Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino’s stories do not imitate, familiarize, or instruct a reader toward the infinite possibilities of imagination. They transcend, magnify, and remodel the fabric of literature itself.

Invisible Cities is an unconventional and intuitive book of descriptions. Descriptions of the inner workings of many cities that are masterfully-crafted to tickle the mind’s eye.

You come across stories that highlight the lives of its characters; through character development, we, as readers, can familiarize ourselves with the story’s environment. This can be any fictional or real location.

Haruki Murakami is one author whose magical realism is more character-driven and idiosyncratic. Books like Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle possess their own lively imagination necessarily brought to life by their vividly-portrayed characters.

Italo Calvino’s magical realism is broader, more telescopic, offering the most extraordinary descriptions and motifs of places rather than people. This is new and rewarding because you can imagine being a part of all the cities Calvino so beautifully describes. He writes you as a character in his stories. This is the genius of Calvino in the world of literature. This is how he invites his readers to feel more… and participate in his stories.

Invisible Cities is a spider-web of cities. Some familiar, some strange; some phantasmagorical, some distinctly childlike and sincere. It’s a short read but satisfyingly so. The narration is layered and intimate. This book is a traveler’s delight and a tourist’s serendipity.

Writers like Calvino re-define the map of literature and will continue, eternally, to chart new terrain, new passages, and new recesses of imagination and creativity. Much like a film that blends reality with dreams – Federico Fellini’s ‘8 ½’ being one of them – the literary architecture of Invisible Cities is aesthetically-compelling.

Harold Bloom’s How To Read And Why

In Literature, the only constant is the solitary act of reading. But even that, Harold Bloom writes, has been deeply mistranslated. The function of solitary reading – be it short stories, plays, poetry, novels – is grossly misunderstood as an appetite for escapism or to provoke the fancies of idealism. What it is, what it could ever be, is a preparation for change, a profound realization of ‘self’.

How To Read And Why offers you a combination of literature’s most whimsical, intelligent, and piercing treasures. The start of the book reclaims and reignites a reader’s lost soul. Harold Bloom evokes wisdom and transcendence in a single breath. His understanding of literature affords you both the solitude and the seductions of reading. The kind that restricts no depth, no essence, and no duration. Some familiar, some strange. But all passionate and necessary to nurture the resilience of one’s life and the role of literature in it.

To read means to elevate the stirrings of a self. To read means to decipher and deconstruct one’s emotional and intellectual solitudes. The absoluteness of the universe that represents the ambiguity of those who are part of it.

Harold Bloom intimates the genius and generosity of those we rarely mull over in our daily chaos and calm. Shakespeare, Chekov, Turgenev, Flannery O’Connor, Hemingway, Nabokov, Whitman, Proust, Bronte, Dickens, Henry James, and so many others. He shines a penetrating light into the many labyrinths and recesses of literature. The lessons, the epiphanies, the ethos of life and death.

“There are still solitary readers, young and old, everywhere, even in the universities. If there is a function of criticism at the present time, it must be to address itself to the solitary reader, who reads for herself, and not for the interests that supposedly transcend the self.”

Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag’s writing is for the passionate and the aloof. It’s for the performer and the audience. The tendencies of which exist in each of us. Her writing is the epitome of wisdom, knowledge, and most importantly, perspective.

The specificity of emotions when pitted against the suffering of others. And still, it evokes disgust, horror, sympathy – all summarized in a single second, a final memory – through the medium of photographs.

Photographs transform, they revivify, they infuriate, they provoke, but here’s what Susan Sontag considers in this beautifully intelligent book, Regarding the Pain of Others. And that is what if photographs anesthetize too?

Humans possess the ability to switch from one mechanism to another. And technology plays the role of God in that it is both an enabler of emotions and the antidote to it. We lean more on immediate gratification than empathetic self-discovery. Only to retire to the world of appearances and find in them the dull passivity of words. So what can offer meaning and soul to the aspects of life that are omnipresent?

