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Why Read the Classics?

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,229 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century's most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light.

Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak's masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunn
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 16th 2001 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1986)
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The Western Canon by Harold BloomIlluminations by Walter BenjaminAspects of the Novel by E.M. ForsterWhy Read the Classics? by Italo CalvinoThe Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Works of Literary Criticism
4th out of 241 books — 42 voters
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. DickWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward AlbeeAre You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea HandlerWhy Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie
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17th out of 196 books — 56 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Riku Sayuj

You start your reading of Calvino’s explorations. You do this mainly to get to know a wonderful list of classics to tackle, of the thoughts of a loved author, and to know of how to approach these sometimes daunting works. After the masterful first essay which defines ‘classics’, you realize that Calvino is up to something here. You look at the long list of books and realize that too many of them fall in the invented category of ‘personal classics’ (‘his own classics’ in other words), the choice
Italo Calvino brilliantly review some most known classics, such as:

Odissey by Homer

Anabase by Xenofante

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Robison Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Candide by Voltaire

Jacques le Fataliste by Denis Diderot

La Chartreuse de Parma by Stendhal

Our Mutual Friend by Dickens

Daisy Miller by Henry James

Doctor Jivago by Boris Pasternak

among many other celebrated authors.
Jan 08, 2016 Hengameh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: partialy-read
کتاب مجموعه ای از مقالات جدا هستش از کالوینو که درباره ی هر کدوم از نویسنده های کلاسیک نوشته. مقالاتشم تو فاصله های زمانی مختلف و جاهای مختلف نوشته و چاپ شده و کتاب درواقع فقط جمع آوری و مرتبشون کرده.

کتابی نیست که آدم یک جا بخونه! من خودم فقط مقالات مربوط به نویسنده های خاصیش رو خوندم و چون از سبک و سیاق کار باقی نوسیده های داخل کتاب اطلاعی ندارم احتمال میدم به مرور زمان و در طول سالها کتابو کامل خواهم خوند.
Calvino is somewhat less charming as a literary critic than as a novelist. The introductory essay, "Why Read the Classics?," is an old favorite of mine, and I was glad to revisit it. But from there on out, I was mostly left cold. Granted, I hadn't read most of the books he was discussing-- Ovid, Xenophon, Pavese, Gadda, Montale, certain works by Flaubert-- so I was bound to be a bit less engaged than someone who had read the books in question. But even when I had read them (Stendhal, Homer) I wa ...more
Sean Carman
Nov 21, 2010 Sean Carman rated it it was amazing
In this wonderful collection of short essays, Calvino writes about his favorite literary works, from the forgotten fantastical Medieval epic poem Orlando Furioso, which Calvino describes as a Western pre-cursor to The Arabian Nights, to Stendahl's masterpieces The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. There are also essays on Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Jorge Louis Borges.

The title is a little misleading: Apart from the brief introductory essay, Calvino does not lecture the reader
Dec 10, 2007 Theresa rated it liked it
In fairness, let me start by saying I didn't read this cover to cover-- I skipped around and ultimately only read about 2/3 of the content.

This is a collection of essays on works that Calvino considered Classic. Many of them are firmly in the English Literature canon, but some of them are little more obscure and unfamiliar. If you know the work being discussed, the observations and theories are particularly interesting, but if you don't it feels a little like showing up for class without having

Italo Calvino è un grande intellettuale. Ma è soprattutto un grandissimo bastardo.

No, dico: mi tuffo in Perché leggere i classici perché m'ispira, chissà di cosa troverò in questa raccolta di saggi...
... e tu, caro Italo, mi parli di Omero, di Plinio il Vecchio, di Senofonte, di Miguel de Cervantes, Ludovico Ariosto, Nezami, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lev Tolstoj, Joseph Conrad, nonché dei vari Stendhal, Dickens, Balzac, Pasternak, Twain etc. con tale passione!!! Come faccio io a non rimpinguare la
Güzin Ayan
Jul 11, 2016 Güzin Ayan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kitabın adını "Klasikler Nasıl Okunmalı? şeklinde değiştirmeyi öneriyorum. Zira Italo Calvino seçki içinde ele aldığı kitapları yazarların anlatımdaki güçlü yönlerini ele alarak ayrıca kitapların konu, dil ve dünya edebiyatındaki yeri açısında layıkıyla okuyor. Kitap üzerine kaleme alınmış bir yazı şurada.
Colin Bruce Anthes
Apr 16, 2015 Colin Bruce Anthes rated it it was amazing
I did not read every page of this collection of essays, but only for the best of reasons. Calvino gives each classic in such enticing life, and I so often had to put aside his commentary because it too successfully made me want to read the book itself. My "ideal library" has expanded substantially through this reading, and that is a gift indeed.

