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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a marvel of ingenuity, an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration—"when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded." Italo Calvino's novel is in one sense a comedy in which the two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader, ultimately end up married, having almost finished If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. In another, it is a tragedy, a reflection on the difficulties of writing and the solitary nature of reading. The Reader buys a fashionable new book, which opens with an exhortation: "Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." Alas, after 30 or so pages, he discovers that his copy is corrupted, and consists of nothing but the first section, over and over. Returning to the bookshop, he discovers the volume, which he thought was by Calvino, is actually by the Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two, he goes for the Pole, as does the Other Reader, Ludmilla. But this copy turns out to be by yet another writer, as does the next, and the next.

The real Calvino intersperses 10 different pastiches—stories of menace, spies, mystery, premonition—with explorations of how and why we choose to read, make meanings, and get our bearings or fail to. Meanwhile the Reader and Ludmilla try to reach, and read, each other. If on a Winter's Night is dazzling, vertiginous, and deeply romantic. "What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space."

260 pages, Paperback

First published June 2, 1979

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About the author

Italo Calvino

452 books7,255 followers
Italo Calvino was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. He was a journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979).

His style is not easy to classify; much of his writing has an air reminiscent to that of fantastical fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more "realistic" and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called postmodern, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled magical realist, others fables, others simply "modern". He wrote: "My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,971 reviews
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,009 reviews4,008 followers
August 26, 2014
You are about to read Mark Nicholls’s review of Italo Calvino’s postmodern classic If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. You might want to position yourself in a comfortable chair before you begin, or place a cushion behind your back, as we know how arduous it can be to read things off the internet. You might also care to prepare a coffee, a light snack, or to switch a light on before beginning.

You might be thinking that this review is not going to interest you, since book reviews on books you haven’t read can often be frustrating. For starters, the writer delves into details about the plot which spoil the surprises a blind reading of the book might create, and likewise you are unable to form an opinion yourself and share your thoughts on the text in question.

Conversely, you might have read the text and are familiar with the second person narration that addresses the reader directly and places them as a protagonist in the book. You might think this review an obvious imitation of Calvino’s unique style, and become irate as you read on, wondering when the reviewer is going to get around to summarising the plot.

In fact, you become so irate, you search for the book on Amazon, but are incandescent when you notice each review is also written in the same imitative style, and the gimmick becomes so irritating you have to leave the room for a moment to calm yourself down.

As you leave the room, someone knocks on the door. It is a door-to-door salesman offering copies of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller at a reduced price. He begins his sale by saying: “You are wondering whether or not this novel is for you, or whether you might find a novel with the beginnings of ten separate novels included as part of the plot somewhat bemusing or distracting. You are unsure whether to slam the door in my face, or to go get your credit card.”

You slam the door in his face. As you return to the living room, you notice that Mark Nicholls has broken into your house and is sitting naked on the couch reading Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. You are very confused and frightened. Feelings of arousal and apoplexy stir up inside you. You decide to call the police, but Mark Nicholls springs up from the chair as you move towards the phone.

“You are wondering whether to phone the police to remove Mark Nicholls from your house. You are deeply confused as to why this reviewer whose opinions you find facile and banal is suddenly sitting naked on your couch reading the very book you were reading about,” he says. You look for a blunt instrument to hit him with, but can find only a cup. You throw the cup, but he ducks and it breaks against the wall.

You start to sob. That was your best cup, and there is coffee over the walls and carpet. Furthermore, Mark Nicholls appears to be swinging his penis at you, performing an embarrassing 360° swingaround which slowly hypnotises you into a deep deep sleep.

When you wake up, you are at your desk. Mark Nicholls and the coffee stain has gone. You wonder why there is a grapefruit in your left hand and an antelope on your sofa. Those of you who read only the opening sentence and skipped to the end get a strange feeling of anticlimax.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,321 followers
May 15, 2011
I arrived at the library with my two books in hand. As I plunked them down on the check-in counter, a thin matronly woman approached.

"Would you like to check these books in?"

"Yes I would but I would also like to..."

"Oh, I see you read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino."

"Yes I did. Have you read it too?"

"On starting the first few pages, you were put off by what appears to be a artistic gimmick."

"Why yes a little. but..."

"you soon realized that the author was trying to involve you in his dadaist alternate reality by connecting to the only reality the author and reader have in common. The world of words and symbolism."

"Well, I'm not sure I saw it that way. But now that you mention it..."

"The book caused you to not only suspend disbelief but examine your own concepts of what is means to immerse yourself in literature"

"Actually I just want to check these books in..."

"It is unlike anything you have ever read before. Even unlike anything Calvino has written before. But he tells you that in the first three pages. For the unique part of the novel is that Calvino holds nothing back about the mechanics of his literary mind."

"OK, this is getting a little weird."

"It makes you wonder. Is there any reality except for that which we perceive through our imagination?"

"This is getting a lot weird. Would you please.."

"How do you know that we are not actually in a novel this very moment?"

