As I was browsing the best discount wine rack in the city, I came upon a bottle of Pinotage, and it occurred to me just how long it had been since I had enjoyed a warm, tart, fruity Pinotage. I might call it a favorite. So it was with a glass of amazing Pinotage that I laid myself in repose to listen to some Andrew Bird and read some Italo Calvino tonight. A glass of red + Andrew Bird + Calvino does indeed = perfection.
I’m working my way through Difficult Loves, but only finding myself occasionally wrapt up in it. I had a similar problem with Cosmicomics. I just had a hard time getting into that one, and Cosmicomics is the one I tend to hear recommended most. Not to sound like I’m speaking ill of Calvino. Actually that Calvino is so likeable is part of my problem.
Calvino falls into that select little niche we might call “writers’ writers.” I like writers’ writers. Carver, Chekhov, etc. I eat that shit up. But with most writer’s writers, the urge to recommend them to everyone and anyone is generally staid. The average person who does not possess an undergraduate or graduate degree in English or some other book friendly liberal art is probably not going to be that interested in the subtle plays upon convention for which these writers are known. I mean reading Chekhov, not even that many of his stories stand out to me, but reading them I could still appreciate how profoundly new his approach to short literature was. With Carver one gains the same thrill. And so it is with Calvino.
The thing that I love so much about Calvino is his firm narrative presence. Every Calvino story feels like a story above all else. You can almost feel the narrator sitting with you as you read, his hand patting you on the shoulder and saying, “You want to hear a war story? Oh my friend, have I got one for you. There once lived a boy named….”
This cozy intimacy is enchanting, and so after reading a bit of Calvino one feels the impulse to share it with everyone. But… honestly, how many of my friends who don’t have English (or Italian) literature degrees would really get into Cosmicomics? It’s just a little too out there (that, of course, being part of the point).
For me, the best is still Invisible Cities. But even there, the narrative approach is so unconventional that I don’t see a casual reader sticking with it. When I open the book I’m overwhelmed at the profound beauty of Calvino’s cityscapes, and the genius layering of the iterative conversation between Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo! It’s a book I have a hard time putting down.
Perhaps The Nonexistent Knight and the Cloven Viscount will be a little more approachable. They’re sitting on my shelf waiting to be read right now. I kind of doubt it though.
Difficult Loves is good stuff though. I’ve read this story about the pastry shop robbery before, I’m sure of it, or perhaps I’ve seen it adopted by other writers. Anyway…