Why Read the Classics?

Why Read the Classics?

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by Italo Calvino, M. L. McLaughlin
     
 

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Italo Calvino was not only a prolific master of fiction, he was also an uncanny reader of literature. Why Read the Classics? is the most comprehensive collection of Calvino's literary criticism available in English, accounting for the enduring importance to our lives of crucial writers of the Western canon. Here - spanning more than two millennia, from antiquity to… See more details below

Overview

Italo Calvino was not only a prolific master of fiction, he was also an uncanny reader of literature. Why Read the Classics? is the most comprehensive collection of Calvino's literary criticism available in English, accounting for the enduring importance to our lives of crucial writers of the Western canon. Here - spanning more than two millennia, from antiquity to postmodernism - are thirty-six ruminations on the writers, poets, and scientists who meant most to Calvino at different stages of his life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although the title suggests that this posthumous collection was cobbled together to capitalize on the latest culture wars, the great Italian novelist who died in 1985 had himself planned to compile it. The book remains an uneven hodgepodge of essays and brief introductions. In the outstanding opening essay, Calvino begins with the lighthearted remark that "classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying `I'm rereading... ' never `I'm reading,'" then goes on to show a contagious passion for great literature of all types. Reading criticism of classics, he writes, is often a waste of time; reading, savoring, and rereading them is of much greater importance. However, many of these critical studies suffer from too much deference to the texts, and too few flights of critical fancy. The high points of the collection are the title essay and longer pieces presenting overviews of the work of great writers who were Calvino's contemporaries. He begins an engaging discussion of Hemingway (written in 1954) by remarking that there were times when "Hemingway was a god. And they were good times, which I am happy to remember, without even a hint of that ironic indulgence with which we look back on youthful fashions." His accounts of authors less known to a modern American audience will leave readers eager to sample the otherwise daunting works of Francis Ponge and Eugenio Montale. Still, this collection is on the whole surprisingly lackluster; the beloved postmodernist will ultimately be better remembered for such earlier, more spirited essay collections as The Uses of Literature. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 36 essays, Calvino--whose works are classics themselves--explores the importance of writers from Homer to Hemingway--to Borges! Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Ryan
Italo Calvino's mind is endlessly fascinating.
The Hungry Mind Review
Kirkus Reviews
An irrepressibly lively collection of the late Italian novelist's literary criticism. Between the 1950s and his death in 1985, Calvino (Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday, 1997, etc.) published many occasional pieces on classic works and authors. Most of these, which appeared in newspapers or as prefaces and speeches, are only a few pages long. In 1991 his wife assembled a collection of these writings that is fuller than those included in the two compilations published during his lifetime. Consequently, 11 of the 36 essays here have already been published in English. The duplication matters little: Calvino is such a congenial guide to his personal canon of great works that one is grateful to have all the essays together. The opening piece, from which the title of the book is drawn, democratically meditates on the importance of classics, which are books that "imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable." So Robert Louis Stevenson has as much claim to the category as Voltaire or Henry James. Eclectic in taste and interest, Calvino ranges widely from the ancient world (Homer, Xenophon, Ovid, Pliny) to early modern (Galileo, Cardano, Ariosto) to modern (Voltaire, Diderot, and on to Queneau and Borges). What interests him most, though, is narrative fiction from Robinson Crusoe to the present. The continental heavyweights are represented in force (Stendhal, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Balzac), but Anglo-American fiction seems to hold a special appeal for him. He offers essays on Defoe, Twain, James, Stevenson, Dickens, Conrad, and Hemingway. Of course not every important writer can be included in such a work, and certain writers are strikingly absent: Kafka, Shakespeare,Joyce, and Proust, to name just a few. Calvino never set about to write an inclusive work. Still, given his importance in contemporary letters and given the posthumous character of the book, this collection would have benefited from a good afterword on the writer as critic and his tastes. It would have been interesting to know what he didn't like and why. Brisk and unpretentiously sophisticated, Calvino's literary essays are invigorating, thought-provoking, and pleasurable reading.

From the Publisher
"Calvino's essays--make clear how exhilarating the classics can be."--The Washington Post Book World

"Extraordinarily flexible and delighted readings--which will likely send you off to (re)read the classics being discussed and then summon you back again."--The New Yorker

"It's Calvino and the classics, so how can you lose?"--San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780676972344
Publisher:
Knopf Canada
Publication date:
09/28/1999

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