"OK, Stop that"

"Or maybe we are in a review of a novel"


"Or a figment of someone's web page"


I grabbed a pen off the counter, leaped up, and rammed the pen through her forehead, stabbing her several times. None of the other people seemed to notice except an old man busy in his reading who pointed to the "Quiet" sign and made a hushing sound. After making sure she was quite dead I dragged her into the Mystery section which I felt was as good as any place to leave a corpse. I had just returned to the counter when another woman came out from the back.

"That's funny. I was sure Mrs. Peachtree was manning the desk. Well, never mind. How can I help you?"

"I would like to return these two books"

"Why of course. Did you want to renew your loan on either book?"

"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, no. But on Crime and Punishment, yes."

Profile Image for Kinga.
476 reviews2,159 followers
March 4, 2012
I say this is what happened:
Italo Calvino was suffering from a writer's block. He would start a novel, get it to its first curve and abandon it before the resolution. A few months later he would start another with a similar result. Finally, his publishers got impatient because it had been years since the last novel and they said:
'Italo, get your shit together! We need a new book. Now!'
Italo panicked and did the only thing he could think of. He glued all his failed attempts together and delivered it to the publisher
'Here it is. My new novel'.
'Er.. Italo, but those are just beginning of some 10 different books...'
'Yeah. I know. Don't you get it? It's postmodernism!!'
'You know, I am playing with the concept of the author. It is basically all about the reader now. The author has become obsolete. It is the reader that creates the work and the author is not even necessary!'
'Ah.. I see... Do we still need to pay you then?'
'Yah. Will mail you the invoice.'

I have read most of the reviews on here and I agree with all of them, with the bad ones and the good ones all the same. If you think this is contradictive and not possible, think again. And one word for you: deconstructionism.
There is no doubt that Calvino is (was) one hell of a writer and he plays with his poor readers like a cat plays with a mouse. This book was an absolute trip and really gets you dizzy. It might or might not be a coincidence that a day after finishing it I caught some weird bug that made me throw up for two days straight.

Now I am going to talk about one aspect that none of the reviewers have pointed out. It is so fucking sexist, like HELLO! All the female characters in each one of the novels as well as the main novel (that puts the novels together) have all the charecteristics of the Other. The female reader is actually called The Other Reader for crying out loud. Even when for a short moment the narration is switched to make the female reader the subject, it is only so that the male reader can run around her flat and describe her and define her – and check this, she is NOT EVEN THERE. Calvino makes her/me the subject for a few pages and she is not even there. She is forever passive. All the female characters are more or less passive. They are also mysterious, intagible and ethereal and their actions usually make no sense to the subject of the narrative (be it the You from the main narrative, or the various 'I's from the sub-novels). This kind of stuff really gets on my nerves. Especially since I read 'The Other Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir.
So Calvino, deconstruct that old as the world archetype, why don't you!!! (Only you can't because you are dead).
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,400 reviews3,281 followers
August 3, 2021
Beginning to read a book we always board a train to an unknown destination. Where will it take us and what will we see on our way there?
Reading is always this: there is a thing that is there, a thing made of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the land of the dead…

And the train is going on stopping at all the stations: thriller, romance, adventure, crime, fantasy, mystery, drama, realism, mystification, absurdism, dystopia…
I’m producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who knows may already have told on some other occasion, a space full of stories that perhaps is simply my lifetime, where you can move in all directions, as in space, always finding stories that cannot be told until other stories are told first, and so, setting out from any moment or place, you encounter always the same density of material to be told.

Italo Calvino adopts Jorge Luis Borges’ concept of imaginary books and he takes us along on the journey to its logical limit.
Once upon a time there was a writer who wrote the very first book… Once upon a time there was a reader who read the very first book… Their names will remain hidden in ages.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,079 reviews6,894 followers
December 4, 2022
[Revised 12/4/22]

An experimental novel. The main character is a reader who can’t finish a book because the print copies are mixed up and he ends up reading first chapters of various novels over and over again. He meets up with a woman who has the same problem and he goes on a search to find the rest of the book for both of them.


Actually there are two women, sisters, who have different ideas about books and what the purpose of reading is. They appear in different guises throughout the story. The narrative is labyrinth-like as if Borges had written it.

But it’s not fair to really focus on the “plot.” Like many of Calvino’s works, this is more a work of philosophy than a novel. And, like all of Calvino’s work, there’s a heavy dose of fantasy and absurdity. There’s a professor of “Cimmerian literature and Bothno-Ugaric languages” which sounded so realistic I looked them up to be sure they weren’t real!

The book is made up of ten stories; think of them as chapters. Recurring themes are messages that the main character sees around him and how we relate to books. “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.” There is discussion of “someone who has learned not to read.”

The author touches on issues with translated books. There’s a chapter on ways of reading a book. While reading, “something must always remain that eludes us,” which has often been said of poetry. Well, there are quite a few things that will elude the reader a bit in this book!

I enjoyed his digs at deconstruction and the French scholars, such as this passage referring to a conference: “…during the reading there must be some who underline the reflections of production methods, others the process of reification, others the sublimation of repression, others the sexual semantic codes, others the metalanguages of the body, others the transgressions of roles, in politics and in private life.”

