cover image Letters to My Son on the Love of Books

Letters to My Son on the Love of Books

Roberto Cotroneo. Ecco Press, $23 (151pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-631-5

Cotroneo is the cultural editor for L'Espresso and as such it is his job ""to be a critic, in particular a literary critic. I'm paid to express my opinion on the books I read."" In 1994, when he wrote this series of essays, his son, Francesco, was two years old and was enamored of the complete Disney oeuvre. Here, Cotroneo offers almost an apologia for his own bibliophilia, telling his too-young son about four books he hopes Francesco will read and what great lessons they offer. Cotroneo's aim is not to offer a list of best books for kids, but rather to suggest a lifetime of reading, learning and maturing. Cotroneo starts with a young boy's favorite, R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, and then moves on to increasingly complicated works--J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye; T.S. Eliot's ""The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"" and ""The Waste Land""; and finally Thomas Bernhard's The Loser. He looks at each book as a parent and as a critic, asking what makes this book worthy as literature and what will it tell his son about the conduct of life. From Treasure Island, he culls lessons about fear and the nature of evil. In Salinger, he finds an injunction against self-centeredness. In Eliot, he sees a warning of the crippling price exacted by a fear of revealing oneself. Finally, Cotroneo discusses the dangers of an excess of critical spirit in Bernhard. Too involved for the young, too personal to be a general guide for parents, the work seems intended for older sophisticated book lovers. But for them, the parental crowing (""She's used to our conversations which go like this: `Would you like some Brahms?' `No, no Barms, Mall-ey. Bob.' "") may prove discouraging. (Oct.)