Gore Vidal described Italo Calvino as “the only great writer of my time.” And while I may not go that far, Calvino is certainly my favorite author. As a postmodernist and a fabulist, his works possess that “bizarreness” I love.
At the time of his passing, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) was the most translated modern Italian author. In addition to his fiction, he was a renowned journalist as well as the compiler of Italian Folktales, 200 fables brought together in one volume.
He is known as a chameleon author, able to change styles and voices at the drop of a hat. His love for folklore translates into his narrative style. Indeed, much of his work follows the structure of a fairy tale. I recommend Calvino to everyone I meet. His writing is both profound and readable. Here are my favorite works of his:
This is my favorite short story collection of all time—no hyperbole. We read about the scientific creation of the universe in twelve fables, told from the perspective of objects from astronomy, geology, and biology. He injects humor flawlessly as he narrates through stream-of-consciousness. It is one of the most creative and brilliant things I’ve ever read.
THE NONEXISTENT KNIGHT and THE CLOVEN VISCOUNT
These two short novels—usually paired together—were my introduction to Calvino at age 15. They’re a great place to start if you’re daunted by his more difficult works. The stories are just what their titles say: one about a knight who is only a suit of armor, the other about a lord divided into two identical but opposite people. A very fun read.
This slim volume is the story of (a fictional) Marco Polo telling (a fictional) Kublai Khan about fifty-five great cities from his travels. Near the end, the reader has an “ohhhh” moment. It is full of bizarre imagery. If you read it expecting something factual or historically accurate, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, open your mind to the preposterous and you’ll find an amazing story.
IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER
I’ve mentioned this novel before on this blog, but it needs further mention. The writing is a little more difficult than the others listed, but what you take out of it is worth it. This novel inspires me like no other to be a better writer. I describe it in greater detail here.
I hope you check Calvino out. You’ll be glad you did.