I thought the passage below was apropos given current concerns about ‘fake news.’ Prescient because this book was first published in 1979.

“We’re in a country where everything that can be falsified has been falsified: paintings in museums, gold ingots, bus tickets. The counterrevolution and the revolution fight with salvos of falsification: the result is that no one can be sure what is true and what is false, the political police simulate revolutionary actions and the revolutionaries disguise themselves as policemen.”

I have liked other works by Calvino such as Invisible Cities (essays), and The Watcher (short stories), but this one just didn’t do it for me. I was lost at times in the narrative and had to re-read to figure out what was going on. But many passages had great insight. I may be short-changing it in rating it a ‘3’ as GR readers overall rate it a ‘4.’


It’s hard to classify what type of author Calvino (1923-1985) was. Perhaps post-modern best describes this book because of its focus on the acts of reading and writing and what is literature. He wrote 15 or so novels and a couple of dozen collections of short stories and essays. Most of his works involve fables, fantasy, magical realism and even science fiction. If on a Winter’s Night is his best-known novel and Invisible Cities is his most-read collection of stories.

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The author from thenewyorker.com
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
774 reviews
September 9, 2019
Original review: November 2011
Imagine that it is winter and there is snow everywhere and you can't go out and all you do for days is read book after book, story after story, gorging yourself on fiction until your subconscious is saturated with characters and plots.
Imagine that you fall asleep late one night while reading and you have the cleverest dream ever.
That is what reading this book by Calvino is like.
(I forgot to mention that if you're a woman, in your strange Calvino dream, you will most definitely be a man!)

2014 Update: Amazingly Befitting Calvino Discovery!
When I read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler in 2011, I muddled through it, admiring the prose but frustrated in traditional readerly fashion by the amount of interrupted narratives it contained. I knew there was something very brilliant going on, some complex underlying logic, but I also knew that figuring it out was far beyond my capabilities, at least my 'awake time' ones.
And so it was.

Yesterday, I came across Calvino's rationale for the book written in a complex code in the yellowed pages of an old copy of one of the volumes published by the experimental mathematician-writers and writer-mathematicians of the Oulipo group.

The Oulipo group was active in France in the sixties and seventies and counted such authors as Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec among its numbers. Italo Calvino was also a member and, as an Oulipian experiment, he created If on a Winter's Night a Traveler using the ‘semiotic square’ as a basic model, a concept he borrowed from A J Greimas’ book about semiotics called 'Du Sens'. Here's a brief description of Calvino's method as he outlines it in La Bibliothèque Oulipienne Volume II:

Chapter I is represented by a single square with the following cordinates: L, l, L’ and l’ (he uses the letter L as in the French word livre (book), lecteur (male reader) and lectrice (female reader))

The explanation of the diagram representing Chapter One is as follows (my translation):

The Male Reader who is present at the Beginning(L) reads The Book that Is Present at the Beginning (l)
The Book (l) recounts the story of The Male Reader Who is in The Book (L’)
The Male Reader Who is in The Book
doesn’t succeed in reading The Book That Is in The Book (l’)
The Book That Is in The Book doesn’t recount the story of The Male Reader who is present at the beginning
The Book That is Present at the Beginning would like to be The Book that is in the Book

Chapter II has two diagrams and some new signifiers (which I would add if only I had a pencil (I've tried the Grapher app with no success) so I'll just continue to use bold for the elements to which Calvino gives signifiers):

The Male Reader suffers from The Interruption of the Reading
The Interruption of the Reading leads to a meeting with The Female Reader
The Female Reader
wants to continue reading
The continuation of the reading excludes any further encounter with The Male Reader
The Male Reader
wants to find The Female Reader again
The Interruption of the Reading becomes The Continuation of the Book

The Male Reader wants to continue The Book he began
The Male Reader is happy to meet The Female Reader again
The beginning of The Begun Book doesn’t satisfy The Female Reader
The Book which was Begun has no desire to continue
The Female Reader wants to continue a different book
The beginning of this book looks for A New Reader

Chapter III has three diagrams and more new signifiers:

The Avid Female Reader savours The Art of the Novel
The Art of the Novel implies a character such as The Intellectual Female Reader
The Intellectual Female Reader analyses The Novel’s Ideology
Ideology doesn’t accept a character such as The Avid Female Reader
Ludmilla understands her sister Lotharia
tears poetry to pieces

The Male Reader looks for The Mysterious Book
The Mysterious
book is The Hyper-reader’s area
The Hyper-reader gives an unfinished book to the reader
The unfinished book is not the one The Male Reader was looking for
The Hyper-reader doesn't read the same books as The Male Reader
The mystery of a book is not in its end but its beginning

The Hyper-reader finds written words sublime
The Non-reader only sees written words as silence
The sublime finds its fulfilment in silence
The Hyper-reader finds his fulfilment in The Non-reader
It is not enough not to read to achieve the sublime
Not every Hyper-reader succeeds in interpreting silence

There's an explanation for every diagram and every chapter, with many knew signifiers added into the mix - The Forger, The Professor, The Professional Reader, The Book's Apocrypha, The Pleasure of Reading, The Fatigue of Writing, The Author (who has a nightmare that his book will be written by a computer), The Tormented Author, The Productive Author, Real Books, Power, Censorship.
On that note, I’m going to cut the rest of the explanations and skip to Chapter XII which, like Chapter I, has only one square:

The Male Reader is finishing the book
The Female Reader has exited the book
The Female Reader turns out the light
The Male Reader approaches her in the dark
The Male Reader and The Female Reader lie down together
Life continues and The Book ends there.

