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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 forerunn 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 forerunn 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. 5 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. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    From Homer, Ovid, Xenophon, Stendhal, and Balzac, to Defoe, Dickens, Conrad, Pasternak, and Hemingway, Calvino, with fascinating insight gives, his take on these writers, among others, as to why their 'classics' are precisely just that: classics. Calvino resounds with a deep sense of wonder, and writes wholeheartedly in a chirpy unpretentious manner, of which, it's clear to see just what his favourite classics meant to him. He lays out his reasoning in fourteen key points at the start of the book From Homer, Ovid, Xenophon, Stendhal, and Balzac, to Defoe, Dickens, Conrad, Pasternak, and Hemingway, Calvino, with fascinating insight gives, his take on these writers, among others, as to why their 'classics' are precisely just that: classics. Calvino resounds with a deep sense of wonder, and writes wholeheartedly in a chirpy unpretentious manner, of which, it's clear to see just what his favourite classics meant to him. He lays out his reasoning in fourteen key points at the start of the book before we actually get to writers. Three for example are - '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, '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' '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' Some of the essays on offer are only a few pages long, while others are more expansive, and while is it was great reading of the writers mentioned above, my particular interest was with fellow Italians - Cesare Pavese, Eugenio Montale, and Carlo Emilio Gadda. Calvino wrote some superb stuff on Montale & Gadda, but to my disappointment, no sooner had I started reading his thoughts on Pavese (one of fave writers), it was all over in a flash, which for me, was a shame. It maybe didn't help that I hadn't read some of the famous classics he was referring to. The likes of - The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe, Our Mutual Friend, and The Charterhouse of Parma still have yet to sit comfortably in my lap. There is a good chance they won't ever end up there either. As who in their right mind can say they've read every single classic on the planet! These literary essays were thought-provoking, invigorating, and a real pleasure to read, but I'm going for four stars over five because some of them were simply just too short.

  3. 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 many o 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 2003میلادی عنوان: چرا باید کلاسیک ها را خواند؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: آزیتا همپارتیان؛ تهران، کاروان، 1381؛ در 276ص؛ 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 از نویسندگان ایتالیایی - سده 20م 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»؛ تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 02/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

  4. 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 this we may der 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Henk

    A bundle full of love for literature, but at times quite hermetic and jarringly focussed on works from men 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. 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. 11) Your classic author i A bundle full of love for literature, but at times quite hermetic and jarringly focussed on works from men 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. 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. 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. A collection of essays on literature from Italo Calvino. Especially the first 14 statements on what a classic read should or could be is brilliant. Some of them I’ve included above, you can find the rest via below link: http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/it... Interestingly enough in this essay Calvino already notes that literature has it hard versus the buzz of modern life in a tv age (and before the internet). The 30 odd essays that follow are on classics as defined by Calvino. The pieces, introductions, commentaries in newspapers and obituaries, are put in a chronologic order and range from Homer to Cesare Pavese, with special fondness for French and Italian authors. Jarringly, despite a nod to Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, not one female writer comes back in an essay, and besides one Persian author, the same goes for none Western writers. The pieces are highly cerebral and often insightful. The Odyssee for instance is presented as a tale of restoration, a tale not unlike the abandoned princesses who turn into stepdaughters, before being made once more into a princess in fairytales. The unreliability of Odysseus, and how his tale can just be a story to explain away in an acceptable manner his absence, is an other perspective brought up by Calvino. The possibility of older, more supernatural mythology clashing and being integrated into then “modern” hero tales like the The Iliad is an other view I never thought of while reading Homer. The essays put behind each other shows a kind of progression in literature till about Stendhal and can serve as a good intro to Western literature development till that point. Orlando Furioso triggered my interest, and Galileo Galilei dissing Acrimboldo is also a new thing for me. The perspective on Cyrano de Bergerac as 17th century sf writer, predicting amongst others gramophones, DNA and supernova’s made me curious. Also the way Calvino writes about Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges and Raymond Queneau intrigued me. In general it is nice to get some background on the setting of the writers and how this influenced their books. Interestingly, Calvino often doesn’t pick the more known works of the writers. Sometimes the picks are so obscure, like a nautical non-fiction from Joseph Conrad instead of Heart of Darkness, that it feels a bit show off erudite like from Calvino’s side. The bundle is sometimes not very inviting at times, maybe also because Italian poetry is not my thing. The love for literature is however clearly present and I can imagine myself returning to this bundle when I end up picking up some of the books Calvino writes about in Why Read the Classics?.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Ted

