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If On A Winter's Night A Traveller... by Italo Calvino Camilla Send a noteboard - 25/09/2009 11:36:10 AM
In my edition of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller the cover allows you to read the beginning of the book itself. This is a clever trick, particularly in this instance, as it allows you to innocently start reading it without committing to anything; and so it sucks you in.

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter'a night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice - they won't hear you otherwise - "I am reading! I don't want to be disturbed!"

Maybe they haven't heard you, with all the racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything: just hope they'll leave you alone.

And this is precisely how it continues. It alternates between chapters addressing the reader as "you", describing reading situations that become steadily more incredible, distancing itself ever more from your actual reading situation; and the opening chapter of a series of very different books.

There is a certain something about opening chapters in books. It is the part of the book that requires most attention while seemingly giving the least in return: it is where you become aware of the direction of the book, where the book (hopefully) captures your attention and makes you want to read on, but which does not yet provide any satisfaction. A book consisting entirely (or at least half) of opening chapters, therefore creates a very odd reading situation.

You end up reading it the way you normally read opening chapters: you do not feel safe in it, secure that you can skip a sentence here or there because you know what is coming; you cannot skim boring parts (I am not saying there are any) … . The book makes you automatically pay more attention to it than you otherwise might.

If I may make the connection to sex (which the book itself does quite overtly: it is well aware of the literary theory climate of the 70s), it is a series of beginning arousals that are never satisfied. It is a delicious book, but it leaves you wanting to read all those non-existent books. The only one of the stories that is given an ending is that of the reader, which began on the first page.

The first of the reader's chapters seduced me entirely. I did not stop for breath, but allowed to to completely take me over. The second stopped me short as it suddenly became apparent that the reader, the "you" to whom the text was addressed, was male. I remember stopping at this, a little disappointed, before reading on. From there on I read the "you" as "he", and the second person narrative might for all intents and purposes be third person. As a student of literature, this is of course interesting as highlighting the author's assumptions &c., &c.; but as a reader enjoying the book on a more visceral level, it threw me. I still enjoyed it tremendously, but it lost an edge I had, naively, perhaps, excepted it to carry all the way to the end. The redeeming factor is, of course, that Calvino is clearly aware of it: it is only another game among all the others he plays with reading and the reader.

The opening chapters are all in wildly different styles. Not all of them appealed to me right off the bat, as it were, but they all managed to suck me in (usually just as they ended). There is a cold war spy thriller (I think), a Japanese erotic novel, a Russian revolutionary story and some Parisian crime. And more. Following the pattern of the continuing story, though, there always appears to be some sinister opponent and a woman to be desired.

I feel I can never do justice to this book. I loved it the first time I read it. Despite the perpetual frustration of the unfinished novels, and the steadily more insane main narrative. I still love it. It keeps screaming for analysis, but only so that it can turn the tables on you. It is sneaky. And enjoyable. I doubt anyone could ever say that anything was a "typical" Calvino book (any cathegory that is wide enough to encompass Invisible Cities and Our Ancestors, well... . But that is just where I am going. Because it is so clearly not a typical book of any kind, but a book that picks and chooses (or rather, declines to choose) between any number of genres, so happily; because it soaks them in a cocktail of a not-so-subtle meditation on the reader, based in a theory of reading fueled by desire; I think that is what makes me think of this as the Typical Calvino Novel.
structured procrastinator
This message last edited by Camilla on 25/09/2009 at 12:05:36 PM
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If On A Winter's Night A Traveller... by Italo Calvino - 25/09/2009 11:36:10 AM 5122 Views
Hmm - 25/09/2009 04:33:37 PM 1359 Views
Re: Hmm - 25/09/2009 04:48:13 PM 1446 Views
Re: Hmm - 25/09/2009 05:14:11 PM 1414 Views
Seriously, Camilla. - 25/09/2009 05:13:13 PM 1443 Views
You know how you have this list of books to read this year, and how you follow it slavishly? - 25/09/2009 07:07:14 PM 1402 Views
Pfft! - 25/09/2009 07:10:26 PM 1511 Views
Re: Pfft! - 25/09/2009 07:14:17 PM 1556 Views
Re: Pfft! - 25/09/2009 07:18:03 PM 1480 Views
Re: Pfft! - 25/09/2009 07:24:27 PM 1458 Views
It's a bit indescribable - 25/09/2009 05:16:41 PM 1474 Views
Re: It's a bit indescribable - 25/09/2009 07:08:03 PM 1408 Views
i don't think i would be able to describe it either. - 25/09/2009 05:32:15 PM 1537 Views
Re: i don't think i would be able to describe it either. - 25/09/2009 07:09:55 PM 1652 Views
hm... i don't remeber... i read it a long time ago.... maybe? - 27/09/2009 02:17:39 AM 1337 Views
I've read it in three languages - 25/09/2009 11:32:51 PM 1469 Views
Daaaamn you're needy. *NM* - 26/09/2009 06:59:48 AM 767 Views
No - 26/09/2009 07:24:46 AM 1473 Views
Again, you turn the focus onto yourself. - 26/09/2009 08:06:09 PM 2575 Views
Re: I've read it in three languages - 26/09/2009 12:57:12 PM 1520 Views
I agree - 26/09/2009 09:06:54 PM 1521 Views
This has been sitting on my shelf for years. I'd really better get to it! *NM* - 26/09/2009 07:00:12 AM 829 Views
Yes. *NM* - 26/09/2009 01:00:57 PM 756 Views
I read this in high school. - 26/09/2009 05:26:48 PM 1361 Views

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