Nonbelieving Literati: Cosmicosmos - Italo Calvino  

Friday, August 01, 2008

I've never received so many comments on a book before. When I read I tend to take the book I'm reading with me everywhere - to work, to lunch, I keep it on my desk at home, in my car while I can't possibly read it, to the store, and to friend's houses. Rarely do I get to read it in those places, but it's with me if I find some time.

I kept hearing the same comment from strangers.

"What book is that?"

I'd show it to them and tell them the title.

"Oh, it's about comics."

Well, no. Really it's about the formation of the universe, evolution, beginnings, conflict, love.

The truth is, I never really knew how to explain it. I never felt like I got a good grasp of it. Was I missing something or looking to hard for something that wasn't there? The love stories mostly irritated me, but then occasionally there would be a paragraph or a phrase that would grab me. For example, in Without Colors:

Trees of smoke-colored lava stretched out twisted branches from which hung thin leaves of slate. Butterflies of ash flying over clay meadows hovered above opaque crystal daisies. Ayl might be the colorless shadow swinging from a branch of colorless forest or bending to pick gray mushrooms under gray clumps of bushes. A hundred times I thought I glimpsed her and a hundred times I thought I lost her again. From the wastelands I moved to the inhabited localities. At that time, sensing the changes that would take place, obscure builders were shaping premature images of a remote, possible future. I crossed a piled-up metropolis of stones; I went through a mountain pierced with passageways like an anchorites' retreat; I entered a garden where, from the sandy beds, tall menhirs rose into the sky.
How could you not love the poetry of his phrases? But the subject... I never felt like that character knew love, though he thought he did. He knew yearning and desire perhaps. He wanted to possess the object of his desire. But the object wasn't human. It was just an object, for all it had a feminine form.

Then there was what I will refer to as the Larry David story. As I read The Light-Years I felt like I was in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I like the show, but it always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Yeah, silly, but I cringe when he does the obviously stupid things he can't keep himself from doing. I don't want him to fall into the pit he's staring at with open eyes, but I also want to laugh at his absurd situations. The Light-Years, though it was amusing, didn't make me laugh. It made me want to slip in a DVD and watch Larry David. It's embarrassing to admit, but in this one instance I preferred the television to a book.

But the best stories, I thought, were Games Without End, How Much Shall We Bet?, and The Dinosaurs, two without any sign of a love interest and one with a minimal interaction.

The Dinosaurs was full of isolation and thought. Yes, it was the thoughts of the dinosaur that I found most interesting. As he puzzles through the society that surrounds him, defines himself and redefines himself, I found something. And when he went on his way, I felt like cheering. Fuck the mammals. I want to be a dinosaur.

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