Ovid, Xenophon, Pavese, Gadda, Montale, certain works by Flaubert-- so I was bound to be a bit less engaged than someone who had read the books in question. But even when I had read them (Stendhal, Homer) I wasn't terribly impressed. A notable exception: his essay on Hemingway is excellent, largely because it's one of the few writings on the man that manages to transcend both worship of and vicious hatred of Ernest H. Calvino is still probably my favorite writer ever-- if anyone is reading this, there's next to nothing of his stuff on my GoodReads profile because I devoured most of it in high school and college-- but this is easily the weakest of his works that I've encountered.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    In fairness, let me start by saying I didn't read this cover to cover-- I skipped around and ultimately only read about 2/3 of the content. This is a collection of essays on works that Calvino considered Classic. Many of them are firmly in the English Literature canon, but some of them are little more obscure and unfamiliar. If you know the work being discussed, the observations and theories are particularly interesting, but if you don't it feels a little like showing up for class without having In fairness, let me start by saying I didn't read this cover to cover-- I skipped around and ultimately only read about 2/3 of the content. This is a collection of essays on works that Calvino considered Classic. Many of them are firmly in the English Literature canon, but some of them are little more obscure and unfamiliar. If you know the work being discussed, the observations and theories are particularly interesting, but if you don't it feels a little like showing up for class without having done the reading. I found the title essay the most useful.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    Interesting book that tours circa 25 of Calvino's must reads. Some very interesting insights into books by some interesting Italian authors/novels like Cesare Pavese, the charterhouse of parma, but also touches some of the greek classics like ovid's metamorphosis and the iliad. Will certainly be buying some of the books recommended in this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sean Carman

    In this wonderful collection of short essays, Calvino writes about his favorite literary works, from the forgotten fantastical Medieval epic poem Orlando Furioso, which Calvino describes as a Western pre-cursor to The Arabian Nights, to Stendahl's masterpieces The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. There are also essays on Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Jorge Louis Borges. The title is a little misleading: Apart from the brief introductory essay, Calvino does not lecture the reader on the importance of read In this wonderful collection of short essays, Calvino writes about his favorite literary works, from the forgotten fantastical Medieval epic poem Orlando Furioso, which Calvino describes as a Western pre-cursor to The Arabian Nights, to Stendahl's masterpieces The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. There are also essays on Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Jorge Louis Borges. The title is a little misleading: Apart from the brief introductory essay, Calvino does not lecture the reader on the importance of reading the classics, nor does he offer a defense for their relevance. Instead, he celebrates his literary influences in his typically intelligent and entertaining style.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    180413: the first essay 'why read the classics' is reason enough for the rating. but then, I like Calvino... the only problem is that i have not read many of these, so my reviews will not exceed borges's reviews of hypothetical books. it is also interesting to read reviews that consider political expression eg hemingway, pasternak...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Colin Bruce Anthes

    I did not read every page of this collection of essays, but only for the best of reasons. Calvino gives each classic in such enticing life, and I so often had to put aside his commentary because it too successfully made me want to read the book itself. My "ideal library" has expanded substantially through this reading, and that is a gift indeed. Additionally, the opening essay, from which the collection takes its name, is one of the finest and most enjoyable bits of theory I've encountered. I'll I did not read every page of this collection of essays, but only for the best of reasons. Calvino gives each classic in such enticing life, and I so often had to put aside his commentary because it too successfully made me want to read the book itself. My "ideal library" has expanded substantially through this reading, and that is a gift indeed. Additionally, the opening essay, from which the collection takes its name, is one of the finest and most enjoyable bits of theory I've encountered. I'll conclude with an except which could well be applied to this collection: "4. A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much a sense of discovery as the first reading. "5. A classic is a book which even when we read it for the irst time gives the sense of something we have red before."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Raum

    Italo Calvino is my favorite author: I love the elegant lightness of his writing style, and the way he can be refreshing and original even when he deals with the most difficult topics. Some authors become like friends, and for me Calvino is a sort of 'uncle'. Imagine what happens when an author you consider a friend talks about those books that you read and reread -- those books that have been with you in an important phase of your life, and that even after years are like family members you want Italo Calvino is my favorite author: I love the elegant lightness of his writing style, and the way he can be refreshing and original even when he deals with the most difficult topics. Some authors become like friends, and for me Calvino is a sort of 'uncle'. Imagine what happens when an author you consider a friend talks about those books that you read and reread -- those books that have been with you in an important phase of your life, and that even after years are like family members you want to visit now and then. Meanwhile, the books are still the same, but you -- the reader -- have changed and carry new questions with you. Will those beloved books give you the answers? I think so. Those books are 'my' (or your) classics.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brett

