Recommended Reading

Six Memos for the New Millennia

By Italo Calvino

1988, 155 pages

 Oddly enough, there are only five essays. They are on five qualities of literature that Calvino has identified: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. The sixth one was meant to be on consistency, but apparently he died before he could finish it.

Calvino’s thesis is that each one of these qualities has value, but it must also be considered in terms of its opposite. For example: lightness and weight. He appreciates qualities in literature that are light – as in nimble – but he does not deny that their attraction comes from the gravity that every good writer must feel.

His writing is sometimes pedantic, sometimes inviting. He impresses you with his erudition. He makes statements that are both interesting and vague, so they are hard to criticize or refute. At one level, I felt he was basically full of shit. But he did push me to try to understand literature through these terms and I rather liked that challenge.

This is a recommendation with a caveat: if you get to page 50 and feel unsatisfied, quit.

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