After asking readers about the novels, poems, and short stories that have meant the most to them, the response has been so affirming – at a time when we all wonder about the future of reading, writing, and publishing, it’s to be reminded of why any of this matters at all. Many more of you have been in touch with us since Monday, for which I’m grateful. One reader writes:
For me, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities has been that understanding, consoling companion you wrote of. I came across it fresh out of high school, and I remember feeling like these little prose poems were systematically presenting all my own faults and shitty tendencies to me – but so beautifully and carefully articulated that I couldn’t help feeling proud of identifying with them. It followed me through university, across a couple continents, and it’s rare now that I go more than a month without opening the copy beside my bed, seeking comfort in its perfectly precise bittersweetness. The book opens (sort of) by evoking, then puncturing, the same nostalgic feeling I now often try to get out of rereading it:
The special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.
And it ends with what still probably amounts to the full extent of my theology:
The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
Thanks for giving the good stuff space!