Italo Calvino is a very menaingful writer to me, in particular his novel, The Baron In The Trees. You know the feeling of having a deep and complex impressionistic memory, having incorporated something integral and being able to summon a tactile response to something, but not really remembering the concrete of it? In this case, I mean the plot. I’d say this sensation comes with art usually. Writers should aim to leave you visceral memories. Plot, characters, dates, sometimes locations, even language can all escape my memory, but the feeling a book gave me tends to cling forever when I love the book. This is also true of places and people I’ve loved. Well I read Baron of the Trees in my twenties and I’ve given it to numerous people. Numerous men. The baron of Rondi and his dog Ottimus Maximus, and his committment to living life solely in the trees and his life-long love of a fair-haired girl, and Calvino’s insistence that the reader learn how Cossimo defecated, made love, fought battles, built irrigation systems, corresponded with philosophers, all from the trees, has often seemed to me like something important to know to various men in my life. But I wondered for the first time a few weeks ago, if the book influenced my writing.
It was a deep pleasure to re-read this book for craft. Meaning, I read it like I was a literature student, and learn I did. The very same afternoon that Cossimo enters the trees, to remain there for the rest of his life, he meets the taunting and irresistable Viola. Now, if there’s one concrete thing I remembered about this novel it was Cossimo’s love for Viola. But I never would have remembered that he met her within 15 minutes of entering the trees, and it is intonated that perhaps his professing to her, in all his childishness, that he will never come down, had something very large to do with the fact that he never comes down. The lesson to this writer was have your Cossimos meet their Violas in the first 15 minutes. In addition, I think Italo Calvino’s insertion of nature and animals and his poetic descriptions of such have had an influence on my writing. I think I’ve admired and aspired to his langauge in my own. And I had to laugh, when I got to the end and saw the book was 217 pages. My own novel was 216. It wasn’t just by one page that Calvino outdid me. And it doesn’t hurt too badly to see how much greater there is to become.