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Book Title: Collezione di sabbia|
The author of the book: Italo Calvino
Edition: Oscar Mondadori
Date of issue: May 1994
ISBN 13: 9788804382577
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.43 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.1
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In my free time I almost exclusively read fiction, but, when I like an author enough, I sometimes give that author’s non-fiction writing a try. Calvino is one of my favorite authors, so he makes the cut easily, but Collection of Sand nevertheless ended up being a disappointment.
My favorite work in Calvino’s The Road to San Giovanni was an essay (with Calvino transforming the topic of garbage into a brilliant meditation on modern living), and my favorite story in Under the Jaguar Sun was the titular story of a trip to Mexico. Thus, I went into Collection of Sand expecting great things, as it is comprised of essays and stories of Calvino’s travels. While the stories of Calvino’s travels were indeed strong, my great expectations were not met overall because the essays tend to be formulaic, and (though I hate to say this about anything Calvino wrote) sometimes even boring.
Calvino’s strengths as a writer are numerous, but chief among them is his imagination. For instance, what made his essay on garbage (“La Poubelle Agreee”) so excellent is the way in which he started discussing something that seems mundane, but he brings you along with the flow of his thoughts to new, beautiful perspectives you would never have considered on your own. He does not abandon his original topic, indeed he focuses on it throughout, but he uses the everyday as a springboard for his imagination and shows you something wonderful. The essays in Collection of Sand are not like La Poubelle Agreee, in that Calvino does not use them as a jumping off point for anything greater. Instead they are Calvino’s accounts of museum exhibits, or academic essays, or chapters of books, with most of each essay spent describing or summarizing the subject, giving some of Calvino’s interpretation (inevitable in any description), but doing nothing more until the final paragraph, where, for a brief moment, Calvino reaches outside of the immediate topic and gives you something more thought provoking.
So, essentially, Calvino’s essay ends just when it’s getting good (the one exception being the essay that gives the collection its name, where Calvino goes outside the boundary of his subject and delves into introspection a bit earlier). The structure of these essays are so similar that they feel repetitive, and even begin to feel uninspired. The best pieces of these works are the throwaway line referring to Calvino’s personal opinion, like the sentence where Calvino states that he has “never felt any strong urge to explore psychological depths” that made me realize that not a single one of Calvino’s books have any characters of psychological complexity. They may contain characters of symbolic complexity, but that’s not at all the same thing. I appreciated little tidbits like this, but chiefly because of my love of Calvino’s other works and not for the sake of the work at hand.
The pieces on foreign countries are much better than the essays, with Calvino’s musings on Japan and Iran being particularly strong (his Mexico material is overshadowed by Under the Jaguar Sun, no pun intended). Calvino could have been a great travel writer, in part because of a realization he expresses in one of his pieces on Japan that travel does not lead to understanding, but does enhance observation. Here, that heightened observation gives Calvino a path to the more abstract discussion of ideas that I wished his essays would reach but never did. The exploration of foreign lands lent themselves to introspective exploration, and Calvino delivers on both fronts.
The ultimate problem, therefore, is that Collection of Sand is three-quarters essays and one-quarter travelogues. If the ratio were reversed, this collection would be a very good one overall, but, as it stands, the mediocre overpowers the noteworthy. I can’t recommend a collection based on its final fourth alone. Perhaps someday someone will compile the gems scattered about Calvino’s lesser works into a single great volume. If this does come to pass, the travelogues herein will be represented, though not the rest.
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Read information about the authorItalo 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 reminiscent of fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more "realistic" and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called postmodern, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled magical realist, others fables, others simply "modern". He wrote: "My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language."
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