    This work is a collection of essays, some unique to this book, in which Calvino writes what he loves most about his favorite classic works of fiction. It will definitely get you excited to go read many of them (m any are Italian works that I'm not familiar with). But reading the string of essays, absent reading the works themselves, gets a little old. I'd recommend the individual essays in conjunction with the work they cover more than the book itself.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adele Emami

    i just had the chance to read one chapter. i loved it. i have plans for reading the whole of it...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zeenat Mahal

    5* for the first chapter and the chapter on Hemingway and Borges. The bits about the joys of learning poetry and the rear view mirrors were great too.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Russell Bittner

    It’s always a somewhat humbling experience to read a book like this one — at least for me. But why ‘humbling?’ Because reading it reminds me of how little I really know about classical literature. As well read in the classics as I sometimes like to believe I am (having almost adamantly refused to read anything written after the nineteenth century until I’d finished my formal education at the age of 34), I realize I’m not — that there’s still a tremendous amount in the Western Canon of It’s always a somewhat humbling experience to read a book like this one — at least for me. But why ‘humbling?’ Because reading it reminds me of how little I really know about classical literature. As well read in the classics as I sometimes like to believe I am (having almost adamantly refused to read anything written after the nineteenth century until I’d finished my formal education at the age of 34), I realize I’m not — that there’s still a tremendous amount in the Western Canon of which I’m profoundly ignorant, except by hearsay or secondary source (to say nothing of my total ignorance of the Eastern Canon — but that’s for another lifetime). What can I say about this treatise? I found the following citation from Stendhal’s Souvenirs d’égotisme to be of particular interest given that the reasoning behind it persuaded Stendahl to give his spiritual allegiance to Italy rather than to England: “The exaggerated and oppressive workload of the English labourer is our revenge for Waterloo…. The poor Italian, dressed only in rags, is much closer to happiness. He has time to make love, and for eight to a hundred days per year he gives himself over to a religion which is so much more interesting because it actually makes him a little bit afraid” (p. 129). Moved as I then was to consult, online, my local library’s supply of books by Stendahl (looking specifically for The Red and the Black, a title I already knew, but also for three I hadn’t known and had learned about only through my reading of Calvino’s book — namely, Lucien Leuwen, The Charterhouse of Parma and On Love — I found that the translations of Stendahl’s works in the Brooklyn Public Library’s borough-wide system (possibly one of the largest in the country, if not in the world) were more prevalent in Russian than in English. While I don’t wish to reach any hasty conclusions about who’s reading the classics these days based on this single query, it doesn’t look good for us natives. Could it be that our own “exaggerated and oppressive workload”—the object of which, I fear, is an equally ‘exaggerated and oppressive’ consumerism that ultimately leaves us spiritually famished — quite simply usurps any time and energy we might otherwise devote to the classics? But this is mere speculation on my part — and I’m here to review, not to speculate. Why Read the Classics? is not a difficult read, but it is a dry one. Given that I finished up my academic career long ago, and that scholarly treatises are far less a part of my daily regimen than is fiction, I’m a poor judge. The best I can offer to future publishers is a note on various errata I found. Apparently, Calvino (or, more likely, his translator, Martin McLaughlin) is not above an occasional Oops! as we see first on pp. 116-17 in Calvino’s essay on Giammaria Ortes: “In the same way an entire typology and categorization of conformisms and rebellions, judged according to their relative levels of sociability or unsociability, could be elaborated from the final sentence of the work where there is a contrast between he (sic!) who is ‘susceptible’ to a greater number of ‘opinions’ and he (sic!) who is ‘susceptible to fewer opinions’: the former becomes ‘more and more reserved, civil and dissimulating’, the latter ‘more sincere, more free and more savage’.” Then, too, in quoting Cesare Pavese on Balzac, we find what may well be just a typographical error in “…but the hunches and tricks of a presiding magistrate flailing away at the mystery which dammit (sic!) must be cleared up” (p. 143). Damn those printers, anyway! A mere two pages later, we find Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend described as “the second last novel he wrote” — and again on p. 257 when Calvino mentions Les Fleurs bleues / The Blue Flowers as “…the second last novel published by (Raymond) Queneau.” Does that make both books the penultimate novels of the two authors, or is it a second novel that each was writing alongside another last novel? We’ll never know — unless, that is, McLaughlin simply omitted the distinctly unprepossessing “to” between “second” and “last” that we’re now meant to supply. Ditto the omission of an equally unprepossessing “on,” by the way, on p. 263 in “…and it is not worth expending any more words (on).” And then there’s that personal bugaboo (on p. 211) that seems to be creeping — at least into English—like so much kudzu: “Montale is one of the few poets who knows (sic!) the secret of using rhyme…”. And yet, before we leave the subject of Eugenio Montale, Calvino make a bold declaration on p. 220: “I will come straight to the point. In an age of generic and abstract words, words that are used for everything, words that are used not to think and not to say, a linguistic plague which is spreading from the public sphere to the private, Montale was the poet of exactness…”. Keep in mind that Calvino published this particular essay in 1981 — i.e., while the Internet was still in utero, and the WorldWideWeb, just a gleam in its mother’s eye. What are we to make of “entitled” (rather than “titled,” as it should be) on p. 151 — i.e., right at the start of the chapter discussing Flaubert’s Trois Contes? Flaubert would never have made this mistake. I doubt, too, that Calvino would’ve made it. I suspect McLaughlin is once again the perpetrator — just as he’s the repeat offender of the same minor crime on p. 241. And finally, just what is Calvino/McLaughlin saying in Calvino’s essay on Hemingway with “…and what I continue to find in his not others’ works.” Might that have been “…in his, and not in others’ works?” Geez, Bowser, throw me a bone, will ya? I’m feeling cantankerous! A few observations and my highlighting of these minor blemishes notwithstanding, is there anything of real substance I can bring to my review of Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino? I wish there were, but I’m not really the man for the job — even if I did find the following, which Calvino culled from Raymond Queneau’s twin expository pieces “What is Art?” and “More and Less,” to be of particular relevance in this age when virtually anything consisting of a few unsung words and serendipitous line breaks passes for poetry: “‘Another highly fallacious idea which nevertheless is very popular nowadays is the equivalence that has been established between inspiration, exploration of the subconscious and liberation; between chance, automatic reaction and freedom. Now this inspiration which consists in blindly obeying every single impulse is in reality a form of slavery. The classical writer composing a tragedy by observing a certain number of rules with which he is familiar is freer than the poet who writes down whatever flits through his head and is enslaved to other rules which he is not aware of” (p. 251). Why, then, the distinctly uncharitable three stars? Because — it seems to me — a work of this kind, if nothing more, should move me to go out and grab the works it analyzes. Other than the works by Stendahl and, quite possibly, the one work by Carlo Emilio Gadda ( Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana / That Awful Mess on Via Merulana ) and another by Cesare Pavese ( La luna e I falò / The Moon and the Bonfires ), it did not. Moreover, I would have to question Calvino’s choices. While every editor’s choice of the “classics” is certainly and rightfully his or her own, this compendium seems just a tad top-heavy with Italians of minor repute outside of Italy. RRB 10/14/14 Brooklyn, NY

