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"Another Look" at Italo Calvino

We invite you to join Stanford's "Another Look" book club (of which the Stanford Libraries are a proud sponsor) in a few weeks to discuss Italo Calvino's mind-expanding collection of science-inspired fantasies, Cosmicomics.

The discussion—free and open to the public—begins at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, October 27, 2014, in the Stanford Humanities Center. Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature, will moderate the panel, with award-winning novelist Tobias Wolff, the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor, and literary journalist and visiting scholar Cynthia Haven, who blogs at The Book Haven

The "Another Look" club has a richly-outfitted website at  Here's a summary of recent posts related to Cosmicomics:

1)  There's a Stanford Report story, “Another Look book club goes out of this world with Calvino’s Cosmicomics”:

“Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath, prop a ladder against her and scramble up.” So begins the improbable tale of a man in love with the moon, and the woman in love with him, at a time when the moon was so close to the earth you could …

Wait a minute. The moon, at the dawn of time when it was closest to the earth, was still at least 12,000 miles away. Too long for any ladder. Clearly, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) one of the greatest European writers of the last century, took a mountain of artistic license when he published his science-based fantasies, Cosmicomics, in 1965. But for the generations of readers swept away with the wit and magic of these loosely linked stories, that’s part of the fun. ...

Read the rest here

2)  Cynthia Haven's interview with moderator Robert Harrison is included in “Love, loss, and the first signs in space: Robert Harrison on Calvino’s Cosmicomics":

Haven: So why are you drawn to these stories, and why did you pick them for “Another Look”?

Harrison: I like them because of their imaginative vitality and flair. I thought it would be a book of the sort that hardly anyone in the group would have read. Frankly, I find that Anglo-American fiction, which is a great tradition, is far too dominated by the genres of realism, with its lifelike characters, plots, setting, and so forth. From that point of view, Cosmicomics completely scrambles the readers’ expectations. ... The force of evolution, the anthropomorphic imagination that you have in these stories, along with the sheer charm of the book – that’s why I chose it.

Read the whole interview here.

3)  A few words about bringing Calvino into English:  "Translator William Weaver: “Calvino was not a writer of hits; he was a writer of classics.”

Translating Calvino is an aural exercise as well as a verbal one. It is not a process of turning this Italian noun into that English one, but rather of pursuing a cadence, a rhythm—sometimes regular, sometimes willfully jagged—and trying to catch it, while, like a Wagner villain, it may squirm and change shape in your hands. This tantalizing, if finally rewarding task could not be performed entirely at the typewriter. Frequently, I would get up from my desk, pace my study, testing words aloud, listening to their sound, their pace, alert also to silences.

The rest of this piece is here.

4)  There's more: a letter from Calvino about Cosmicomics here. Those who know author and critic Gore Vidal as America's most censorious writer may find his homage to Calvino as “the only great writer of my time” idiosyncratic, refreshing, and surprisingly moving – it's here. For a touch of whimsy, you might enjoy this very short animated feature inspired by Cosmicomics here; it was nominated for an Academy Award. There's additional reading on the "More on Italo Calvino" link on the horizontal bar across the top – and please join the "Another Look" mailing list – that link is on the same horizontal bar, too.


You can find Cosmicomics at the Stanford Bookstore, Kepler's in Menlo Park, and Bell's Books in Palo Alto. 

Text by Cynthia Haven


Glen Worthey (Tui, Spain, 2011)
Digital Humanities Librarian, Co-lead of the Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research
(650) 213-6759