Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Reading. Calvino.

I have a terrible habit (one of many) of buying books and not reading them for a while. Oftentimes I will forget that I even own them. In some cases, years can go by before I notice these books gleaming in a dark corner of the bookcase, still uncreased and new, the corners sharp and unworn, sometimes with the receipt tucked inside like a time capsule waiting to pounce on the hidden depths of my memory. When did that get there, I wonder? Then I pick it up, perhaps one rainy day when I have nothing else to do, or pack it in my suitcase for a trip. Dive in, fall deep into the story, wait for that moment when the words cause my heart to crack wide open and my mind go up in flames. Wonder aloud why I waited so long to read it.

Another terrible thing is that once I fall in love with a writer, I have to acquire all of their books, even if I don't actually get around to reading them for years. This becomes extremely tiresome, not to mention hazardous, both to my bank account and my physical safety as the books fall off the shelves and pile up all over the floor, rendering the bed and door inaccessible, especially with some of the more prolific authors. Which brings me to Calvino.

I have been reading Calvino for nearly ten years, and he has long been one of my favorite writers. I read his later works first (which is usually how I read, out of order, which can be disorienting), and it was those dizzying, dream-like tales, the words forming lazy arabesques in my mind, drawing me into the labryinths within, that I fell in love with. But his early work is entirely different, written in a different time, a different world, a different style, what they called neo-realism. (I am not quite sure what neo-realism is, but I get the sense that it was the style that developed during the post-war era, born out of the general feeling and intellectual atmosphere of that time). Which is why, perhaps, I had not read The Path to the Spider's Nest before. Until now.

In his preface, Calvino looks back on his very first novel, one of the first things he ever wrote, which he sees as "not so much one of [his] own works but rather as a book which arose anonymously out of the general climate of the time, from a moral tension that was in the air, and a literary tendency which epitomized [his] generation immediately after the Second World War." Actually, the preface alone reminds me so completely of why I love Calvino, his non-fiction writing, that is, with that profound clarity that might even outweigh the love I have for his fiction. But I slid gently into The Path to the Spider's Nest, and it showed me another side of Calvino that I had never seen before. Never loved before. But all this would change.

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