Thursday, March 24, 2016

THE BARON IN THE TREES by Italo Calvino, one of the best books I've ever read

translated by Archibald Colquhoun
Mariner Books
$13.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Cosimo, a young eighteenth-century Italian nobleman, rebels by climbing into the trees to remain there for the rest of his life. He adapts efficiently to an arboreal existence and even has love affairs.

My Review: This being a famous and well-studied book, I suppose the publisher didn't feel the need to do a sell-job on it. That little squib is barely a log-line!

I read this book first in ~1974, because it had a cool-looking jacket. It also had an Italian author, which was also cool. But the reading of it was a revelation because the titular Baron was the perfect rebel, firm of purpose and adamant of spirit. And all over what seems, at first anyway, such a ridiculous cause: Refusing to eat snails. I'd never had snails offered to me at that point, and I was in full agreement with the Baron. But as the pages flipped on, I could see what was really at stake was the right to set one's own boundaries, to establish a core identity by and for one's own self.

All adolescents resonate to that theme, I think, and that's why I'm surprised that this book isn't required reading until college. It would serve well in junior or senior year of high school. Anything that deals with the process and price of becoming and being an individual seems to me to be a good fit for that age. Plus it's beautifully translated, so it's easy to read.

And for the record, I ate snails the first time they were offered to me. They were delicious.

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