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by Italo Calvino & translated by Patrick Creagh

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1986
ISBN: 0156932504
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Apart from the oddly utilitarian-minded title, everything in this book by the Italian fantasist is lovable and worthy of attention. Calvino's affection for literature is visible on every page, and disarms the reader who might be inclined to disagree with some of his opinions. The first part contains thoughts on literary theory, criticism, and philosophy. Calvino, like Borges, cannot avoid quirky personal judgments, such as the notion that Galileo is the greatest Italian writer. In this first section, Calvino criticizes Roland Barthes for being a rather dry, overly scientific writer. This hardly prepares the reader for the second part of the book, where an adulatory essay is informed with stunned grief at Barthes' unexpected death. In this latter section, where Calvino deals with specific predilections, his warmhearted generosity is most appealing. His appreciation of Marianne Moore seems somehow just, as both writers were insatiable collectors of physical facts about the world. Calvino's thoughts on Ovid, Ariosto, and Balzac are all worthy of note here. Calvino was a litterateur without limits. From an Italian writer we might expect insights into Manzoni and Montale, yet Calvino was also a Francophile and had intriguing thoughts about Stendhal, Fourier, and Voltaire. His range even extends delightfully to an appreciation of Saul Steinberg. For a genial browse through world literature with a charming host, these essays could hardly be bettered.