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The Uses of Literature

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,019 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Italian novelist and short story writer Calvino has been accused of making protons, quarks and living cells talk as if they were people, but here he defends his approach as a kind of animism attuned to the way the universe works. His fascination with myth is evident in pieces on Ovid's Metamorphoses and the separate odysseys that make up Homer's Odyssey. Three intertwined ...more
Paperback, 341 pages
Published October 21st 1987 by Mariner Books (first published 1980)
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Michael Finocchiaro
Italo Calvino was a watershed for me in reading fiction in my 20s. I had always read a lot and even critically, but somehow Calvino's fiction which was more mathematical and structured in some ways than the more fluid literature I had read before changed my perspective. This collection of essays about literature does indeed make you want to reread his entire catalog to understand even more deeply the ideas he was trying to pass along. He reflects on who the author is writing for, why the classic ...more
Recently I ordered a copy of Moby Dick and I am anticipating reading it for the 1st time very soon and I thought: let's read Calvino again on "why to read the classics". I read the rest of the book afterwards. Very few people can write with such intelligence, style, originality, humour and an eye for the absurd as Calvino could and while I don't have much interest for many of the 19th century French novelist Calvino writes about the man never bores. The general essays are best. The opening essay ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After hammering with the literary criticism textbooks for a while, reading about literature from another perspective is like getting some new fresh air, especially from Calvino whom I always resonate with intelligence and witty. The book gives me a tingling hope, with the reassurence, that literature still matters and has a potential standpoint. Each chapter illustrates the certain points with the latest issues in 20th century; literary criticism from a writer's POV, genre, the question about wh ...more
4* If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
4* Il visconte dimezzato
4* Il cavaliere inesistente
4* Difficult Loves
3* The Castle of Crossed Destinies
4* Why Read the Classics?
TR Invisible Cities
TR The Baron in the Trees
TR The Path to the Spiders' Nests
TR The Uses of Literature
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Starting school's-over-so-more-time-to-read reading with a guy that loves books so much is pretty great. Calvino has a lot of interesting things to say about books; The Hypothetical Bookshelf and Why Read the Classics? are two of my favourites in the collection, although there other really good moments. It's really nice to read stuff by a writer who knows the importance of the reader, and isn't pretentious and superior about his opinions.

I will admit that I tuned out a little in the second half,
Zöe Zöe
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: italian
Having read Invisible Cities, I had a high hope of his essays, and he didn't let me down. His insights about literature involves politics, but hasn't been carried away too much. One could praise how brilliant he is in Literature and Politics, or his discussion about Fourier, but never would say he only cares about politics and lack of poetic sensibility (probably I would say that to Günter Grass...sorry)

He tries to "psychoanalyze" himself in the form of autobiography, which makes a lot of sense.
I finished most of the essays and I might finish the rest of them later. Though, I am feeling a bit burnt out. I love much of Calvino's fiction and some of his essays have surprising revelations. The famous What is a Classic essay has one of my favorite definitions of a classic "A book that has never finished saying what it has to say," but past a certain point the essays weren't as interesting. I am probably just burnt out or unfamiliar with the poets and novels he is writing about. I liked it ...more
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In these essays - selected from various papers & symposiums over the course of the 1960s/70s - Calvino examines the intersections of literature with philosophy, science, psychology, and politics. He’s blazingly insightful, incredibly well-read, and has an intensely logical, mathematical way of dissecting literature.

My favorites:
Why Read the Classics? - various definitions of what makes a piece of literature a “classic”, and the role of such classics in a reader's life. "A classic,” goes one such
Nina CW
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
“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.”

I love the way Calvino describes the act of reading, calling literature a ”voyage of discovery” where books can “conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.” Calvino believed in the importance of literature and the ability for it to i
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it
The essays in Part I are more interesting than the ones in Part II. Otherwise it would have been four stars. And the advantage of the book as a whole is that all the essays are fairly short and they are written within the context of conversations and publications in Italy (and France and England) in the 1960s and '70s. Or in other words, this Calvino very much playing the role of public intellectual.