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melanti

    I'm not entirely sure why I bought this, since I'm not much of one for Lit Crit. I really should have known better than to buy something in a genre I don't like just because it was written by an author I DO like. The opening essay was great, but I just skimmed a couple of the critical essays to confirm it wouldn't be for me. My favorite of his definitions of "classic" is: The classics are those books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailin I'm not entirely sure why I bought this, since I'm not much of one for Lit Crit. I really should have known better than to buy something in a genre I don't like just because it was written by an author I DO like. The opening essay was great, but I just skimmed a couple of the critical essays to confirm it wouldn't be for me. My favorite of his definitions of "classic" is: The classics are those books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures (or just in the languages and customs) through which they have passed.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Samantha M.

    If you want to learn new words, read literary criticism. If want to find books to read that are not of your native language, read literary criticism. Cyrano de Bergerac sounds interesting enough that I may give a crack at reading it in French... someday.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam McPhee

    In my personal pantheon: Ariosto (Calvino’s two essays here are worth their weight in gold), The Odyssey, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and Hemingway. Better still, Calvino nails what makes them such great books. Books Calvino makes sound intriguing, that I might read: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I should give this a second chance, maybe), Nezami’s Seven Princesses, Tirant lo Blanc (and the other chanson de geste material he mentions inside, in particular the Orlandino), Balzac’s Ferragus, Stendhal (mixed feelings, his first essay ma In my personal pantheon: Ariosto (Calvino’s two essays here are worth their weight in gold), The Odyssey, Xenophon’s Anabasis, and Hemingway. Better still, Calvino nails what makes them such great books. Books Calvino makes sound intriguing, that I might read: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I should give this a second chance, maybe), Nezami’s Seven Princesses, Tirant lo Blanc (and the other chanson de geste material he mentions inside, in particular the Orlandino), Balzac’s Ferragus, Stendhal (mixed feelings, his first essay makes him sound boring, his second one makes Charterhouse sound intriguing, I tried reading The Red and the Black after reading Limonov’s youthful suicide attempt involving that book, but didn’t like it), Henry James's Daisy Miller, Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana and his Pasticciaccio but not his Acquainted with Grief Books I’ve read and didn’t care for: Flaubert’s Three Short Tales (it’s neither good nor bad, just okay, it is interesting to see a modern take on the imagery of a tapestry or stained glass window type artwork and from inside that artwork, as Calvino puts it about The Legend of St Julien the Hospitaller, but it’s still just a short story without a whole lot going on; Calvino does them justice, but they’re not great; interesting too that Calvino calls this period of writing the height of imagery with Flaubert being the perfect balance of word and image, and a crisis of image emerging in the novel with the advent of cinema), Voltaire’s Candide (he makes it sound good enough that I’d like to re-read it, but I hated it the first time, maybe a second chance some day?), anything by Joseph Conrad. Books Calvino makes sound intriguing, but that I have no interest in reading: Pliny (I’ve read a very little Pliny, as Calvino says most people do, not systematically from start to finish, but looking up what he has to say on such-and-such a topic, and looking to pluck out the weird and bizarre bits in particular), Galileo, Cyrano on the Moon, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Diderot’s Jacque le Fataliste, Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, Tolstoy’s Two Hussars, Borges, Queneau. Books Calvino makes sound boring, that I won’t read: Geralamo Cardano, Giammaria Ortes, Mark Twain's The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, R.L. Stephenson's The Pavilion on the Links, Pasternak, Montale's poetry, Ponge. Underlined passages: (view spoiler)[ – In reply to Sanguined I pointed out (in the Corriere della sera, 14 October 1975) that ‘in the language of myth, as in that of folktales and popular romances, every enterprise which restores justice, rights wrongs, and rescues people from poverty, is usually represented as the restoration of an ideal order belonging to the past; the desirability of a future that we must conquer is thus guaranteed by the memory of a past we have lost’. If we examine folktales, we shall see that they present two types of social transformation, both with a happy ending: either from riches to rags then back to riches again; or simply from rags to riches. In the first type it is the prince who because of some misfortune is reduced to being a swineherd or some other lowly person, only to recover his royal status in the end; in the second type there is usually a youth who is born with nothing, a shepherd or peasant, someone who maybe even lacks courage as well, but who either through his own resources or helped by magic beings manages to marry the princess and become king. The same schemes apply to fables with female protagonists: in the first kind the girl falls from a royal or at least privileged condition to being poor through a stepmother’s or stepsisters’ jealousy (like Snow White and Cinderella respectively), until a prince falls in love with her and returns her to the top of the social ladder; in the second type there is a real shepherdess or country girl who overcomes all the disadvantages of her humble origins and ends up marrying royalty. You might think that it is the second type of folktale that articulates most directly the popular desire for a reversal of roles and of individual destinies in society, while those of the first kind filter them into a more attenuated form, as the restoration of a hypothetical preceding order. But on closer reflection, the extraordinary fortunes of the shepherd or shepherdess reflect merely a consolatory miracle or dream, which will be broadly taken up by popular romances. Whereas the misfortunes of the prince or the queen connect the idea of poverty with the idea of rights that have been trampled on, of an injustice that must be avenged. In other words this second kind of tale establishes (on the level of fantasy, where abstract ideas can take the form of archetypal figures) something that will become a fundamental point for the whole social conscience of the modern age, from the French Revolution onwards. In the collective unconscious the prince in pauper’s clothing is the proof that every pauper is in reality a prince whose throne has been usurped and who has to reconquer his kingdom. Ulysses or Guerin Meschino or Robin Hood are kings or sons of kings or noble knights overtaken by misfortune who, when they eventually triumph over their enemies, will restore a just society in which their true identity will be recognised. – (It is worth recalling here Nuto Revelli’s La guerra dei poveri (The War Declared by the Poor) for the passion and frenzy of the disillusioned officer; as well as another fine book, unjustly forgotten, J lunghi fucili (The Long Rifles) by Cristoforo M. Negri.) – Thus while still discussing elephants, a digression informs us about their natural enemy, dragons; and talking of wolves, Pliny records the legends about werewolves, though he does criticise Greek credulity. This sort of zoology contains the amphisbaena, the basilisk, the catoblepas, the crocotas, corocottas, leucocrotas, leontophons, and mantichores which will migrate from these pages to populate medieval bestiaries – The priest still manages to save from that provincial bonfire of vanities the major source texts, Amadís de Gaula and Tirant lo Blanc, along with the verse romances of Boiardo and Ariosto (in the original Italian and not in translation, in which they lose ‘su natural valor’). As far as these books are concerned, unlike others which are spared because they are considered to conform to morality (such as Palmerín de Inglaterra), it appears as if their salvation is due largely to their aesthetic values: but which ones? We shall see that the qualities that count for Cervantes (but to what extent can we be sure that Cervantes’ opinions coincide with those of the curate and the barber rather than with those of Don Quixote?) are literary originality (Amadís is defined as ‘único en su arte’) and human truth (Tirant lo Blanc is praised because ‘aquí comen los caballeros, y duermen y mueren en sus camas, y hacen testamento antes de sua muerte, con otras cosas de que los demás libros deste género carecen’ (here knights eat, sleep and die in their beds, and make a will before they die, along with other things which find no place in other books of this kind)). Thus Cervantes (or at least that part of Cervantes that coincides with etc.) respects chivalric works the more they contravene the rules of the genre: it is no longer the myth of chivalry that counts, but the worth of the book as a text. This is a criterion that is the opposite to Don Quixote’s (and to that part of Cervantes that identifies with his hero), who refuses to distinguish between literature and life and wants to find the myth outside the books. – It might be worth recalling that many years before Cervantes, in 1526, we already find a pyre for books of chivalry, or more precisely, a choice between which books to condemn to the flames and which to save. I refer to a very minor text which is hardly known at all: the Orlandino, a brief epic poem in Italian verse by Teofilo Folengo (who was more famous under the name of Merlin Cocai as the author of the Baldus, a poem in macaronic Latin mixed with Mantuan dialect). In the first canto of the Orlandino, Folengo recounts that he was taken by a witch flying on the back of a ram to a cavern in the Alps where the real chronicles of Bishop Turpin are preserved: Turpin was the legendary source of the entire Carolingian cycle. When he compares them with this source he discovers that the poems by Boiardo, Ariosto, Pulci and Cieco da Ferrara are all truthful, even though they contain rather arbitrary additions. Ma Trebisunda, Ancroja, Spagna e Bovo coll’altro resto al foco sian donate; apocrife son tutte, e le riprovo come nemiche d’ogni veritate; Bojardo, l’Ariosto, Pulci e ’l Cieco autentici sono, ed io con seco (But Trebisunda, Ancroja, Spagna and Bovo with all the others, should be consigned to the fire: they are all apocryphal, and I accuse them of being the enemies of all truthfulness; but Boiardo, Ariosto, Pulci and Cieco are authentic, and I along with them.) ‘El verdadero historiador Turpin’, mentioned also by Cervantes, was a regular point of ludic reference in Renaissance Italian chivalric poems. Even Ariosto, when he feels he has been exaggerating too much, shields himself behind the authority of Turpin: The legendary Turpin’s role will be assigned by Cervantes in his work to the mysterious Cide Hamete Benengeli, whose Arabic manuscript he claims merely to be translating. But Cervantes is operating in a world that is by