2 years ago
AlloBaber
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Cloud Atlas' Author and Italo Calvino: Do books get worse with re-reading?

Anybody else out there a huge Italo Calvino fan?


I love his writings, and so last night, I decided to do a little investigation, to see if I couldn't find some Calvino criticism to peruse. I uncovered an article written by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, in 2004, about his undergraduate love of Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, and how that love has evolved with re-reading.

He had a couple of interesting things to say, buried in an article that for me, didn't say all that much – but the last line certainly caught my attention. Mitchell writes:

"...however breathtakingly inventive a book is, it is only breathtakingly inventive once. But once is better than never."


I wonder if this is true. I hesitate to agree, because I want to believe in literature's power to amaze us, to startle us out of our preconceived notions, to change the course of our thoughts and our lives. But perhaps that's just the optimist in me.

Do you agree that a work can only be "breathtakingly inventive" once – the first time you read it? Does this strike you as true of Calvino?

I know that Invisible Cities has wowed me beyond measure each of the three times I've read it, and I'm still hungering to read it again. And yet, I'm not quite sure... perhaps there is no time like the first time.
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@jeff4122 I'M SO GLAD I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE. This gives me hope. Lol. I agree, the book is so incredible – it's on my top 5 list as well. And that's a really great observation; I think I can identify with that statement myself. His books stay with me more strongly than almost any others. They've honestly changed how I look at art, and literature, and just reading in general. I can't pretend I even got half of what's buried in If on a winter's night; there's so much good stuff in there. But as a dedicated reader and a dabbling writer, it's absolutely fascinating.
Totally. He's so under the radar, and I can't figure out why - when I look at him, I see exactly what art and lit nerds love in a writer - someone who blows up the rule book. Maybe it's a generational thing, and his works just haven't translated as well to millennials. but spreading the joy of his writing is important.
@VinMcCarthy, if you don't know Italo Calvino, you would have so much fun with him.
Spreading the joy – wonderful idea! @paulisaverage, I could see you really enjoying Calvino's work, particularly If on a winter's night a traveler and Invisible Cities.
I'm late to this party (sorry @jeff4122) but I don't believe that there are diminished returns on re-reading books. at least for all books. I know personally that I've read a handful of books 5+ times, and other books that I will never go back to. I think that - especially as a young person - with each re-reading, the text doesn't change but you as a person do. So you bring more into the reading - you might not get the same things out of it - you might not get anything out of it, or just get one new startling discovery. I think we change, and that makes the text change how it impacts us.