Monday 17 November 2008

No love

WARNING: I have nothing good to say about Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, so if you love it and feel personally involved in how others feel about it, you probably want to stop reading now.

I haven't enjoyed Italo Calvino at all in the past, but I decided to give Invisible Cities a try for several reasons:

1) A few people I really like and whose reading tastes I respect recommended it highly.

2) I was trying to be open-minded because, after all, tastes change. I read Mr. Palomar and thought it was the most boring shit I'd ever read but that was 10 or more years ago; I thought that maybe I'd been too young to appreciate it and figured this would be a way to find out if my tastes had changed in favour of Calvino. (It's true that I've tried approximately 5 times to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveller and can't get past page 15, but I generally love Orhan Pamuk and yet can't get page 10 of The New Life, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything.)

3) I liked the idea of this book, of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan sitting together and discussing the cities of the world, all of which turn out to be Venice.

I must not have been thinking, for if I'd considered more seriously what the book's premise implied, I probably could have guessed that this novel would be too preciously post-modern for my tastes. I should have guessed that it would be exactly the kind of book that I hate. And hate Invisible Cities I did. It was only 165 pages long and yet it seemed interminable. It was just so earnest and "deep" and humourless that it made me want to tear Calvino's hair, and rend his cheeks, and make him gnash his teeth. (Yes, I know he is dead. Just go with what I'm trying to convey here.)

The only good thing that I can say about Invisible Cities is that it was so uninteresting that I won't be plagued by memories of its details; I found it to be so forgettable that I've already forgotten most of it and I finished it 20 minutes ago! Indeed, I forgot most of the chapters immediately after reading them which was sort of a blessing but also made continuing even more painful than it already was, for I knew with increasing certainty that the book wasn't going to all of sudden surprise me with some awesomeness.

So, I now have come completely to terms with the fact that no matter how many people I like love Calvino, and no matter how much I might like the ideas behind his books (as ill considered as that admiration may be), I can't stand the execution. Calvino and I just were not meant to be friends, which is okay - both of us have lots of other friends to keep us happy.


Anonymous said...

Yikes!!! I haven't read any Calvino, but I keep coming across references to "Invisible Cities" associated with the stuff I read. I'm going to have to read it now!

Its refreshing to hear someone admit they despise otherwise highly regarded works.

So what other books do you think are seriously over-rated or just plain SUCK!

Anonymous said...

I loved "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller". Gore Vidal also admired Calvino highly; check out his essay on him in Vidal's "USA", collected essays.

Bookphilia said...

Wayne, in response to your question about what other authors I don't love: Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields...and Gore Vidal. Sorry Dr. K!

raych said...

Ok, firstly, is Dr K a frequent commenter of yours, or is he just one of those that googles a phrase and then comments without bothering to read the post? Because I get those all the time, all 'I loved The Shack too! Check out my review here!' when uggggh.

Also, it's ok you hate Calvino. I totally secretly hate Neil Gaiman, and even though I read four books by him this summer, I only blogged about one (I was also going through an 'I don't need to review everything I read' phase which, thankfully, I'm out of). SO! You hate my friends, and I'll hate yours, and we'll all just get along.

Bookphilia said...

Raych! Dr. K is not a frequent commenter but he is my brother...we rarely agree on books but then again, I rarely read the books he reads because they're too serious for my tastes. And by serious I mean they require more brain power than I currently possess in the twilight days of my PhD. (The irony of this doesn't escape me.)

But that's cool that you hate Neil Gaiman; you're definitely not the only person I know who doesn't like him. But what I want to know is: why did you read FOUR of his books? I usually quit after 2 at most if I'm hating an author's stuff! Are you being stubbornly open-minded or are you engaging in a sort of readerly self-harm?