now radically different: truth for him has to be comparable with everyday experience, with common sense and also with the precepts of Counter-Reformation religion. For fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian poets (up to but not including Tasso, in whose case the question becomes really complicated) truth was still fidelity to a myth, as it was for the Knight of La Mancha. We can see this even in a late sequel such as Folengo’s, which is halfway between popular and erudite poetry: the spirit of myth, handed down from time immemorial, is symbolised by a book, Turpin’s book, which lies at the origin of all books, a hypothetical book, accessible only through magic (Boiardo too, says Folengo, was a friend of witches), a book of magic as well as a book of magic tales. – The Orlando Furioso is an epic which refuses to begin and which refuses to end. It refuses to begin because it presents itself as the continuation of another poem, the Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo, which had been left unfinished at the authors death. And it refuses to end because Ariosto never stopped working on the poem. Having published it in a first edition as a poem of forty canti in 1516, he constantly sought to expand it, first by trying to write a sequel, which also remained incomplete (the so-called Cinque canti, published posthumously), then by inserting new episodes into the central canti, so that in the third and definitive edition published in 1532 the number of canti rose to forty-six. In between there was a second edition, in 1521, which also bore the signs of the poem’s unfinished nature in that it was simply a polished version of the first, consisting solely in a refinement of the language and metre to which Ariosto continued to devote great attention. An attention which lasted all his life, one could really say, since it had taken him twelve years’ labour to produce the first edition of 1516, and another sixteen years’ work before publishing the 1532 edition: one year later he was dead. This expansion from within, with episodes proliferating from other episodes, generating new symmetries and contrasts, seems to me to epitomise perfectly Ariosto’s creative method: for him this was the only real way of continuing this poem with its polycentric, synchronic structure, whose episodes spiral off in every direction, continually intersecting with and bifurcating from each other. – Diderot had worked out that actually the most rigidly deterministic conceptions of the world are the ones which generate in the individual will an urge to move forward, as though will and free choice can only be effective if they carve out their openings against the hard rock of necessity. This had been true of the religions which had exalted the will of God to the maximum over man’s will, and it will also be true in the two centuries after Diderot which will see new theories of a determinist kind assert themselves in biology, economics and society, and psychology. We can say today that these theories have opened the way to genuine freedoms even as they established an awareness of necessity, whereas cults of will and activism have only led to disasters. – And finally it triumphs because it immerses us more than ever in the spirit of childhood games, with sieges, sallies, and attacks by rival gangs. The great resource that children have is that they know how to derive from the space that they have available for their games all the magic and emotion they need. Stevenson has retained this gift: he starts with the mystique of that elegant pavilion rising up in the middle of a natural wilderness (a pavilion ‘Italian in design’: perhaps this qualification already hints at the imminent intrusion of an exotic, unfamiliar element?); then there is the secret entry into the empty house, the discovery of the table already set, the fire ready for lighting, the beds prepared, though there is not a soul to be seen … a fairy-tale motif transplanted into an adventure story. – I believe there were many of us who turned to Conrad driven by a recidivist taste for adventure-stories—but not just for adventure stories, also for those authors for whom adventures are only a pretext for saying something original about man, while the exotic events and countries serve to underline more clearly man’s relationship with the world. – There is another poem which is even more significant for defining this Borgesian continuity between historical events, literary epics, poetic transformation of events, the power of literary motifs, and their influence on the collective imagination. And this too is a poem which concerns us closely, because it mentions the other Italian epic which Borges knows in detail, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. The poem is entided ‘Ariosto and the Arabs’. In it Borges runs through the Carolingian and Arthurian epics which merge in Ariosto’s poem, which skims over these elements of the tradition as though on the hippogriff. In other words it transforms them into a fantasy which is both ironic and yet full of pathos. The popularity of the Orlando Furioso ensured that the dreams of medieval heroic legends were transmitted to European culture (Borges cites Milton as a reader of Ariosto), right down to the moment when what had been the dreams of Charlemagne’s enemies, that is to say the dreams of the Arab world, supersede them. The Arabian Nights conquer the imagination of European readers, taking the place that had once been held by the Orlando Furioso in the collective imagination. There is thus a war between the fantasy worlds of the West and the East which prolongs the historic war between Charlemagne and the Saracens, and it is in this later war that the Orient gains its revenge. (hide spoiler)]