In a little super-added note at the end, Calvino reminds us that each partial story is written with a selection of Oulipian constraints (eg lipograms), but he doesn't tell us what they are. Get out your books and start looking!
(My original review wasn’t too far off the mark - I had figured the entire exercise was about the male reader getting what he wanted in the end:)
Profile Image for Adina.
798 reviews3,074 followers
October 31, 2022
How can I write a review for this thing when I do not even know exactly what I’ve read?

Italo Calvino is one of the most notable members of the Oulipo movement. According to Wikipedia “the group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy". Queneau described Oulipians as "rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape." These definitions explains pretty well what Calvino tried to do with his novel. The novel alternates a numbered chapter written in 2nd person POV with a titled chapter which each represents the beginning of another novel. The main characters in the numbered chapters are The Reader and the Other Reader, a woman. The Reader buys the newest novel by Italo Calvino, starts to read the beginning and then realises his copy is faulty and the beginning repeats several times. When he goes back to the bookstore to have his copy replaced he encounters the other Reader who has the same problem. Somehow, they end up starting another novel they cannot finish and so on. The plot becomes more and more convoluted and surreal as the novel advances. It manages to include a peculiar love story, an international conspiracy, bookish criminal organizations, imagined countries and languages that became extinct, novels that change their content and money other weird stuff.

I started the novel in Italian and as the plot got more complicated, I had to switch to the English translation. The translation was well done and made the language transition seamless. I had fun with this novel although I had to concentrate to make sense of it. I lost patience towards the end but I am satisfied that I read it and I definitely plan to try more by the author.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56k followers
October 1, 2021
(Book 300 from 1001 books) - Se Una Notte d'inverno un Viaggiatore = If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, Italo Calvino

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler is a 1979 novel by the Italian writer Italo Calvino. The postmodernist narrative, in the form of a frame story, is about the reader trying to read a book called If On A Winter's Night A Traveler.

Each chapter is divided into two sections.

The first section of each chapter is in second person, and describes the process the reader goes through to attempt to read the next chapter of the book he is reading.

The second half is the first part of a new book that the reader ("you") finds.

The second half is always about something different from the previous ones and the ending is never explained. The book was published in an English translation by William Weaver in 1981.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هشتم ماه سپتامبر سال 2008میلادی

عنوان: اگر شبی از شب‌های زمستان مسافری؛ نویسنده: ایتالو کالوینو؛ مترجم: لیلی گلستان؛ تهران، آگاه، 1369، در 371ص؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایتالیا - سده 20م

مجموعه ای از داستانهایی است، که هیچگاه تمام نمیشوند؛ آقای خوانشگر روزی کتابی را میخرد، و ما همراه با او، مشغول خواندن داستان میشویم، اما در جای پرهیجان، کتاب تمام میشود، و خوانشگر خشمگین، بخاطر نیمه کاره بودن کتاب، به کتابفروشی میرود، و در آنجا با خانم خوانشگر آشنا میشود؛ آنها نسخه ی درستی از کتاب را میگیرند، و متوجه میشوند، تماما داستان دیگری است، که به علت بدی چاپ، ادامه اش قابل خوانش نیست، و به همین ترتیب خوانشگر ده داستان نیمه تمام را، در ماجرای اصلی کتاب، دنبال میکند؛ البته که ستایش کتاب خواندن است، برای لذت کتابخوانی، و شاید اشاره به این موضوع، که خواندن کتاب، دنیایی فراتر از نوشتن کتاب، و بسیار زیباتر است؛ کتابی که به خوانشگر، از لذت خوانش و نحوه ی درست خوانی میگوید، از لذت در کنار هم بودن، از انسانهای کتابخوان، و از خوشی بی وصف کتابخوانی، تنها برای کسب لذت از کتاب خواندن، لذت خواندن، و نحوه ی درست خواندن و لذت کنار هم بودن نگاشته شده است؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 12/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 08/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Gaurav.
138 reviews1,120 followers
May 17, 2021
If on a Winter's Night a Traveller

Italo Calvino

Just one word: AWESOME !!

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveller. Relax. Let the world around you fade."

The opening line of this unusual book really fades the world around you and immerses you in a mystical, eccentric, surreal world where you are energised right from the scratch to encounter the world which refers to its own existence- something which is unprecedented.