A human is the loneliest person in a crowd. A human in a world of humans is a crowd. But Sontag’s writing paints a different picture. She wants you to imagine the limitations that manifest in a ‘humanity’ deprived of such a grotesque comparison. And the power of a photograph in a ‘humanity’ bred by it.

Regarding the Pain of Others examines the conciseness of war, suffering, and history in the world of photography. Its role, comparison, and the Last Judgment. According to Sontag, the Last Judgment is not the judging of the eyes that view the world, the mouths that speak, the ears that hear. Rather it’s the judgment of the degree of compassion we all possess and deny. Photographs are objects of contemplation, no more, no less. In light of all this, can their role also be to steel oneself against weakness? To make oneself more numb? To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible?

E. M. Cioran’s A Short History of Decay

“Chaos is rejecting all you have learned. Chaos is being yourself.”

It’s a rare thing to find in a loyally-pessimistic writer the bridge that connects wisdom with nothingness. Cioran writes about heroes and hermits alike. He shines the torch on the uncertainty, incompetence, and excesses of both. And the way they breed in humanity a need for religion, organization, and discipline.

The book explains why myth and history manifest the ‘us’ of the world. This concept of unity and laboring humanity is the antidote to the ‘I’ that exists innately and primitively. It’s the way that we construct an architecture of calculated despair and suffering. The antidote to which, its medicine, is the hope of Fate; be it hope to overcome the dizzying nothingness of yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Or to hope that the wellspring of words and tears weigh higher against that which we have already lost on the day we were born.

All of existence and existing, being and becoming, life and living is a method to analyze the monstrosity the lies between birth and death. To reclaim what we don’t understand only so that we never have to.

To be born and to die are fundamental truths. While the “truths of beauty are fed on exaggerations,” the notion that to resign to happiness, success, and normality is absurd. The evidence of which creates false gods, fabricated fictions, and feverishly grotesque ideals to live up to.

A Short History of Decay is the history of imagination, rationality, and myth. Intelligent, intuitive, and melancholic; Cioran penetrates the despair of humanity, anticipates the brutal expectations of it, and finally when all perception is void, and nothingness prevails over the scales of time and fate, he grants us the confidence of possessing an “I.” The loneliness of it and the unburdening of everything else.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

It’s such sophisticated and symbolic writing. Jane Eyre is Bronte’s psychological and emotional vessel – molded and contoured through vivid descriptions of nature, gothic landscapes, obscure shadows, and alter egos. It is masterfully-adorned in unconventional romanticism and wisdom.

Straightforward, candid, and unreserved – Jane Eyre coalesces courage and impeccable writing to revise the narrative of the ‘invisible’ woman. The woman who is regarded for her words, her forthrightness, her conduct. The woman who is trained to expect less of society, of ambition, of unconditional love and affection, in relation to herself.

You can feel the artificiality that society places upon the shoulders of such silence and inhibition. This book somehow scales the tides of such suffocation and discrimination. It epitomizes the complex and androgynous spirit of a woman who’s not deprived of her own identity.

When a woman’s personal growth and self-discovery is not gauged by a misogynistic and patriarchal society. The woman in the attic, the merciless depictions of nature, the sequestered loneliness of Jane Eyre, and her devotion to her master.

All these illustrate the undying foundations of womanhood misconstrued as servitude and meekness. Bronte reclaims, at an impressively confounding pace, the ‘coming-of-age’ of women.

Feminism, equality, spirituality, freedom. Jane Eyre draws from many wells. It’s a product of Charlotte Bronte’s childhood, education, and society. The image she finally drew on 500 pages or so is a vivid and provocative one. You can read her “story” through the lens of many – Jane Eyre herself, Mr. Rochester, and Bertha. You can view one as one or one as many. You may perceive Jane Eyre’s devotion as a constraint; Mr. Rochester’s virtuosity as manipulation, Bertha’s terror as a form of subjugation, and so on. But there is more to the story than what has been written down. You, as a reader, have to find the creases that make the story complete.

Your final summit is to realize that fertilizing moment of self-discovery in the story. If you have to be told when it occurs, you can never know. If you know, you know it all too well and feel it even today.