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael de Percy

    This is the second book of Calvino's work, and the only of his non-fiction works, that I have read. The first was Marcovaldo, a collection of short stories about an Italian peasant who attempts to "reconcile country habits with urban life". I was aware that Calvino was regarded as something of a philosopher, and the title of this work intrigued me after reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. What I found interesting about Why Read the Classics?, which is effectively a collection of book reviews, is that Calvino cov This is the second book of Calvino's work, and the only of his non-fiction works, that I have read. The first was Marcovaldo, a collection of short stories about an Italian peasant who attempts to "reconcile country habits with urban life". I was aware that Calvino was regarded as something of a philosopher, and the title of this work intrigued me after reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. What I found interesting about Why Read the Classics?, which is effectively a collection of book reviews, is that Calvino covers from Homer to the present, adding a touch of personal insight into each review, and a depth that is still beyond my reading of the Great Books. Calvino does what I have been doing for some time now (albeit I do this nowhere near as well). I suspect that the individual essays in this collection were written as Calvino read or re-read these classic authors and their books. The first essay, which provides the title of the book, provides Calvino's list of fourteen definitions of a "classic book". In the introduction, the translator, Martin McLaughlin, uses Calvino's definitions to put forward an all-encompassing definition that I find useful in identifying "classic" works with more than just "old" works:A classic work is a work which (like each of Calvino's texts) retains a consciousness of its own modernity without ceasing to be aware of other classic works of the past.Of the thirty-six essays, only eleven of the essays had appeared in English before. This immediately strikes me as fortunate, yet, at the same time, somewhat saddened that there is so much that monolingual readers like myself will never have the opportunity to read. Calvino provides confirmation of Mortimer Adler's view on reading classic works, and justifies my own stance on using my time for a first-hand reading, even though I must admit that a good deal of my learning up until completing my PhD was based on secondary sources (beyond journal articles and historical texts). Calvino suggests that: Reading a classic must also surprise us, when we compare it to the image we previously had of it. That is why we can never recommend enough a first-hand reading of the text itself, avoiding as far as possible secondary bibliography, commentaries, and other interpretations. What I also find interesting is that Calvino explains what I feel when re-reading classic works that I may not have understood when I was younger. For example: When we reread the book in our maturity, we then rediscover these constants which by now form part of our inner mechanisms though we have forgotten where they came from. This leads me to another of Calvino's definitions which rings true:A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.I have experienced this many times before, however, it was most obvious recently when reading John Stuart Mill and Ruskin. In yet another definition, Calvino explains this further: A classic does not necessarily teach us something that we did not know already; sometimes we discover in a classic something which we had always known (or had always thought we knew) but did not realise that the classic text had said it first (or that the idea was connected with the text in a particular way). And this discovery is also a very gratifying surprise, as is always the case when we learn the source of an idea, or its connection with the text, or who said it first. Again, Calvino justifies my own approach. For example, he says that a "person who derives maximum benefit from a reading of the classics is the one who skilfully alternates classic readings with calibrated doses of contemporary material" (p. 8). That is not to say that I consider myself to be particularly wise. Indeed, Calvino tells me that my reason for alternating classics with contemporary materials might be "the result of an impatient, nervy temperament, of someone constantly irritated and dissatisfied". This is probably closer to the truth. In Calvino's essay on the Odyssey he discusses the nature of folktales. In this way he echoes Aristotle's Poetics. For example, he looks at stories of rags to riches or the more complex riches to rags and back to riches again and how these different types of misfortune are enjoyed by all because these represent "the restoration of an ideal order belonging to the past" (p. 13). In some ways, this explains why I like the classics, yet Calvino warns us that: The contemporary world may be banal and stultifying, but it is always the context in which we have to place ourselves to look either backwards or forwards (p. 8).So Calvino is not simply a "stuck in the mud", but for me, he places the classics in an appropriate context. While much was familiar in these essays, there was also a good deal of work that was unfamiliar to me. Many of these authors did not produce their works in English, hence my unfortunate lack of knowledge. One such author, Stendhal, introduced me to the interesting idea that "liberty and progress... was suffocated by the Restoration" (p. 136), and that Pliny considered there to be a "tacit accord" reached between peoples about "three cultural facts". These include "the adoption of the (Greek and Roman) alphabet; shaving of men's faces by Barber; and the marking of the hours of the day on a sundial" (pp. 44-5). There are some familiar authors too, including Dickens, Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that the behaviourist, B.F. Skinner, makes an appearance (p. 116), albeit briefly. There is little to be gained from going over each of the essays, however, I have kept notes that I can return to in accordance with Mortimer Adler's rules for reading. The concluding essay, Parvese and Human Sacrifice, provides an interesting response to politics that is relevant today: ...as though he were shrugging his shoulders because everything is already clear and is not worth expending any more words (p. 263). However, it is "The Philosophy of Raymond Queneau", the second last essay, that concludes the work best for me, in that the written word need not be pompous and unwelcoming, where a writer could make the reader:...feel on the same level as he is, as they were about to play a round of cards with friends... [yet such a writer] is in reality someone with a cultural background that can never be fully explored, the background whose implications and presuppositions, explicit or implicit, one can never exhaust (p. 246). Calvino wrote many other works, including novels and non-fiction, and although I understand he was a very private person, his letters have recently been published. I think I shall read more of his fiction and non-fiction before I delve further into the his private life. But clearly, there is much to be learnt from reading Calvino.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sung-Gi Kim