    127th book of 2020. I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time: It is a book that has managed to elude me, by being hard to get hold of or else expensive to get hold of. I am in debt to my old university housemate who bought and gifted me this. Despite wracking my brain for a Calvino related anecdote involving us, I cannot think of one. The only thing that comes to mind is reading my first ever Calvino, Invisible Cities, whilst lying on my bed in our old house in Chichester. So can give only 127th book of 2020. I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time: It is a book that has managed to elude me, by being hard to get hold of or else expensive to get hold of. I am in debt to my old university housemate who bought and gifted me this. Despite wracking my brain for a Calvino related anecdote involving us, I cannot think of one. The only thing that comes to mind is reading my first ever Calvino, Invisible Cities, whilst lying on my bed in our old house in Chichester. So can give only my thanks; it was worth it. - Italo Calvino All that can be done is for each one of us to invest our own ideal library for our classics; and I would say that one half of it should consist of books we have read and that have meant something for us, and the other half of books which we intend to read and which we suppose might mean something to us. We should also leave a section of empty spaces for surprises and chance discoveries. Calvino writes with grace in both his fictions and his essays. He is a fantastic writer in the fact I believe he is quite multifaceted, and by that I also mean that my own view of him is multifaceted. My lecturer referred to him once as being ‘icy’ – a term I have adopted as my own in reference to him. In fact, the full quote, as I have quoted before in my The Baron in the Trees review: “An icy postmodernist”, whom one “admires more than enjoys”. In some cases, I would agree. I am in awe of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, but my enjoyment when reading it is another matter entirely. Any iciness, postmodernist-ness, is void here – what is left is Calvino at his intelligent and most graceful self. The first essay is the title essay, and Calvino attempts to define a ‘classic’ novel, which ironically, his own novels fall into, in my opinion. He proposes 14 definitions, headings, and then further expansion into several; my favourite headings are: 5. 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. 6. A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers. 9. Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them. After the title essay, in a further 35 essays, Calvino journeys through many essays on a number of writers and novels. He covers Conrad, Hemingway, Borges, Stevenson, James, Dickens, Twain, Tolstoy, Homer, Dafoe and more. Though I would only recommend these essays to readers particularly interested in the writers, Calvino’s thoughts on them and their style and influence, or simply in the grace and ease of his essay writing in general. Even essays concerning writers I was not aware of, or else uninterested in, I found great enjoyment through Calvino’s prose. The essays are dated between the 60s and the 80s. Of course, the most interesting essays for me were about writers I care for and read: Hemingway, Borges, Twain, Conrad, etc. The essays that surprised me the most were on Gadda and Pliny. I considered adding quotes and thoughts on Calvino’s thoughts on other writers, but for one, I’d spoil it, and for another, it would end up being too like a Borges story, wouldn’t it? My thoughts, on Calvino’s thoughts, on someone else. Or even, sometimes, my thoughts, on Calvino’s thoughts, on another writer’s thoughts, on a final writer. We don’t have time.

  7. 5 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    W.D. Clarke

    At their best these essays make you long to rush out and read those writers that Calvino is dealing with and considers to be his personal "classics" (e.g. those on Nezami*, Voltaire, Diderot, Stendhal*, Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Twain, Conrad, Pasternak*, Hemingway* and Queneau*...quite the majority of them, in fact. But as this this a collection assembled after the author's death, and anyhow like any selection of occasional essays from across four decades of a career, there are also i At their best these essays make you long to rush out and read those writers that Calvino is dealing with and considers to be his personal "classics" (e.g. those on Nezami*, Voltaire, Diderot, Stendhal*, Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Twain, Conrad, Pasternak*, Hemingway* and Queneau*...quite the majority of them, in fact. But as this this a collection assembled after the author's death, and anyhow like any selection of occasional essays from across four decades of a career, there are also included here those essays which are a bit of a chore to read, which require you to have already read the writers, or read them recently in order to really "get" the pieces (e.g. those on Ovid, Ariosto, James, Gadda, Montale, Ponge, and (alas!) Borges. A very good innings, then, all in all, and now I long to also revisit the maestro's own fiction, which I haven't done for some years.... *note: the starred essays were particularly moving, and/or seminal—reflecting, no doubt, Calvino's affinity for, and sympathy with, his subjects, as much as his remarkable erudition, which is evident always & everywhere throughout, albeit with great modesty and elegance....

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Just found my old copy of this at my parent’s house this Xmas eve. Flicking through I am reminded why I recalled it so fondly. Excellent pieces on Tirant lo Blanc (which i still need to read!), Diderot, Gadda, Montale, Queneau, Dickens and many more. Recommended to any and all book lovers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I was prescribed this book for an MA I am about to start this September, though this was actually very convient for me as I have been meaning to read this for a while. Essentially, this collection of essays are calvino espousing what he loves about some of his favourite authors and works of fiction. It's organised in a general chronological order of when an author was active (Homer before Hemingway). The real joy that comes from reading this collection is the the unbridled enthusiasm Calvino has f I was prescribed this book for an MA I am about to start this September, though this was actually very convient for me as I have been meaning to read this for a while. Essentially, this collection of essays are calvino espousing what he loves about some of his favourite authors and works of fiction. It's organised in a general chronological order of when an author was active (Homer before Hemingway). The real joy that comes from reading this collection is the the unbridled enthusiasm Calvino has for the works he is reviewing. In one essay he goes back to a poet he had been taught in school and compares the poet's works to the misremembered lines that calvino has had floating in his brain since adolescence and endeavours to understand *why* exactly his brain changed the phrasing or the metre. This collection has really opened me up to authors I never had a interest in reading, or even knew existed. So far I've bought a copy of Pliny the Elder's Natural History and have decided to try and get my hands on some of the works of Balzac, Ariosto, Montale, Francis Ponge, and Jorge Luis Borges. One shortcoming is that the collection is entirely filled with male authors (unless I seriously missed something), however I'd most likely put that down to history being unkind to female writers, also this collection was not organised by him as its publication was posthumous.