So if you are interested in reading work that's responding to the throes of literary theory, esp
Oct 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
As usual, Calvino does not disappoint. The writing is intelligent, and always dynamic, and he has this playful sensability which really comes through in his non fiction work. "Why read the classics?" I found especially resonent and gratifying since I'm in grad school at St. John's. He just brings such a fresh, lively perspective to everything he writes about, heck, he almost made me want to read Dickens again in 'the novel as spectacle'
Note: a lot of the pieces from section II can also be found
Aaron Cockle
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Essay on 'Cinema & the Novel: Problems of Narrative' is especially good, and can be found on Google Books. Important reading for cartoonists (Calvino is good for cartoonists to read in general I think). Discusses Robbe-Grillet, the nouveau-roman, Godard's 'essay films', inherent inferiority complexes, etc. Mentions comic strips at the end and the bearing they have had on his work, how 'a true study of the genre as an art in itself has still to see the light', which remains a fairly accurate asse ...more
Waaaahhhhh... Calvino is/remains so amazing all the time. This is my first foray into his nonfiction, after reading the majority of his novels in high school and college. Everything about these essays is so lucid, so intelligent, and so obviously linked with his elegant, mathematical fiction style. These essays in the vein of Sontag, Barthes, and Benjamin further confirm my belief that he created the most consistently impressive prose of the 20th Century that I've encountered.
Isla McKetta
Dec 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Although I feel like I've read some of these essays before, Calvino is always a welcome kick in the ass to remind me what I love about reading and writing. Some of my favorites were "Cybernetics and Ghosts," "Literature as Projection of Desire," and "Right and Wrong Political Uses of Literature." And the humble postscript essay "By Way of an Autobiography" is a lesson to all writers in how to talk about yourself and your work.
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's hard to appreciate essays about books which one has yet to read; thus, I enjoyed the pieces about literature and writing as a whole more than I did the selections about specific titles. But all of it was interesting. Calvino is my favorite author and his insights into literature are as wide-ranging and devoted as his fiction. Plus, I came across a number of words I'd never heard: mastodonic, gnosiology, and eudaemonism.
Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: started
Italo Calvino is my Number One MySpace Friend. It's an illustrious position to hold and one that I do not take lightly. These essays make my brain mushy in the best possible way. I think I want to have his posthumous literary metaphorical babies. Never mind N'Sync, where can I get a poster of Calv?

Really, though, any one of these essays is worth the price of admission alone.
140713: this is a very good selection of essays by Calvino, the reason it is a four is my unfamiliarity with certain works and authors he examines in final essays, so it is part one preferred. even there, a certain amount of reading is helpful, if only to decide whether his claims make sense, but overall there is great pleasure in his explorations...
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
The best essay in this collection is the title one. It is in the center of the book and it is the linchpin. Calvino had the perspicacity to remind why it matters to read the best of the best.

The rest of the essays I came in and out on and had different levels of engagement. But being a Calvino enthusiast, I highly recommend getting a copy of this for reading and for your library.
Apr 19, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I've obviously been neglecting this book. It's a collection of essays so it's easy to stop and start. Why to Read the Classics was a great essay. I will give this more attention. It certainly deserves it...
Aug 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Includes the marvelous essay 'Why Read the Classics.' A wonderful perspective, especially held up against, say, Harold Bloom's more fixed and heavy view of what used to be the canon.

Also includes a great essay on the good and bad uses of politics in literature.
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit-theory
Loved it. He is humorous and pretty easy to follow.
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: joshbooks
I re-read his essay "Why Read the Classics?" every three or four months. It helps remind me why I love reading and re-reading.
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This collection of essays provides a major framework for how I view the act of reading/information networks.
Oct 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
This was a bit academic for me, but I read it a long time ago.
Sep 29, 2009 added it
This should be required reading for anyone who studies literature.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
'the great narrative game in the course of which writer and reader are challenged to understand the world.
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Ever insightful Calvino.
Nov 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I was not prepared to read more than a few of these essays--I just haven't read the work discussed in many cases.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Why Read The Classics?" --"Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading."
Al Matthews
Aug 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thesis
So far I'm a big fan of:

Cybernetics and Ghosts
The Hypothetical Bookshelf
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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 easy to classify; much of his writing has an air reminiscent to th

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