Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Category: 850s

856: Letters, 1941-1985 by Italo Calvino

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856.914: Calvino, Italo. Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985. Translated by Martin McLaughlin. NJ: Princeton, University Press, 2013. 534 pp. ISBN 978-0-691-13945-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature and Rhetoric
  • 850: Literatures of Italian, Sardinian, Dalmatian, Romanian, and Rheato-Romanic languages
  • 856: Italian letters
  • 856.9: 1900—
  • 856.91: 1900—1999
  • 856.914: 1945—1999

Italo Calvino was a man of many opinions. From his days in the Italian Communist Party after World War II to his tenure in the Oulipo writing group, Calvino had a lot to say and used his many friends, agents, and even enemies around Europe to say it. The letters translated here by Martin McLaughlin represent the tapestry of threads he wove throughout his life.

The first impression one gets of Calvino is that of a man who needs the company of friends to enrich his life. He constantly wants his pen pals to visit him wherever he is, or send books and articles, or recount news of local politics. But beyond that, there is a hunger. He relishes in all the philosophical complexities of literary fiction, even going so far as to dissect his own work.

Calvino is at times belligerent, compassionate, churlish, and joyous, but never boring. That being said, it helps to be acquainted with at least some of Calvino’s writing before diving into the 600 letters in this book. All in all, however, this was an entertaining albeit lengthy read.

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854: How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays by Umberto Eco

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854.912: Eco, Umberto. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays. Translated by William Weaver. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Inc., 1994. 252 pp. ISBN 978-0-15-600125-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature and Rhetoric
  • 850: Literatures of Italian, Sardinian, Dalmatian, Romanian, and Rheato-Romanic languages
  • 854: Italian essays
  • 9: 1900—
  • 91: 1900—1999
  • 912: 1900—1945

Umberto Eco’s How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays is quite an apropos book to have with you while on vacation. He singles out particular occurrences in both American and Italian culture for close, humorous inspection. Eco dissects traveling by train in the US, getting a new driver’s license in Italy, writing an introduction to art books, and much more. There are times when the Eco’s annoyance is just pedantic, but others are universal situations.

The humor here is a bit stilted, but that may be the translation. It is definitely better than your standard American hyperbole and so becomes more like good satire than simple pastiche, almost as if it was the source material for the TV show Frasier. In any case, many of the essays are chuckle-worthy and it makes for a good bathroom or bedtime reader. A light and entertaining book.

855: Italy’s Foreign and Colonial Policy

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855: Italy’s Foreign and Colonial Policy: A Selection from the Speeches Delivered in the Italian Parliament by the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Tommaso Tittoni During His Six Years In Office (1903-1909). Translated by Baron Bernardo Quaranta di San Severino. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914. 323 p.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 850: Literatures of Italian, Sardinian, Dalmatian, Romanian, Rhaeto-Romanic languages
  • 855: Italian speeches

Right off the bat, I feel I need to warn readers of this book. It’s a book of speeches given by a middlingly important government official to members of his country’s parliament. These are not remarks given on the world stage or by anyone that a majority of people have even heard of. Tommaso Tittoni was the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1903 to 1909, then again in 1919. He served a small stint as the Acting Prime Minister for 17 days in March 1905. He worked in various capacities for the Italian government for the majority of his life and as such became familiar with the ins and outs of world politics. The speeches collected in Italy’s Foreign and Colonial Policy show just how intertwined the world was at the turn of the 20th century.

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853: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

853.914: Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. Translated by William Weaver. 260 pp. ISBN 0-15-643961-1.

Dewey Construction:

  • 800: Literature
  • 850: Italian literature
  • 853: Italian fiction
  • +914: 1945-1999

Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is probably not like any book you’ve read before. For starters, it’s in the second person. You, the Reader, are the agent of action. Second, every other chapter is the first chapter of some other book. Third, at the beginning of the book, you are told you are reading this book, and right at the end, you are told that you are nearly finished reading this book. It’s all very disconcerting and exciting at the same time.

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851: Between the Blast Furnaces and the Dizziness by Milo De Angelis

851.914: De Angelis, Milo. Between the Blast Furnaces and the Dizziness: A Selection of Poems, 1970-1999. Translated by Emanuel Di Pasquale. New York: Chelsea Editions, 2003. 193 pp. ISBN 0-9725271-0-9.

Dewey Construction:

  • 800: Literature
  • 850: Italian Literature
  • 851: Italian Poetry
  • 851.91: 20th Century Italian Poetry
  • 851.914: Italian Poetry, 1945-1999

One of the many constants with poetry is that since poems are supposed to be densely packed morsels of language, they tend to portray very short snippets of time, and each person or object in the snippet is mined for emotional resonance. This makes the emotions in a poem more intense than most prose. And when the words are that intense, the reader is left with an overwhelming sense of almost artificial gravitas after encountering a book-length collection of poems. Milo De Angelis’s Between the Blast Furnaces and the Dizziness is no different.

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