Additionally, the opening essay, from which the collection takes its name, is one of the finest and most enjoyable bits of theory I've encountered. I'll
May 29, 2013 Alex rated it really liked it
Little bit uneven! Loved his essay on Homer, but the Borges one was surprisingly ineffective for me.
Mohammad Ali
کتاب به شدت خواندنی است. به معنای واقعی کلمه موجب انتقال لذت خواندن آثار کلاسیک به خواننده می شود. اما افسوس و صد افسوس که ترجمه ی بد اثر را در موارد بسیاری نابود کرده است. جمله بندی های نامشخص و جملات تاخوانا به کرات در هر صفحه تکرار می شوند. تعجب انگیز است که ویراستاران اجازه ی چاپ این کتاب با این کل را داده اند... حیرت انگیز اینکه چاپی که من می خوندم چاپ چهارم بود و این کمال بی خیالیه که کسی به فکر بهتر کردن کار هم نیست...

آن بخشی از کتاب که برای من بیش از همه جالب و افسون گر بود، شامل "آسمان،
Mateus Pereira
Aug 15, 2013 Mateus Pereira rated it liked it
Calvino começa dando definições do que é um clássico e conclui: 1. “Clássicos são aqueles livros dos quais, em geral, se ouve dizer: ‘estou relendo...’ e nunca ‘Estou lendo...’.” 2. “Toda primeira leitura de uma clássico é na realidade uma releitura.” Essas são algumas das propostas de definição – no geral são 14.

Depois disso o leitor encontra uma série de pequenos ensaios sobre autores que Calvino considera essenciais para o alimento do espírito. Gente como Homero, Xenofonte, Ovídio, Diderot, F
Felipe Guerrero
No era el libro que esperaba, no pudo decir que es un mal libro por que no lo es solo que a mi no me gustó realmente.

El autor hace una breve descripción de algunos autores como Homero y La Odisea y poco a poco habla del libro y un poco de como esta estructurada lo mismo con Tolstoi o Hemingway pero, si bien hace un buen análisis de la obra, no da una verdadera razón de por que leerlos, se limita a solo analizarlos y explicar como están estructurados. En ningún momento dice cosas como "esta obra
Sep 21, 2012 Raum rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
Italo Calvino is my favorite author: I love the elegant lightness of his writing style, and the way he can be refreshing and original even when he deals with the most difficult topics. Some authors become like friends, and for me Calvino is a sort of 'uncle'. Imagine what happens when an author you consider a friend talks about those books that you read and reread -- those books that have been with you in an important phase of your life, and that even after years are like family members you want ...more
Irene Lazlo
Estaba esperando a leerme todos los textos de los que habla Calvino para poder terminar me todos los ensayos pero no tengo tiempo para ese proyecto. Me he leído unos 3/4 de los ensayos, todos los que hablan de autores u obras que he leído. La introducción es magistral, da una definición perfecta de lo que es un clásico. Los ensayos son interesantes y dan una visión que no es la típica. Me hubiera gustado que los clásicos de los que habla hubieran sido más famosos pero en general muy recomendable ...more
Dave Logghe
Jun 15, 2014 Dave Logghe rated it really liked it
It feels kind of like cheating to say that I read this, because in reality, I read Calvino's essay about classics at the beginning of the book, then read the essays which I was knowledgeable enough to follow (which still amounted to a few essays). I love Calvino's thoughts on classics and their importance in our lives as readers. He talks about the difference in reading something in one's youth as opposed to reading it as an adult which I found really interesting. He said that as an adult, we sh ...more
Russell Bittner
Oct 14, 2014 Russell Bittner rated it liked it
It’s always a somewhat humbling experience to read a book like this one — at least for me.

But why ‘humbling?’ Because reading it reminds me of how little I really know about classical literature. As well read in the classics as I sometimes like to believe I am (having almost adamantly refused to read anything written after the nineteenth century until I’d finished my formal education at the age of 34), I realize I’m not — that there’s still a tremendous amount in the Western Canon of which I’m p
May 21, 2015 Brett rated it liked it
This work is a collection of essays, some unique to this book, in which Calvino writes what he loves most about his favorite classic works of fiction. It will definitely get you excited to go read many of them (m any are Italian works that I'm not familiar with). But reading the string of essays, absent reading the works themselves, gets a little old. I'd recommend the individual essays in conjunction with the work they cover more than the book itself.
Ahmad Sharabiani
Perché leggere i classici?=Why Read the Classics?, Italo Calvino
عنوان: چرا باید کلاسیک ها را خواند؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: آزیتا همپارتیان؛ نشر قطره
در این سیر تاریخی، از «گزنفون» باستانی و نظامی گنجوی، به «ژرژ پرک» معاصر میرسیم. عنوان برخی از مقالات درج شده در کتاب: «آسمان، انسان، فیل»؛ «گزیده کوچک هشت بیتی»؛ «کتاب بزرگ طبیعت»؛ «جیاماریا اورتس»؛ «ناخداهای كنراد»؛ «همینگوی و ما»؛ «خورخه لوئیس بورخس«؛ «فلسفه ریمون کنو»؛ و پرک
Dec 06, 2015 Zeenat rated it it was amazing
5* for the first chapter and the chapter on Hemingway and Borges. The bits about the joys of learning poetry and the rear view mirrors were great too.
Aug 02, 2011 Sunny rated it liked it
interesting book that tours circa 25 of Calvinos must reads. some very intersting insights into books by some interesting Italian authors/novels like Cesare Pavese, the charterhouse of parmaa, but also touches some of the greek classics like ovids metamorphosis and the iliad. will certainly be buying some of the books recommended in this boook.
Apr 05, 2013 Valentina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Un libro da leggere più e più volte, in diversi momenti della propria vita e della propria formazione, per poter apprezzare al meglio gli autori e le opere che Calvino analizza in questo libro, mettendoci tutto l'amore che ha per la letteratura. Bellissimo.
Nov 29, 2015 Philipp rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, essays, italy
Collection of essays on various books and writers, great to see such breadth of reading. The only problem is that many essays are prefaces, so they assume that you've either just read or are going to read the book, and since neither me nor you haven't, they're a bit of a shot in the dark. Nevertheless, some good starting points if you want to leave the comfort zone of the stuff you're usually reading.

