Wednesday, January 7, 2009

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino

This is a book that I've wanted to read for quite a while. It just so happens that it was one of the books that my husband bought me for Christmas. So, this is my first official read of the new year. Yeah, I know many of you are already on your second, third, and fourth books. However, in my defense, this was not exactly quick reading. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book, and I'm still not sure about it after having read it. I did enjoy the book after an initial state of confusion. What probably helped me more than anything else is the great introduction in the edition that I have.

The novel is about books, reading, writing, publishing and the interrelatedness of all of these. The author looks at some serious subjects in a comedic way. O.K., I already feel like I'm rambling. Let me try again. The book is written in a format with twelve chapters, which are addressed to the Reader who is also the protagonist. In between each of these chapters is the beginning of a fictitious novel by a fictitious author. Sound confusing? Well, it's really not once you get into it. You see, the Reader begins a book entitled If on a winter's night a traveler but is unable to finish it due to a publishing error. It seems that two different books got put together in the binding process. This sets the whole story into motion. The Reader is on a quest to find the ending to this book, which only leads him to the beginning of another book by another author, etc. This happens a total of ten times. So, each chapter sends the Reader to a different location and a different set of strange circumstances only to find the beginning of another book.

The great thing about this book is its inventiveness and the way that it captures the way readers interact with books. In chapter eleven, the Reader finds himself in a library desperately seeking any of the ten of the novels he has begun. He encounters other readers in the library who explain the way they read and why they read. I won't go into all of them, but the one that stuck out to me is the reader who says that he encounters a new book each and every time he rereads a book. This reader believes that the meaning comes from the reader in that particular time and place. So a rereading of the same book can never yield the same emotions. I would have to say that I pretty much agree with that statement. I know I've begun books and put them aside only to pick them up later and devour them. It wasn't the book that had changed. It was me.

This is probably not a book for everyone, but I did enjoy it. It did make me stop and think about the act of reading, which I usually just take for granted. But, take my word for it, if you're going to read this, find one with a good introduction.

11 comments:

Rebecca Reid said...

I've heard so many great things about this book!

JoAnn said...

That's the best synopsis I've read of this book. I've been curious and knew it was "different", but not much else. It sounds a little outside my comfort range - maybe I should consider it for the 2009 mini-challenges.

Lisa said...

rebecca, I'm glad I read it.

thanks, Joann. It is very different, but I did enjoy it. I think as long as you know going in that it's nothing like you've read before, you'll be fine.

Andi said...

Gotta read it. GOT TO READ IT!!! I feel a purchase coming on.

Dorothy W. said...

I enjoyed this book too. It shows that experimental novels don't have to be difficult or overly serious.

Joshua Henkin said...

Lisa--Thanks for commenting on Booclub Girl about authors visiting book clubs and my experience doing so, as chronicled in the Philadelpha Inquirer. I'd be very happy to participate with your book club in a discussion of MATRIMONY. If you're interested, you can reach me at Jhenkin [at] SLC [dot] edu.

Best,

Josh

Lisa said...

andi, find one with a good introduction.

dorothy, I haven't had much experience with experimental novels, but I would be willing to try some more after reading this.

Nymeth said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Lisa. I really wanted to, but I just couldn't get into the stories. Maybe I'll try again some day.

Lisa said...

nymeth, I TOTALLY understand not being able to get into this one. I think I was so intimidated by it and expected to hate it that I actually surprised myself. Again, I think the introduction really helped a lot. Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to have followed every bit of it. But, I think that is part of the point. It's different if nothing else!

Danielle said...

I bought this last year and hope to read it sometime soon. I like the idea of a book about readers and reading. I really want to try more challenging sorts of books like this one, this year.

Lisa said...

danielle, this book is challenging but not because it's serious. It's challenging because it's so different. It's really hard to describe. I'll be anxious to hear what you have to say about it. You always do such good reviews. I really struggled with trying to describe this one. I didn't want to scare people away, but I wanted to try and describe it accurately.