A friend and I were talking.
One of my favorites is Italo Calvino, she said.
Oh, yes!… I used to review some of his books for the San Francisco Chronicle.
My favorite was Six Memos for the New Millennium.
I love that one! Can you send it to me?… The review, I mean.
Maybe? That must have been around thirty years ago. But I think I do still have some old reviews in a box. I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.
And I did. And here it is.
Writing as a Perfect Crystal
Six Memos for the Next Millennium
The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1985–1986
By Italo Calvino; translated by Patrick Creagh
Harvard University Press; 136 pages; $12.95
In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino, master of startling literary transformations in such works as Invisible Cities, Cosmicomics, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, shares his personal alchemical formula for literary Gold.
These lectures, intended for presentation at Harvard University in 1985, are precisely worded, carefully crafted, beautifully illustrated examples of the literary essay and inspiring demonstrations of Calvino’s argument that writing should have the definition, luminescence, and perfection of structure of a crystal. (The book is marred only by the failure of Harvard University Press to credit Patrick Creagh’s excellent translation.)
Calvino’s formula is idiomatic and personal. It will be difficult for literary critics to apply it as a test of value or for aspiring writers to use it as a recipe for their own magical creations. But it provides a brilliant, original approach to literature, a key to Calvino’s own work, and a thoroughly delightful and illuminating commentary on some of the world’s greatest writing.
The quirky quality of Calvino’s essays is unintentionally signaled by the omission of the sixth essay promised by the title, on “Consistency.” It remained unwritten at the time of the author’s death in Siena shortly before his 62nd birthday in 1985. The five essays that are included are “Lightness,” “Quickness,” “Exactitude,” “Visibility,” and “Multiplicity.”
Light, quick, exact, visible, multiple — how well Calvino knew himself. These five words effectively summarize his own literary style. But for Calvino these qualities have very particular significance, which he explores and defines through discussion of a great number of literary works.