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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Writer Salman Rushdie is known for fusing fantasy with the real world. For our book series, You Must Read This, he recommends a book that inventively sums up the history of the universe in a dozen stories.

Sir SALMAN RUSHDIE (Author, "The Satanic Verses"): I first read "Cosmicomics" by the great Italian writer, Italo Calvino, in my early 20s, and it's a book I've gone back to again and again. In 1965, Italo Calvino took on as a subject nothing less than the creation of the universe, in a light, fantastic collection of 12 short stories titled "Cosmicomics," possibly the most enjoyable story collection ever written, a book that will frequently make you laugh out loud at its mischievous mastery, capricious ingenuity, and nerve.

According to Calvino, in the story "The Distance of the Moon," the Moon was once so close to the Earth, lovers could jump across to it, and literally moonstruck, could tryst and dally on the shining satellite which was, by the way, dripping with moon milk, a kind of cream cheese. Then the Moon started moving away, and lovers had to choose whether to return to Earth or remain trapped in the land of love.

In my favorite story, "All at One Point," the Big Bang turns out to be the result of the first generous impulse. Before the Bang, in pre-time and pre-space, things were pretty crowded. In reality, there wasn't even space to pack us into. Every point of each of us coincided with every point of each of the others in a single point, which is where we all were. Then, a being named Mrs. Ph(i)Nk0, the prototypical Italian mama, cried out, oh, if I only had some room. How I'd like to make some noodles for you boys. And at once, wham, there was room.

Perhaps only Italo Calvino could've created a work that combines scientific erudition, wild fantasy and a humane wit that prevents the edifices of these stories from toppling into whimsy. If you've never read "Cosmicomics," you have before you 12 of the most joyful reading experiences of your life.

NORRIS: Salman Rushdie is the author of many books, including his latest, "The Enchantress of Florence." The book he recommends is "Cosmicomics" by Italo Calvino. For the entire list of You Must Read This recommendations, please go to our website at npr.org.

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