This happens relatively frequently: I am talking with someone else that doesn’t know me well and, at some point of the conversation I have mentioned that I am a forester. Then we move into books and I mention someone like Borges or Calvino and they look at me with this puzzled face as in ‘I didn’t know that foresters could read’. I know, it happens to other professions as well; just for the record not all of us are semi-literate apes, working with a chainsaw.
I was sorting out my bookshelves at work when I found a copy of The literature machine, a collection of essays by Italo Calvino. It had my name and signature, together with 2002, Melbourne, Australia. (Digression: besides my name and signature I always put the city where I bought a book). I had vague memories of walking around in Melbourne’s CBD and finding an underground bookshop. At the time I was not looking for anything in particular, just browsing titles.
Why did I buy the book and never read it? I do remember browsing it and getting distracted by something more urgent, albeit clearly unimportant, because I cannot remember what was it. Probably I was not ready either; it has happened to me before. From ‘Uncle Tom’s cabin’ when I was nine, to ‘The Fountainhead’ when I was a teenager, to ‘The literature machine’ seven years ago. Most likely there is an issue of maturity, of being ready to read a particular story, philosophy or approach to the world.
Many years ago I read some of Calvino’s books, like Cosmicomics (brilliantly funny) and ‘The cloven viscount’ (very enjoyable reading). But I particularly struggle with two literary forms: essays and plays. I sometimes can get into the former, but the latter has proven–until today–insurmountable.
However, today is the time for Calvino and essays. There is something deeply stimulating in these essays, together with a quaintness created by forty years gone since they were written. The feeling of freshness, possibility and hope from 1968 reads strange in 2017. At the same time, there is a bit of breaking with the system, since the implosion of the international economy. Maybe it is an excellent time to resonate with Calvino, as in the old days.