The book is a genius in a way that how it approaches the story- narrative of the book is in second person -the protagonist is a young male reader known simply as The Reader. There is a second character, a female reader, referred to by the author as the Other Reader. The relationship between the two characters is one of the two plot drivers of the book. Calvino borrows plot and style from authors of each of different genres, inserting them in his novel, making it inter-textual, or based off of many texts. The author has a lot to stay with the ongoing story.

The protagonist of the book is apparently 'you'- the reader- who then moves through the inter-textuality of the novel to come across different manuscripts- each of which is interrupted just after 'You' begins to relish it; and 'You' continues to search for a thread through which 'You' can connect these manuscripts, however soon 'You' realizes that it's a futile attempt to look for such a thread , and that too not before 'You' finds another character facing the same dilemma- both of you spans bookshops, probable authors (of those manuscripts) to look for such a thread . Eventually, 'You' accepts that it's the structure of book- those manuscripts are written not to be connected- and when 'You' starts enjoying it-its structure, puzzles, prose style- just then it ends and 'You' gets the same feeling which 'You' gets after finishing a surreal movie.

The book works in a strange way to its readers, in way that there may be some instances when you would feel that you are enjoying a particular phase of a chapter of the book then Calvino would surreptitiously raise himself to the horizon and would do something unexpected but pleasing and you would be mesmerized by it; this speaks volume about his ability. It also underlines the metafiction traits present in the book as the author wants to delve yourself into the narrative to enjoy it fully.

The novel- which can be best described as: book within a book about many books - can be said as epitome of postmodern literature- a perfect example of meta-fiction; Calvino proposes that novels could be more quickly read by having a computer break them down into lists of word frequencies; he sets down sample lists to evoke whole novels. He shows 'You' the developments in modern literature- the books which have become prominent examples of contemporary literature: in the process he depicts human nature about possessions while spanning 'You' through a bookshop to finally arrive at If on a winter's night a traveller

"But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend acres and acres the Books You needn't read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. ..........; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time to Reread and The Books You've Always Pretended to Have Read And Now It's Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them............you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter's night a traveller fresh off the press, you grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established."

"Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life,if they are defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they are dream into which you sink as if into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books."

Calvino explores human sexuality through the relationship between two characters- through interaction between them, their interests. The two central characters share a love of reading for reading's sake, in contrast to some of the other characters in the book. It is this shared love which drives the romance, but the book recognizes that reading is ultimately an activity you do alone: One reads alone, even in another's presence. But Calvino also draws the parallel between love-making and reading. The narrative of the book here gradually moves to 'The Other Reader' from 'You'

"Ludmilla, now you are being read. Your body is being subjected to a systematic reading, through channels of tactile information, visual, olfactory, and not without some intervention of the taste buds. Hearing also has its role, alert to your gasps and your trills. It is not only the body that is, in you, the object of reading: the body matters insofar as it is part of a complex of elaborate elements, not all visible and not all present, but manifested in visible and present events: the clouding of your eyes, your laughing, the words you speak, your way of gathering and spreading your hair, your initiatives and your reticences, and all the signs that are on the frontier between you and usage and habits and memory and prehistory and fashion, all codes, all the poor alphabets by which one human being believes at certain moments that he is reading another human being. "

In the last chapter Calvino shares his thought- his different point of views- about reading through different readers, the first reader says:
“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue ot the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust.”

Calvino best describes the experience of reading through the sixth reader:
"The moment that counts most for me is the one that precedes reading. At times a title is enough to kindle in me the desire for a book that perhaps does not exist. At times it is the incipit of the book, the first sentences. . . . In other words: if you need little to set the imagination going, I require even less: the promise of reading is enough.”

At this juncture, I am facing the dilemma which is unique to works of Calvino- it isn't easy to review them and this one also seems to be another futile attempt.
However, there's one thing which can be said with assurance that If on a winter's night a traveller is a book about the pleasure of reading.
Profile Image for Sanjay Gautam.
222 reviews438 followers
January 5, 2016
It's one of those books which stands alone and shine like sun. There is nothing quite like it. It's one of its kind. Unique.

There are a few books which you come across where the writing, the prose (so lyrical, and beautiful), makes such an impact that it leaves you completely dazzled, and for a while you are stunned: that, wow! what just happened!; and then you are spellbound, speechless!.

And it is one of those books.

The Writing is magical, hypnotizing! It snares you in its magical net. It casts a spell and you can feel nothing but in awe. Each word, sentence, paragraph, page, takes you in the subtlest places of your mind, and make you feel in a dreamland, a world of twists and turns and which is never ending, and abrupt in its beginnings and endings.

It goes very deep into the psyche of the readers (which happens to be human though!), and always astonishes you with great insights into the experience of reading. It's a book about books and has such a plot that no one can ever spoil it, no matter how hard anyone tries. And yeah, it doesn't teach you anything, not even philosophy. Reading this book is like having the experience of 'experience of reading'.

