Listening time: 4 minutes.

In Elio Vittorini’s sparely written novel, Conversations in Sicily, the narrator returns to his native island and haltingly converses with his mother and his early years.  In contrast with this fleeting and noncommital return to his roots, his recollection of his childhood reading is one of the most engaged and delightful accounts of the enchantment of books and stories and their capacity to invite a child into distant places and cultures.

As he says, ‘we’re lucky to read as children’, and I wonder how many children in our frenetic age of sensory overload have the space, freedom and even appetite to disappear into a book for an hour or two, enjoying that magical sense of timeless absorption.

The full text of the quote can be seen below and the podcast can also be heard on Spotify, here.

See also Seamus Heaney’s description of his key childhood books.

Source: Elio Vittorini, Conversations in Sicily, trans. Alane Salierno Mason (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2000), pp. 129-130

Image credits: Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay

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Quotation - Vittorini - Conversations in Sicily

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At seven and eight and nine I had read A Thousand and One Nights and many other books there, old stories of old journeys, and that was also Sicily for me, A Thousand and One Nights and the old countries, trees, houses, and people of far-away times I met through books.  Then, in my manhood, I forgot, but I still had it inside me, I could remember, I could rediscover it.  Blessed is he who has things to rediscover!

We’re lucky to read as children. And doubly lucky to read books about old times and old countries, books of history, books of journeys, and, in a special way, A Thousand and One Nights. You can even remember what you’ve read as if you somehow lived it yourself, and then you have the history of men and all the world inside you, together with your own childhood: Persia when you were seven years old, Australia at eight, Canada at nine, Mexico at ten, and the Hebrews of the Bible with the Tower of Babylon and David, that winter when you were six, caliphs and sultans one February or September, and during the summer the great war with Gustave Adolf et cetera for Sicily-Europe – all in a town like Terranova or Siracusa, while every night the train carries soldiers to a great war which is all wars.

I was lucky enough to read a lot when I was a child, and for me, in Terranova, Sicily was also Baghdad and the Palace of Tears and the Garden of Palms.  There I read A Thousand and One Nightsand other things, in a house which was full of couches…

Image - magic carpet


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