Italo Calvino reveals “Why Read the Classics?”

“A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.”


Italo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952–1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979).

Admired in Britain, Australia and the United States, he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death.

The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: ‘I’m rereading…’, never ‘I’m reading….’ he says in the first chapter of this outstanding book and then goes on to show a contagious passion for great literature of all types.  Reading criticism of classics, he writes, is often a waste of time; reading, savoring, and rereading them is of much greater importance. However, many of these critical studies suffer from too much deference to the texts, and too few flights of critical fancy. The high points of the collection are the title essay and longer pieces presenting overviews of the work of great writers who were Calvino’s contemporaries.

I discovered Italo Calvino during my undergradute years and the first book I read of him was the “Why Read The Classics?”  If you are a classic book lover like me, this book is perfect for you. From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century’s most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light. So, today I want to talk about this fantastic book briefly.

Here are some highlights from the book;

First of all I like Stendhal because only the individual moral thriller, historical thriller, life exertion in it constitute a whole: this is the linear thriller of the novel. I like Pushkin, because it means clarity, irony and seriousness. I like Hemingway because it means simplicity, exaggeration, desire for happiness, sorrow. I like Stevenson because he’s flying. Chekhov is my companion, because he does not go any further than he goes. I like Conrad because he watches in deep water and does not sink. I like Tolstoy because sometimes I feel like “Oh, I understand now how you do it”, but I do not understand anything. I like Manzoni, because I hated it until yesterday. /…/ I like Gogol, because it is clearly, badly and distorted. I like Dostoyevsky because he crushes stories and characters consistently, angrily and irrationally. I like Balzac, because it is conservative. I like Kafka because it’s real. I like Maupassant because it’s superficial. I like Mansfield, because it’s smart. I like Fitzgerald because he is not happy with it. I like Radiguet, because youth never comes back. I like Svevo because I also need to get old..

All this is true both of the ancient and of the modern classics. If I read the Confessions, but I cannot forget all that the spiritual adventure of Tolstoy have come to mean in the course of the centuries, and I cannot help wondering if these meanings were implicit in the text, or whether they are distortions or expansions. When reading Kafka, I cannot avoid approving or rejecting the legitimacy of the adjective “Kafkaesque,” which one is likely to hear every quarter of an hour, applied indiscriminately. If I read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons or Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, I cannot help thinking how these characters have continued to be reincarnated right down to our own day.

 The reading of a classic must give us a surprise or two vis a vis the notion that we had of it.  A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way.

His name is Saladin, A Life Of A Legend.

“I am Saladin. When I’m not King, I quake for Islam.”


“Ask anyone in the Eastern Mediterranean to name their greatest hero of all time, the answer is without a pause is certainly Saladin.” – John Man, The Life of Legend

Salahaddin Eyyubi, popularly known in the West as Saladin, was a courageous and brilliant Muslim leader during the 12th century. His firm foundation in the religion and its prime values, leading to his commitment to the Islamic cause, enabled him to accomplish great things.

His Eyyubid Empire united dynasty of Egypt and Syria. Above all, he played an instrumental role in turning the tide against the Crusaders by successfully reclaiming Jerusalem and earned a name for himself in the annals of both Muslim and Western history.

Known as Saladin in the West, Salah al Din al Ayubi was born in 1138 in Tikrit. Saladin, a Kurdish warrior, became the Sultan of Egypt and known as a champion of Islam. Salah al Din became a legend in the East and West for his role in clearing the Crusaders from Jerusalem. His capture of Jerusalem, and the Muslim triumph that followed, gave him a remarkable place in the pages of history. The rise of a new, unified Islamic state centered in Egypt was accomplished by the skilled leadership of Saladin.

The First Crusade captured Jerusalem in June 1099, amid a horrible massacre of the inhabitants. In 1174, Saladin began his expansion of his territory. In just twelve years he conquered Damascus, Alleppo, and Iraq. Saladin united the efforts of Egypt and Baghdad, and preached to the Muslim world to rise in a Jihad, a Holy War, a counter crusade, of all the Muslims against the Christians. Gathering a large force of Muslims of various groups, called Saracens by the Christians, Saladin set out to attack the Christians. Saladin attacked the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, and after three months of fighting he gained control of the city.

When Jerusalem fell to Saladin, all of Christendom called for a new crusade. In 1189, the nations of western Europe launched the Third Crusade to win back the holy city. During the Third Crusade, led by King Richard the Lionhearted, the King arranged for supplies to be accumulated and ships used to deliver them to his troops as they marched along the coast; however, when the King finally marched inland to besiege Jerusalem, he found that Saladin had stripped the countryside of food and fodder. The wells had been poisoned and Richard realized that his army would fall apart from starvation if he tried to besiege Jerusalem. The crusaders had to settle for a treaty with Saladin that guaranteed Christian pilgrims access to the Holy Places.

The death of Saladin in 1193 led Pope Innocent III to inaugurate the Fourth Crusade, but they could not defeat the empire that Saladin had established. The Ayyubid dynasty, founded by Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub, ruled Egypt and Syria from 1169 to 1250 CE. In some regions of upper Mesopotamia and Yemen, their rule continued until the end of the 15th century.

Historical sources indicate that Hazrat Moses died on a mountain in Jerusalem by the city of Jericho. Eyyubi ruler Salahaddin Ayyubi (1138-1193) is located in the historical sources of Jerusalem, where he saw the burial place of the tomb in 1187 and then built a tomb together with the complex.



Sources: Saudi Aramco World, (January-February 2002); “Tikrit.” Global Security

Modern Man’s Problem

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible human beings who don’t know what they want?

One of the most common incompetence of the today’s world is lack of setting a life goal and working to achieve it. Many people lack of the understanding of how to do it, and do not seek the knowledge. They don’t know that they don’t know. This state can be referred to as unconscious inadequacy. Suppose, however, something happens in their life. They meet people. They read a book. They develop a friendship with someone who knows how to do it. They become aware that they have a need for setting a life goal. But they still lack the knowledge and skill to do the work.

I think life is essentially based on love. Whatever we are doing in this life is just because we want to be loved. Everything people struggle for: money, power, character, popularity, dignity is all because we want to be loved. Chasing love gives you the inspiration to move on in life. To me, family is everything. Religion also plays a key role in order to understand the meaning of life. When things get though in life, take them as hard tests and move on.

You have to fight when you feel defeated. When you feel failed, and when you feel your life is crumbled. A reporter once asked Muhammad Ali how many sit-ups he does every day. He responded, “I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting, when I feel pain, cause that’s when it really matters.” The same applies to success in life. You always have two choices when things begin to get tough: you can either overcome an obstacle and grow in the process or let it beat you. Humans are creatures of habit. If you quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the other hand, if you force yourself to push through a challenge, the strength begins to grow in you. Your challenge is to find those souls, and look for ways to guide them towards being masters of your own destiny.