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#1965Club – looking back at some previous reads…

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During our Club reading weeks, I always like to do a post looking back at books from the particular year which I’ve read in the past; in some cases, there will be reviews here on the Ramblings, and in others they’ll be pre-blog reads. Either way, I always find it interesting to revisit previous books, and there were quite a number from 1965! First up, let’s look at the older ones.

Pre-blog reading

The pre-blog pile has a bit of a variety! There is, of course, “I had trouble in getting to Solla Sollew” by Dr. Seuss; it’s one of the pivotal books in my life and I’ve written about it before. When I borrowed it from the library in my childhood it obvs hadn’t been around for long! Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” is a no-brainer; I’ve had my original paperback since my teens, and I can never read enough of her work.  “Roseanna” by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is a more recent arrival; Mr. Kaggsy bought me the whole sequence of Martin Beck crime novels (of which this is the first) many years ago and I love them to bits – my favourite Scandi crime books. Jack Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels” is also a book I’ve owned since my teens and I probably would be less tolerant of him and it nowadays; I would have liked to re-read had time permitted this week, but somehow I don’t think that will happen… And finally, the majestic “Black Rain” by Masuji Ibuse, a book I read when I first began to read Japanese literature. It’s powerful and unforgettable and I can’t recommend it enough.

There are no doubt many more pre-blog reads from 1965 (it was a bumper year!) but those were the obvious ones I could lay hands on. So let’s move on to 1965 books I’ve previously covered on the blog!

1965 Books on the Blog!

Let’s start with a couple of favourite authors. And in fact Italo Calvino has been a favourite since I was in my 20s; the rather battered copy of “Cosmicomics” on top of the pile is from that era. I revisited the book with “The Complete Cosmicomics” and was even more knocked out than the first time. I love his books. End of.

Stanislaw Lem is a more recent discovery, but his quirky and clever and thought-provoking sci-fi stories have been a fast favourite at the Ramblings. “The Cyberiad” came out in 1965 but my lovely Penguin Modern Classic is more recent. Definitely an author I’d recommend.

Here’s another pair of very individual authors… Nabokov needs no introduction and his book “The Eye” is a short, fascinating and tricksy book with a very unreliable narrator. Georges Perec‘s “Things” is another unusual one – from the amount of Perec on this blog, you know that I love his work, and this particular title, exploring ennui in the budding consumer society of the 1960s, was very intriguing.

It wouldn’t be the Ramblings without some Russian authors, would it? Here’s another of my favourite authors, Mikhail Bulgakov.Black Snow” and “A Theatrical Novel” are translations of the same book, one of the author’s shorter and more manic works. If I had time, I’d start a project of re-reading his works in order.

And “An Armenian Sketchbook” by Vasily Grossman proved to me a. just how bad my memory is and b. that it’s a good thing I have this blog… I was all set to read this book as one of my 1965 choices, when there was a little niggle in my head. I checked, and I’d read and reviewed it back in 2013….  *sigh*

Finally, something a little lighter – or is it??

I’m a recent convert to Tove Jansson and the Moomins, but really this book should be subtitled “Moominpappa’s mid-life crisis“! The titular father has a bit of a panic at feeling useless and so drags the whole family off to sea. There’s an awful lot of stuff going on below the surface here…

So… that’s just a few of my previous reads from 1965. I’m sure there would be tons more if I looked harder, but I’m going to concentrate on new reads for the rest of the week. And while I do that, next up on the blog will be a guest post from Mr. Kaggsy! 😀

Exploring my Library: Italo Calvino

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Whilst rummaging around on the shelves a few days back to dig out my Fitzgeralds, I had to move my collection of Italo Calvino books to get to them; and I realised just how many books I had by one of my favourite authors! So I thought I would share a couple of photos here (and I really do need to get myself a decent camera or some lighting – sorry if the images are a little dark!)

calvino-spines

This is the Calvino collection! As you can see, I have just about everything available in English, plus a few volumes where he’s done the introduction or where it’s an author recommended by him!

cosmicomics

“The Complete Cosmicomics” is one of my favourite Calvino works – clever and thought-provoking tales, which Lem’s works remind me of in a way, I read and reviewed the complete works in 2012 and loved them all over again.

invisible-cities

“Invisible Cities” is one of Calvino’s most highly regarded works. Supposedly an account of the fantastic places visited by Marco Polo on his travels, it’s in fact a highly structured piece of work with impressionistic descriptions of the places in a particular OuLiPian pattern  – which of course I didn’t recognise and wouldn’t have worked out unless I’d read it online…. Doesn’t make it any the less readable though! 🙂

traveller

And this is the first Calvino I read, and probably my favourite (with “Cosmicomics” a close second). The copy of “If on a winter’s night a traveller” on the left is my original one; the middle a volume I picked up for a re-read because I didn’t want to mess up my original; and the one on the right a pretty volume that I had to have just because… It’s a stunning book which I love – one of my desert island books – and I can’t recommend it or Calvino’s books enough!

These are a few of my favourite things… beginning with C!

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Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book has come up with most wonderful meme, whereby we have to come up with some favourites, based on a particular letter – and that can be harder than you think! I have been allocated C, and after a lot of head scratching have come up with the following. Although these are favourites beginning with that particular letter, I’m not sure if I could ever pick one favourite *anything* – but for today, these will do!

