Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, April 17, 2021

"Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall" by Kazuo Ishiguro

It was quite brave of me, don't you think, to immediately pick up another book of short stories after how much I didn't enjoy the book of short stories I read immediately before this one.

My bravery was rewarded, because I liked this one a lot. (Not that this should surprise me, coming from Ishiguro, but I had expected as much from Calvino and was disappointed.) Nocturnes comprises five stories, all of which revolve around musicians or music lovers (or both), and some characters are shared between them. Each story is slightly different in tone, with threads of humor or sadness or tension, and each story is equally strong (whereas many short story compilations have clunkers). I tried to choose a favorite and could not. The aging singer serenading his soon-to-be-ex wife in Venice? The music buff who sees himself through the eyes of old friends from university and discovers that he may be a loser? The self-absorbed guitar player living with his sister and trying to do as little work as possible in her restaurant? The talented saxophone player who has never made it big because he's just a little too ugly? Or the cellist who is tutored by a theoretical genius? Each has its own merits.

I'd already finished four of the stories before I looked closely enough at the cover to realize that the birds on the wires were like musical notes on a staff! I actually tried to play them on the piano but they didn't make a recognizable tune (not to mention the fact that it was difficult to determine what the rhythm should be). 

Friday, April 9, 2021

"Difficult Loves" by Italo Calvino

I didn't expect to dislike this book. I suppose at this point I have only read one other Calvino (Baron in the Trees), but I loved that one, and I thought all other Calvinos would follow suit. So it was a slight shock, and somewhat disappointing, to read these short stories. 

"Dislike" is probably somewhat strong a term. I certainly didn't hate this reading experience. But it did not match my expectations of short stories. I remember crazy Mrs Van Patten teaching us that short stories are a distillation of the novel: greater impact in a smaller format. Calvino's stories strike me more like excerpts. Not completely unworthy of reading, but certainly not sharp or strong. 

The book is divided in to three sections: Riviera Stories, Wartime Stories, and Postwar Stories. I'd say my favorite story of the book was "The Adventure of a Reader", where a man enjoys reading on the beach until he is distracted by a beautiful woman, at which point his interest in his book is in conflict with his attraction to the woman. I found it humorous, and I also related to it, because the pull of the book is stronger! But, in general, I would not call these stories memorable--and that is not solely due to my literary amnesia.

I did notice a striking resemblance to Hubert Mingarelli's writing, especially in the middle section ("Wartime Stories"), with their quiet subtlety. But the Mingarelli books I have read evoke more tension, in their own soft and spare way, and I find them more intriguing. 

I have been meaning to read Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler for years. I think the time grows nigh (despite the fact that it's no longer winter, and it seems like I ought to curl up with that book on a winter's night). Luckily Difficult Loves has not put me off.