Its a work of sheer genius.
Profile Image for Dolors.
524 reviews2,177 followers
April 5, 2016
Why do you read?
Maybe you want to impress somebody. Libraries are cool, or so they say.
Or you expect to learn something from the books you so carefully select.
Or you merely have a preference for intellectual entertainment and books are considered a smart option to fulfill that purpose.
Or maybe you read to remember all the lives you haven't lived, or that important person who left a permanent track on you, whom you don’t expect to see again, or to delight again in the innocent thrill of being told a story like in your childhood days.

Maybe you read to find yourself.
Or your former selves.
Or the shadows of the younger, or projected older versions of yourself.
Or to fill that gnawing void that is tearing you apart.
Perhaps you read to escape the grey hues of your mundane reality.
The constant nagging of useless typing that reverberates all day long at the office.
The futile bureaucracy of preordained jobs that keep you glued to a screen, dying slowly in front of a computer, or behind a counter, or in an assembly line, or behind a wheel, or listening to nonsense of all sorts.
Maybe you read to defy the large-scale absurdity of a world that has lost its humanity. To shout out in silence. To resist the general predisposition for resigned acceptance without questioning the results of your actions.

Whatever the reason, burying your nose in a book works like magic because once you have turned the front cover, an exquisite crawl of small inked letters absorbs all your attention while the prosaic surroundings that oppress you vanish in the blink of an eye. Gone are the obligations! The responsibilities! The sacrifices! Your failures. Past, Present and Future. Only the book and you exist. A sophisticated game for two. A unique chance to start from scratch and get that ending that you didn't manage to secure in your real life.
Wait… Or is it a new beginning that you are seeking?

Calvino is a masterful teaser. Rather than displaying his artistry through a sophisticated or overly ornamented narrative style, he turns the focus on the Reader, who becomes the true protagonist of this contemporary novel(s), where the experience of reading mirrors the act of writing. Opening a book generates expectation of the purest kind. Everything is possible because nothing has happened yet. Beginnings imply sheer rapture, for they carry the promises, or even better, the yearnings that make hearts beat and pulses accelerate with anticipation. Beginnings carry that wistful aura that hovers around a closed book or a first date, before they lose that original gloss.
And so what could be better than a book composed of only beginnings?
The best stories are the ones not yet written, the ones that hold all the potentiality of infinite untrodden paths, countless possible endings.

Calvino is a brilliant writer, but he is also an observant, a meticulous thief, who has mused long and deep upon the elusive facets of literature. He addresses the Reader in second-person narrator and gets infiltrated in his mind, stealing his intimate mental pictures to construct his stillborn stories, ruthlessly tantalizing him until the agonizing cacophony of fake characters, secret conspiracies, carefully chosen settings and irresistible femme fatales provide a tapestry of elegant thematic patterns that sing the most symphonious hymn to books and to the art of reading I have ever encountered.

Why do I read?
To see captured in written words what is inexpressible.
The true essence of what it means to Love Literature.
To live forever and to die every time the last page of a novel you don't want to end is inevitably turned.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,346 reviews11.7k followers
December 20, 2021

I'm here today to speak with one of the most incisive literary critics of the 20th century, Gilbert Sorrentino, about Italo Calvino's phenomenal If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

GR: Thanks for taking the time, Gil.

GS: My pleasure, Glenn.

GR: Simple question for starters: What makes this novel so special?

GS: If on a winter’s night a traveler, Calvino’s version (and antiversion) of the nouveau roman, fits the conditions for “proper art” proposed by Dedalus/Joyce: “The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.” It is a wonderful piece of work, labyrinthine and convoluted, informed by a deadpan humor and pastiches, imitations, and parodies of an entire battery of modern and postmodern literary techniques.

GR: And, of course, we have those striking first pages where Calvino speaks directly to you, the reader.

GS: Ah, yes. It begins with an almost conventional storyteller’s address to the reader: “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought.” We immediately see that “Italo Calvino” is somebody other than the author, and as we read, discover that “you” is not the usual foil, the time-honored figure to whom the narrator tells, in the first or third person, his story.

GR: Please say a bit more about how Calvino’s uses the “you” in the context of his narration.

GS: “You” is the second-person protagonist of the novel; and he is, above all other things, a reader. What he does, or wants to do, in chapters that detail his adventures, is read. The chapters dealing with “you” alternate with the chapters that he is reading; but through error, carelessness, chance, design, conspiracy, these chapters (ten of them) are not from the same book; they are the first chapters of ten different books, and each breaks off at the point of crisis or suspense: they are cliff-hangers.

GR: What do you think Calvino is up to here?

GS: What is Calvino up to? I think that he is doing what the practitioners of the contemporary novel have been doing for a least a quarter-century, putting into practice an idea succinctly stated - in 1923! - by the formalist critic, Victor Shklovsky: "The ideas in a literary work do not constitute its content but rather its material, and in these combinations and interrelations with other aspects of the work they create its form." The "content" of Calvino's novel is precisely the material from which he makes the form that we hold in our hands as this book.

GR: Wow! Does this mean Calvino leans on the conventions of more traditional novels?

GS: This novel's splinterings, ambiguities, contradictions, distorted mirror images, thematic variations, off-key fugues are so absolutely representative of objective reality as the linear, plotted, sequential narrative of the conventional novel, the latter as much an invention, and as totally artificial as the nouveau roman, and with the equivalent relation to objective reality: none.