  11. 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 celebrated authors.

  12. 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 Luis Borges The Philosophy of 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..

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jakub

    A great collection of thought provoking musings on the literature admired by Calvino. Most of it "global" classics but some not so well known outside of Italy. As with such musings, they show how Calvino views literature and what he values. A great read to pick out and read one by one at an easy pace. A great collection of thought provoking musings on the literature admired by Calvino. Most of it "global" classics but some not so well known outside of Italy. As with such musings, they show how Calvino views literature and what he values. A great read to pick out and read one by one at an easy pace.

  14. 4 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.

  15. 4 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)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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. 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.

  19. 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... 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...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This book was not exactly what I expected... Previous to reading this book, I thought it would be a long essay about the importance of reading the classics, and I was hoping to find in it important arguments and thoughts ont his topic; given that we live in an era where appreciation of the classics is declining, and in some situations these oeuvres are even being attacked. However, this book turned out to be a collection of essays that Calvino has written about multiple classics, starting with s This book was not exactly what I expected... Previous to reading this book, I thought it would be a long essay about the importance of reading the classics, and I was hoping to find in it important arguments and thoughts ont his topic; given that we live in an era where appreciation of the classics is declining, and in some situations these oeuvres are even being attacked. However, this book turned out to be a collection of essays that Calvino has written about multiple classics, starting with some ancient texts, until arriving to some of the more "modern" classics. These essays have proven to be an interesting read, full of Calvino's deep thought and witticisms, and as such are a valuable collection. It was also delightful to converse with a mind such as Calvino's and learn some of his ways for "analysing" texts. The title of the book may be a bit misleading, but the content is great nevertheless.

  21. 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."

  22. 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 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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Wooldridge

    Why Read the Classics? by Italian writer Italo Calvino is a collection of 36 essays, all previously published in various magazines and journals, and brought together here for the first time, which demonstrates the extensive breadth of the author's own reading, and in which he writes with eloquence about what he considers to be 'classic' books and authors. As to the definition of a 'classic', Calvino deals with this in the opening chapter, contemplating the elements that might contribute to a piec Why Read the Classics? by Italian writer Italo Calvino is a collection of 36 essays, all previously published in various magazines and journals, and brought together here for the first time, which demonstrates the extensive breadth of the author's own reading, and in which he writes with eloquence about what he considers to be 'classic' books and authors. As to the definition of a 'classic', Calvino deals with this in the opening chapter, contemplating the elements that might contribute to a piece of writing deemed as such. Accordingly, he provides the reader with a dozen or more potential definitions for a 'classic', incorporating elements such as impact, memorability, innovation, importance, style, use of language, plot and character development, amongst other virtues. Ultimately, he does not settle on a particular definition, inviting the reader to choose their own, and whatever is chosen will be right. Of the texts and authors discussed in this collection of essays, some I have read, others I have heard of but not read, and others were completely unknown to me. In the latter group, they were mostly Europeans, often Calvino's fellow Italians, and in some cases poets (which is usually outside the scope of my preferred reading). Some of the better known authors that Calvino writes about include, Stevenson, Dickens, Tolstoy, Hemingway and Conrad. The essays are generally quite short (as magazine articles generally are), and quite academic in style. They appear to have been written for an audience that has accomplished tertiary qualifications in Literature, or even for Calvino's personal amusement. Some were easier to digest than others, and it certainly helped if I was familiar with the author or text being discussed. Others went completely over my head, and were dry and inaccessible to my tiny brain. Overall, this is one for the scholars, or those with aspirations in that direction, and I doubt that it would have a broad appeal amongst general readers.

  24. 4 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.

  25. 5 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. 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.

  26. 4 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...

  27. 5 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 which I’m p 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

  28. 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 trailing behind them the traces 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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Antara

    I have to be honest, I only read maybe 1/2 of the book, skimming through the rest. I only wanted to read the essays on the books/authors I was familiar with, and not having read some of them - I felt I couldn't appreciate the essays as much as someone who has. I appreciate Calvino's passion for the classics but I think this book would have been a 2 star for me had it not been for the introductory essay. That one was a really good read. Maybe years from now, having increased the breadth of my rea I have to be honest, I only read maybe 1/2 of the book, skimming through the rest. I only wanted to read the essays on the books/authors I was familiar with, and not having read some of them - I felt I couldn't appreciate the essays as much as someone who has. I appreciate Calvino's passion for the classics but I think this book would have been a 2 star for me had it not been for the introductory essay. That one was a really good read. Maybe years from now, having increased the breadth of my reading of classics, I can return to this.

  30. 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.

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