    Quotes from the book 1) ….to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth. 2) We use the word “classics” for those books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them. 3) There sho Quotes from the book 1) ….to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth. 2) We use the word “classics” for those books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them. 3) There should therefore be a time in adult life devoted to revisiting the most important books of our youth. 4) Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading. 5) Every reading of a classic is in fact a rereading. 6) A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. 7) The classics are the books that come down to us bearing upon them the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through. 8) A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. 9) The classics are books that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon reading, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about. 10) We use the word “classic” of a book that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. 11) Your classic author is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him. 12) A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree. 13) A classic is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise […] 14) A classic is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dave Logghe

    It feels kind of like cheating to say that I read this, because in reality, I read Calvino's essay about classics at the beginning of the book, then read the essays which I was knowledgeable enough to follow (which still amounted to a few essays). I love Calvino's thoughts on classics and their importance in our lives as readers. He talks about the difference in reading something in one's youth as opposed to reading it as an adult which I found really interesting. He said that as an adult, we sh It feels kind of like cheating to say that I read this, because in reality, I read Calvino's essay about classics at the beginning of the book, then read the essays which I was knowledgeable enough to follow (which still amounted to a few essays). I love Calvino's thoughts on classics and their importance in our lives as readers. He talks about the difference in reading something in one's youth as opposed to reading it as an adult which I found really interesting. He said that as an adult, we should set aside time to read the books that were most important in our youth. This is because of the natural change that occurs when we have seen a bit more of what life has to offer and we have different context for a number of situations and circumstances. It left me wanting to revisit 1984, A Wrinkle in Time and others. The text does come across as pretty dry from time to time, very dense with literary criticism "lingo." However, after a short period of adjustment, it didn't trip me up too badly. It definitely made me want to look more critically at what I read and spend a bit more time thinking about what it means in general and what it specifically means to me. It was an inspiring read and I think it would be very handy to read the opening essay in any literary criticism/discussion class.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Yara (The Narratologist)