Titular essay here
Sung-Gi Kim
May 29, 2016 Sung-Gi Kim rated it really liked it
Excerpts from the book:

1) ….to read a great book for the first time in one’s maturity is an extraordinary pleasure, different from (though one cannot say greater or lesser than) the pleasure of having read it in one’s youth.

2) We use the word “classics” for those books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

3) There should therefore be a time in adult
Aug 10, 2014 Beba rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
1 star

Questo è il quarto libro che leggo di Calvino e prima di settembre dovrò leggerne un quinto, Il visconte dimezzato, come lettura scolastica per l'estate. In realtà, di quattro libri letti di Calvino, tutti li ho letti per motivi scolastici e nessuno mi è piaciuto. Ora, non voglio dire che Calvino non sappia scrivere perchè sarei una bugiarda, Calvino sa scrivere, eccome se sa scrivere. Il problema, per me, resta ciò che scrive; Calvino è sicuramente un genio, ma per me resta un genio incom
Aug 05, 2013 Yara rated it it was ok
First of all, let's start with the irony of that title: in order to understand the essays in this volume, you need to have read the classics (or some of them at least). Only the first essay tries to find an answer to that question, the rest of the book is full of Calvino's thoughts on some of his favourite works of literature.

Now, I am not familiar with Calvino's work as a writer of fiction, but as an essayist, he didn't exactly blow my mind. He is clearly passionate about the "classics" he cove
Boris Limpopo
Jul 14, 2012 Boris Limpopo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Calvino, Italo (1991). Perché leggere i classici. Milano: Mondadori. 2010. ISBN 9788852015915. Pagine 332. 2,99

Ho letto questa raccolta postuma di saggi di Italo Calvino (o meglio, l’ho “riletta”, perché i classici si rileggono sempre, non si leggono mai una prima volta) perché Maria Popova ne ha parlato lo scorso 6 luglio 2012 in un post intitolato Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Il testo che dà il titolo alla raccolta (che fu pubblicata dopo la morte dell’autore dalla m
The first essay was a lovely reminder of the true value one can gain from reading the classics. Calvino's criteria for a good book makes a very straight-forward and relatable definition of the books we call 'classics'.

Sadly I did not find the rest of the book as engaging as the first essay. Calvino's commentary on the big classics were too short to be defined as an analysis, and yet too complex to be defined as simple essays. I might add, that I didn't read them all, as I found it very hard to
Isabella Kevorkian
May 17, 2016 Isabella Kevorkian rated it really liked it
Beautiful. Writing was delicately sophisticated, and it kept my attention. I put off reading this book as I wasn't too interested in hearing the opinion of another person on various works of literature, but he made it entirely educational. The state of "being a classic" is determined on his detailed steps. I love this. Calvino is actually my savior.
Dave Morris
Dec 31, 2015 Dave Morris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"We read to know we are not alone." No, it's not C S Lewis - despite what the gormless Goodreads favourite quotes page says, it's a line by William Nicholson. I wouldn't go that far anyway, but it is nice when reading to know one is in the presence of an agreeable, intelligence, elegant and erudite writer - which is pretty much Italo Calvino to a T.
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  • On Literature
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  • Lectures on Literature
  • How to Read and Why
  • The Anatomy of Bibliomania
  • So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance
  • Poets in a Landscape
  • The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts
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  • The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
  • A Reader on Reading
  • Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love
  • Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books
  • Faulks on Fiction
  • The Common Reader
  • The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded
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Italo Calvino was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. He was a journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979).

His style is not easily classified; much of his writing has an air of the fantastic
More about Italo Calvino...

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“There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics. I would say that such a library ought to be composed half of books we have read and that have really counted for us, and half of books we propose to read and presume will come to count—leaving a section of empty shelves for surprises and occasional discoveries” 9 likes
“A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.” 9 likes
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