• Welcome to BookAndReader!

    We LOVE books and hope you'll join us in sharing your favorites and experiences along with your love of reading with our community. Registering for our site is free and easy, just CLICK HERE!

    Already a member and forgot your password? Click here.

Italo Calvino: If On A Winter's Night A Traveler


Well-Known Member
There's another thread on Calvino HERE that mentions If on a winter's night . . . , but it was more about the author in general, so thought I'd start a separate thread.

I loved this book **gush, gush**. No, really. I read previous comments in the other thread about it being gimmicky, so was wary going into it and just at the point where I was beginning to lose patience and think, 'yeah it is a bit gimmicky', Calvino managed to pull me right back in. I've always disliked the use of the term virtuoso performance, but in this case, I think it fits. I was mesmerized by the way he wove the different stories into the overall narrative of the Reader. Each story/chapter managed to lure me further and further along - some making me laugh, others making me want to tear my hair and screech in confusion. The fascinating thing for me is that it's not just how Calvino tells the stories or the quest of the Reader in the novel, but how he manages to make it about all readers. Taken as a whole, it's as much a treatise about reading, readers and the relationship between reader and author as it is a piece of fiction.

What's also very appealing to me is how Calvino doesn't take himself too seriously. The chapter on Silas Flannery's diary being a case in point. You think Flannery, an author, is having a serious discussion with Lotaria about how she interprets his novels, but it soon devolves into a slapstick scene of him chasing her around the desk:
I could have made my passes with a bit more style, but at this point it's too late for amends: it's all or nothing now. I continue chasing her around the desk muttering sentences whose complete foolishness I recognize, such as, "Perhaps you think I'm too old, but on the contrary . . ."
And I thought the double-speak in the chapter about Ataguitania was hilarious:
My case is different. I'm an infiltrator, a real revolutionary infiltrated into the ranks of the false revolutionaries. But to avoid being discovered, I have to pretend to be a counterrevolutionary infiltrated among the true revolutionaries. And, in fact, I am, inasmuch as I take orders from the police; but not from the real ones, because I report to the revolutionaries infiltrated among the counterrevolutionary infiltrators.

Highly recommended.
I'm glad to hear you talk so highly of it, my cousin was just telling me I had to read it. She just finished it and was insisting I pick it up from her over the holidays. I did really like the title for some reason but I'd never heard of it before this week.
Yes, pick it up. I don't have a ton of time, so I'll hold my review for another day, but I also LOVED this book.
I too liked this book a lot. Postmodern authors tend to fall into the trap of taking themselves WAY too seriously and their books become ego trips. Not Calvino! He has a sharp, perceptive, complicated, yet ultimately lighthearted style that is very fascinating. Next on my list is Invisible Cities.
Irene talked about this book on the "Cloud Atlas" thread and I have just finished it. I did like it very much and it was interesting to read it after Cloud Atlas. I particularly liked the humour, which I wasn't really expecting, and the way it made me think about reading.
I thought it was a great novel - the only second person novel I've read, and the only hilarious novel I've read with so much depth to it. I can see that it wouldn't appeal to a lot of people, but it's undoubtedly a masterful work of fiction.
Swimming Against Time

An excerpt:


I would like to swim against the stream of time:
I would like to erase the consequences of certain events
and restore an initial condition.
But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts
and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences;
so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out,
the further I move away from it;
though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions
and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure,
enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief,
I must,
bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events
provokes a rain of new events,
which complicate the situation worse than before
and which I will then,
in their turn,
have to try to erase.

I must calculate carefully every move
so as to achieve
the maximum of erasure
with the minimum of recomplication.

Italo Calvino
If on a winter's night a traveler

see also http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/calvino/
I finished if on a winter's night a traveler yesterday, the first book that I have completed in over a month, and boy am I glad that I chose such a stunner to get back into the reading game. Unique, compelling, thought-provoking - the list of complimentary adjectives could go on for a long while.

The humor is one of the things that I found most enjoyable - and unexpected - about this book. It was really good to find that not all literary pieces have to be serious and the authors to be a little pompous - I got the impression from reading this that Calvino would actually be a fun guy to be around. He captured the relationship between readers and their books perfectly in this novel, I believe, something that was telling from the fact that I would often find myself nodding and grinning stupidly upon reading something that I find myself doing in regards to reading or meeting other readers (I especially liked the part in the opening chapter when he lumped books into different, perfectly accurate catergories that readers tend to sort books into - he was spot on). This insight into the life of a reader definitely increased my interest in the novel - if this author knows exactly how readers behave then maybe he can write a novel that readers will enjoy, right?

The main thing that I liked about this novel, however, was the stories that cut off halfway. They opened so much potential for thought and reflection, not only on what happened after it ended, but also on what had happened prior to us coming into the story. I thought that his ability to provoke thought was absolutely brilliant, and I would find myself mulling over possibilities numerous times during my reading. I especially enjoyed the one about the guy who felt compelled to answer telephones. That was another example of Calvino's insight to the behaviour and reactions of everyday people.

I personally didn't find the book as gimmicky as some people suggest; I had wanted to read this book for a very long time because of numerous people suggesting it to me, but for some reason, though I desperately wanted to read it, I found upon starting the novel that I had had no idea what it was about. This complete ignorance that existed until I opened the book really helped draw attention away from the gimicky style - for me the style was totally unexpected, unique and highly entertaining. If I'm going to be completely honest, at first I thought that the chapters entitled Chapter One, Chapter Two etc were the translator's guides to the novel, kind of like an extended introduction :eek: The fact that the uniqueness hit me from nowhere really hightened my appreciation of Calvino's skill that he displays so magnificiently in this work.

Despite this, I did find that I had lost interest slightly by the end of the novel. I found that it got a lot more confusing once it began to near the end, although I did find the conclusion to be a fitting one. I think that I would have to re-read this book in order to fully understand all that went on at the end - I found myself losing track of names quite frequently near the end.

Overall, a really unique, enjoyable read. I will definitely be picking up another Calvino, but from what I've read, I think that I will have to wait for my reading to mature a bit before tackling any of his other works. Highly recommended 4/5
MC, thanks for your comments (I haven't been around for awhile, so didn't realize you'd posted :eek: ). I'm glad to hear that you liked it. I read it almost a year and a half ago, so the details are getting a bit fuzzy, but I do remember the humour was quite delightful and unexpected. It's a book I'd like to re-read at some point.