Favourite book:

9780141189680

I’m going to pick “Cosmicomics” by one of my favourite authors, Italo Calvino. This is a bit fat collection of short pieces which I reviewed here, and they’re absolutely wonderful: short pieces musing on the universe, telling strange little stories and twisting our perceptions of what’s real and what isn’t. Originally published in a couple of translated volumes in this country, they were finally collected in The Complete Cosmicomics and you could do no better than start reading Calvino with this book!

Favourite author:

italo calvino 001
I suppose it’s fairly inevitable therefore that my favourite author with a C will be (Italo) Calvino! His book “If on a winter’s night a traveller” is a volume I would have to have with me on a desert island. It changed the way I read and the way I looked at books, and I developed a huge author-crush on Calvino (which I still have, if I’m honest). On Mount TBR is a lovely big volume of his letters, still in its shrink-wrapping – and I really hope to sink into it over the summer holidays!

Favourite song:

I’m going to pick a song that begins with C – (A) Child’s Christmas in Wales, by a musician whose name begins with a C – John Cale. Cale is a long-term obsession (I’ve seen him live at least 6 times) and his work is always challenging, exhilarating and different from anyone else. This song, though it shares the title of a Dylan Thomas book, doesn’t really have much to do with the latter although they have the common Welsh heritage they’re celebrating. Cale is a favourite musician and this song is one of his best.

Favourite film:

I’m not a huge film buff, if I’m honest, and I do tend to prefer older movies. Cabaret is definitely a long-term fave, not the least because of the presence of the wonderful Liza Minnelli. And seeing it again as a more grown-up person, I appreciate the sadness behind it as the civilised world disintegrates.

Favourite object:

Comfortable-Reading-Chair

A hard one. Chocolate? (I’m not supposed to eat it). Cups? (I love tea). Cheese? (Likewise). I think I’ll cheat a little and go for Chair (reading!) – because I don’t have a dedicated reading chair and I would very much like one!

This was a fun and thought-provoking meme – thanks Simon!

Recent Reads: Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

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I’ve already written here about the late, great Italian writer, Italo Calvino, whose work I read extensively in the 1980s. I’ve wanted for some time to re-read his books and this was kick-started recently by Ali’s July Re-reads challenge. Having loved “If on a winter’s night a traveller” and “Mr. Palomar”, I decided it was time to revisit some of Calvino’s earlier works, the “Cosmicomics”.

When I read Calvino initially, the Cosmicomics stories were available in English in two volumes, “Cosmicomics” and “Time and the Hunter”. I still have both of these (somewhat battered and even slightly water-damaged, alas), but in recent years a new volume has become available, “The Complete Cosmicomics”. This gathers together all the stories published in other collections so they are all housed in one lovely volume. It seems that these little tales were something of a life’s work for Calvino, as he kept writing them throughout his career and, as mentioned in the foreword to the Complete edition, was even planning more prior to his early death in 1985.

Calvino took inspiration from a literary group he was involved in, Oulipo, who felt that literature should reflect modern scientific thought and progress. Therefore, each of the earliest short piece starts with a short paragraph outlining a scientific principle, which Calvino then goes on to translate into a wonderfully fantastic story. The narrator of most of the tales is the unpronounceable Qwfwq, a palindromic “cosmic know-it-all” who seems to have been everywhere, taken every form and is obviously an eternal.

As the stories progress, some of the later tales become more abstract, illustrating quite complex scientific theories in short story form. Towards the end Qwfwq returns, although his manner seems to have become a little more serious, as if the playfulness of the early work, a product maybe of the optimism of the sixties, is being replaced by more modern, ecological concerns.

By Fotograf: Johan Brun, Dagbladet (Oslo Museum/Digitalt Museum) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I found myself reading these tales with a sense of wonder – they’re so beautifully written and so imaginative. The Cosmicomics are impossible to classify – they’re not exactly science fiction, not exactly fantasy, certainly not realism – they fall somewhere between every category but they’re fascinating, funny, sad and populated with some wonderful and memorable (and unpronounceable!) characters. The images they conjour up stay with you – collecting milk from the moon, living below the surface of the world, growing your own snail shell and inventing time, a word without colour. Calvino’s characters fly through space from galaxy to galaxy, witness the birth and death of stars, the beginning and end of time – some of his inventiveness leaves you breathless.

The middle tales from “Time and the Hunter”, although not so obviously dazzling, are somehow a little deeper and very thought provoking. They are perhaps a little “harder” as they’re dealing with theoretical and mathematical concepts, but they’re still very gripping and extremely clever. Many of the later, newly translated tales which feature Qwfwq are just as stunning as the earlier ones and show that there was no dimming of his talents as he aged. If anything, the increasing seriousness of the tales reflects world changes.There is a definite shift it attitude: from the optimism of the early stories, written in the first flush of the space race and the new scientific age; to the sense of disillusionment in the later tales, when all the dreams of the future had somehow remained unfulfilled.

Although I thought I’d forgotten a lot of Calvino’s work, much more of it lurked in my brain than I thought. When I read these stories before, I was expecting another “If on a winter’s night…” but now I’ve learned never to expect anything obvious from this wonderful author. His work was highly individual and singularly brilliant, and I think I appreciate a lot more on re-reading. It is fascinating to wonder what Calvino’s Cosmicomics would have made of modern society and I can only mourn his early loss and wish we still have Qwfwq to spin us tales of wonder and imagination about the scientific world around us. I can’t rate Calvino and his work highly enough – a five-star book and a five-star author!

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Further reading:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/13/complete-cosmicomics-italo-calvino-review

http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-07-22/books/the-complete-cosmicomics-a-holy-grail-for-italo-calvino-fans/

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