GR: I suppose it gets back to readers' expectations of how a novel should use the everyday world, things like a real city or country, as the setting and have characters move about in that reality.

GS: We have learned over the years, to read the signs that a Dickens or a Conrad use, but they are only signs, manifestations of invented techniques. The books in which they are deployed use "ideas" as "material" just as Calvino does (or Beckett, or Robbe-Grillet). That we insist that Dickens' "ideas" constitute his "content" is our problem and critical failings. His novels are as strange and as artificial as the one under review. Calvino's novel more bluntly insists that the world of the book equals the world of the book. If, as Mallarmé says, "everything in the world exists to end in a book," then "everything" must stand for material, to be used by the writer to make forms that are those of literature, not reality.

GR: That's quite something. Could you say a few words about Calvino's game plan as you see it?

GS: Calvino's strategies are so numerous that I can do no more than point out a few of them: The first person narrators of the ten chapters from the ten different novels are different, yet they all have curiously similar affinities and problems; the protagonist-Reader, "you," has adventures that seem, at times, to be blurred reflections of the adventures of the ten narrators; a writer, Silas Flannery, who has (perhaps) written one (or two, or none) of the chapters that "you" reads, keeps a diary in which he writes: "I have had the idea of writing a novel composed only of beginnings of novels. The protagonist could be a Reader who is continually interrupted," and so we read a novel by "Italo Calvino" in which a novelist considers writing the novel in which he already exists; the Reader meets six other readers to whom he tells his difficulties in continuing the novels he has begun.

GR: That's amazing. And there's more, I suppose.

GS: Oh, yes. To the ten titles he adds another, suggested by the conversation, a "relic of some childish reading," that he feels should be included in the list, then gives the list to one of other readers, who reads aloud:

If on a winter's night a traveler, outside the town of Malbork, leaning from the steep slope without fear of wind or vertigo, looks down in the gathering shadow in a network of lines that intersect, on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon around an empty grave-What story down there awaits its end?-he asks, anxious to hear the story.

GR: And at this point, what does he judge is happening here?

GS: He thinks that this is the first paragraph of the novel that "you" would like to continue but cannot find. "You" protests that these are but titles, to which the other replies: "Oh, the traveler always appeared only in the first pages and then was never mentioned again - he has fulfilled his function." This is precisely what happens to the traveler in "Calvino's" first pages, except that the traveler is not "Calvino's" traveler, but a character in a novel that a character in a novel has been reading.

GR: Fantastic! Sounds like Calvino has constructed a novel as Chinese box puzzle.

GS: All that and then some. This is a brilliant work of great imaginative power and artistic authority. With it, Calvino has, in Shklovsky's phrase, "ripped things from their ordinary sequence of associations."

GR: Thanks so much, Gil, for your rip-roaring analysis. Mind if I post this interview as part of a Goodreads review?

GS: Sure, go right ahead.

Gilbert Sorrentino, 1929-2006

Italo Calvino, 1923-1985
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,106 reviews3,880 followers
December 21, 2015
I rather enjoy that sense of bewilderment a novel gives you when you start reading it.

[ 1 ]

“You are about to begin reading” Cecily’s review of her first Calvino. “Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on… Find the most comfortable position… Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes… Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading.” A drink within reach? “Do you have to pee? All right, you know best.” Check your screen is at the right angle, or maybe you prefer to print and hold the review as you read it. “It’s not that you expect anything in particular from this” review. “You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.”

The Book of Sand

A travelling salesman sells a holy book from India: “neither sand nor this book has a beginning or an end”. It is written in an unknown script, with occasional illustrations, and ever-changing, non-sequential page numbers. “If space is infinite, we are anywhere, at any point in space. If time is infinite, we are at any point in time.” The buyer fears theft, but also the possible discovery that the book is not actually infinite. He becomes an obsessive recluse: the book is monstrous, and so is he - like Gollum and his “precious”. He considers burning it, but…

[ 2 ]

You have now read a few lines and “you’re becoming caught up in the story. At a certain point you remark… ‘this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before’… there are themes that recur, the text is interwoven with these reprises.” The sequence seems wrong. Maybe you’re reading the wrong review of the wrong book. This is outrageous. Maybe it will sort itself out in the next section.

Before the Law

A man comes seeking justice, and the door to justice is open, but the doorkeeper won't let him pass. There is never an outright "no", nor any reason given, just prevarication and the implication (and it is only an implication) that one day it might be possible. The man waits, and waits. The doorkeeper takes bribes, just "so you won't feel there isn't anything you haven't tried." Eventually…

[ 3 ]

What’s going on? Yet another review mixed up with this one. You’re confused.

Time to explain – a little.

One Novel, Parts of Many Novels, or a Short Story Collection?

This is a book about readers and reading, and about writers and writing; it is also written as an example of what it describes (a synecdoche?) and how I started this review.