    First of all, let's start with the irony of that title: in order to understand the essays in this volume, you need to have read the classics (or some of them at least). Only the first essay tries to find an answer to that question, the rest of the book is full of Calvino's thoughts on some of his favourite works of literature. Now, I am not familiar with Calvino's work as a writer of fiction, but as an essayist, he didn't exactly blow my mind. He is clearly passionate about the "class First of all, let's start with the irony of that title: in order to understand the essays in this volume, you need to have read the classics (or some of them at least). Only the first essay tries to find an answer to that question, the rest of the book is full of Calvino's thoughts on some of his favourite works of literature. Now, I am not familiar with Calvino's work as a writer of fiction, but as an essayist, he didn't exactly blow my mind. He is clearly passionate about the "classics" he covers and it shows, but I feel that this book doesn't offer much that is new or revolutionary for reasonably well-read literature students (like myself, she said modestly). There is a lot of summarising and Calvino pointing at things and going: "Isn't this neat?" I know it's neat, Calvino. I've read the book. I can deduce most of this myself and the majority of your information is listed on Wikipedia, so I was hoping that you would dig a little deeper than that. The first essay on what makes a work a classic is cute, but again, nothing we haven't heard many times before. Overall, it's not bad, just a tad disappointing. For such a well-known writer, these essays are average. Fine. Okay. But I expected more from you, Calvino.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    A collection of essays by Italo Calvino about classic works of literature. I really liked the discussions of Homer, Galileo, Ovid and Borges. One of the more interesting sounding books he discussed (about the quantification of beauty) has never been translated into English. Some ideas that struck me: that the Roman gods themselves had household gods. That the alphabet, like colors of paint, can represent all things by its combinatorial arrangements, and it does this precisely because each l A collection of essays by Italo Calvino about classic works of literature. I really liked the discussions of Homer, Galileo, Ovid and Borges. One of the more interesting sounding books he discussed (about the quantification of beauty) has never been translated into English. Some ideas that struck me: that the Roman gods themselves had household gods. That the alphabet, like colors of paint, can represent all things by its combinatorial arrangements, and it does this precisely because each letter doesn't carry a specific meaning (just like there isn't a color for just painting bird feathers). That corals were the product of Medusa's head looking into the water as Theseus prepared to fight the Kraken. The multiple conceptions of time expressed in the Garden of Forking Paths. The parallel between a city and a series of novels in discussing Balzac.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    "The world's reality presents itself to our eyes as multiple, prickly, and as densely superimposed layers. Like an artichoke. What counts for us in a work of literature is the possibility of being able to continue to unpeel it like a never-ending artichoke, discovering more and more new dimensions in reading." Suffice to say, I have not read all the classics mentioned in Calvino's essays. Some of those that i've read are - Robinson Crusoe by Defoe, Dickens, Twain, and Hemingway. I'd i "The world's reality presents itself to our eyes as multiple, prickly, and as densely superimposed layers. Like an artichoke. What counts for us in a work of literature is the possibility of being able to continue to unpeel it like a never-ending artichoke, discovering more and more new dimensions in reading." Suffice to say, I have not read all the classics mentioned in Calvino's essays. Some of those that i've read are - Robinson Crusoe by Defoe, Dickens, Twain, and Hemingway. I'd imagine the essays to be more enjoyable if i've read the other classics critiqued. Clearly there is treasure to be found in the reading and rereading of these classics. I gained that the reader's opinions of the classics also change overtime, and is affected by our experiences.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Larry Wentzel

    Fantastic book. The book is a collection of literary critiques by Italo Calvino, an Italian writer of fantasy and folklore, of some "classics" of Western Literature -- Homer's Odyssey, Xenophon's Anabasis, Ovid's Metamorphoses, all the way through modern times. The critiques are short (8-12 pages) and give the author's view of what makes the work a classic for him. The book leads with an introduction of what Calvino thinks makes a book a classic -- 12 cases that build on one another (in a typical Calvino manner... Fantastic book. The book is a collection of literary critiques by Italo Calvino, an Italian writer of fantasy and folklore, of some "classics" of Western Literature -- Homer's Odyssey, Xenophon's Anabasis, Ovid's Metamorphoses, all the way through modern times. The critiques are short (8-12 pages) and give the author's view of what makes the work a classic for him. The book leads with an introduction of what Calvino thinks makes a book a classic -- 12 cases that build on one another (in a typical Calvino manner... no thought is finished before it leads to the next). Great book, highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rikke

    The first essay was a lovely reminder of the true value one can gain from reading the classics. Calvino's criteria for a good book makes a very straight-forward and relatable definition of the books we call 'classics'. Sadly I did not find the rest of the book as engaging as the first essay. Calvino's commentary on the big classics were too short to be defined as an analysis, and yet too complex to be defined as simple essays. I might add, that I didn't read them all, as I found it very hard to The first essay was a lovely reminder of the true value one can gain from reading the classics. Calvino's criteria for a good book makes a very straight-forward and relatable definition of the books we call 'classics'. Sadly I did not find the rest of the book as engaging as the first essay. Calvino's commentary on the big classics were too short to be defined as an analysis, and yet too complex to be defined as simple essays. I might add, that I didn't read them all, as I found it very hard to relate to a text which I haven't read. Calvino is very specific and esoteric in his writing.

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