I got this for Christmas and I'm very pleased I did, for it is genuinely lovely stuff: a pitch-perfect combination of artless charm and dream-logic inventiveness. Each story starts with a fact Calvino has culled from 'science' which he then parses into stories narrated by the main character 'Qfwfq'. In 'The Distance of the Moon', the first and best story (and I think it is the best; although it's possible that I think so because I read it first, and its strangeness-and-charm won me over in a way that could never after feel quite so fresh with the other stories) Qfwfq recalls when the moon was close enough to the earth to be reached by leaping up -- a strange scaly lunar body, from which moon-milk could be harvested. The story of Qfwfq, his deaf cousin, the captain of their ship and his randy wife, is very sweetly told. Of the others, 'All At One Point' has admirable compression and concision, and 'Without Colours' anticipates Jasper Fforde's latest by many decades -- I wish I'd read it before reviewing this latter in fact. Overall there is a flavour of high-class children's literature about these stories, despite their sometimes adult contents: a beguiling warm-milk-and-cookies vibe. I'm not knocking that. In fact I'm envious. I couldn't generate that quality in what I write if I had a million years to practice.
These stories first appeared in Italian in 1965 which makes them exactly as old as I am myself; something that also endears them to me. They even have a wikipedia article. This, though, is a new translation (very freshly and deftly rendered, they all are, by Martin McLaughlin, Tim Parks and William Weaver), with seven new stories (of mixed quality), and with -- I must say -- one of the most beautiful covers of any 2009 title I have seen. A lovely piece of book production from penguin. The image, which you can see at the top of this post, is very nice; but the quality of the printing, and gilding, and the paper really makes it. The image is 'The Last Judgment: the Stars Fall and Everything Is Turned Upside Down' (pictor ignotus, 15th-century Italian School). There's nothing in the book to say who's responsible for the design.