Calvino mentions "the Oriental tradition" where one story stops "at the moment of greatest suspense" and then narrative switches to another story, perhaps by the protagonist picking up a book and reading it. He also has a character with “the idea of writing a novel composed only of the beginnings of novels”. That happens here - and in a well-known book by a self-described Calvino fan, Cloud Atlas. See David Mitchell on Calvino.

In Chapter 1, the narrator is excited to start reading the latest Calvino book. The next chapter has a title rather than a number and is (about) what he reads. But he reaslises it’s the wrong book, so in Chapter 2, he takes it back to the bookshop to exchange it. The next chapter is what he reads, but again, it’s the wrong book… Repeat and repeat.

You end up with the “real” numbered chapters (musing on books, reading, the female Other Reader he idolises (Ludmilla), and a weird publishing conspiracy to hide/remove books and also use computerised ghost writers), alternating with the partial books he’s reading. The framing story is (mostly) written in the second person singular, addressing me - as a man. Although second person narration is rare, and I’m female, somehow it worked.

As if that’s not enough, there is also an artist, Irnerio, who makes recursive art from books – which are then published as books themselves – even though he has cultivated the art of learning not to read (by looking at words intensely, until they disappear).

And on top of that, there is influencing the other way round: some of the chapters within this novel could almost be Jorge Luis Borges or Kafka short stories, with falsified documents, recursion and reflection, doubles, a kind of labyrinth, playing with time and space, paradoxes, and confused bureaucracy and justice. “Either write a book that could be the unique book… or write all books.” Or in Borges’ world, combine the two.

I make notes as I read. On this occasion, I wrote on the pages in the wrong order - not deliberately, but it was entirely appropriate.

Chapter Titles

Chapters are alternately numbered and titled. The sequence of the titled ones suggest yet another story, but each story in those chapters is self-contained and incomplete, although often connected to one of the others, by having characters sharing a surname, for example:

If on a winter’s night a traveler

Outside the town of Malbork

Leaning from the steep slope

Without fear of wind or vertigo

Looks down in the gathering shadow

In a network of lines that enlace

In a network of lines that intersect

On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon

Around an empty grave

What story down there awaits its end?

Books are a Dialogue Between Writer and Reader, and Between Readers

The framing story focuses on “you” (i.e. me, the Reader) and the Other Reader – a woman. “Your reading is no longer solitary… the novel to be read is superimposed by a possible novel to be lived… Does this mean that the book has become an instrument, a channel of communication, a rendezvous?” It sometimes seems that way on GoodReads: “That communion of inner rhythm that is achieved through a book’s being read at the same time by two people.”

It also explores the relationship between a writer and a reader-cum-muse: “Readers are my vampires”, but more positively, “I read in her face what she desires to read”. Who is the true author then? On the other hand, “What does the name of an author on the jacket matter?” Would you feel betrayed if you found a book by an author you like had been ghostwritten, and if not, what if it were ghostwritten not by another author, but by a clever algorithm?

Ghostwritten and “you can’t distinguish the fibers of the weave” in different, but connected, stories remind me of David Mitchell again (see https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...).

“Each new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings” echoes Borges’s infinite books, and that echo is then relayed by David Mitchell in his idea of an uber-novel.

The fictitious writer, Silas Flannery, tries to tackle his writer’s block by copying out the opening sentence of Crime and Punishment… and then the next, and the next. “The copyist lived simultaneously in two temporal dimensions, that of reading and that of writing.” Recursion, again.

Books are Sexy

“What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.”

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this book, but nobody told me how sexual it was – not so much when it was actually describing sex (much of which is a not exactly vanilla: ), but the far more numerous and lengthy passages when it’s allegedly talking about something else altogether.

The lure of a new book, the foreplay of unwrapping it as you experience its touch and smell, before “you prepare to penetrate its secrets”. “The pleasures derived from a paper knife are tactile, auditory, visual, and especially mental.” As it cuts and slashes, there is a “cheery crackling [as] the good paper receives that first visitor.” “In the depth of the volume”, it finds the whiteness of virginal blank sheets. The “rumpled”, “smoothing”, “clipping” of oral translation just oozes, whilst being superficially innocuous enough to read to a maiden aunt!

“The most submissive abandonment, the exploration of the immensity of strokable and reciprocally stroking spaces, the dissolving of one’s being in a lake whose surface is infinitely tactile.”

Other Quotes

• Unbought books “looked at you, with the bewildered gaze of dogs who… see a former companion go off on the leash of his master, come to rescue him.”

• “The sentences continue to move in vagueness.”

• “There are days when everything I see seems to me charged with meaning.”

• “The echo of a vanished knowledge revealed in the penumbra and in tacit illusions.”

• “You sense the story arriving like the still-vague thunder.”

• “To fly is the opposite of travel; you cross a gap in space… then you reappear, in a place and in a moment with no relation to the where and when in which you vanished.”

• “Literature’s worth lies in its power of mystification, in mystification it has its truth; therefore a fake, as a mystification of a mystification, is tantamount to truth squared.”

• “The author of every book is a fictitious character whom the existent author invents to make him the author of his fictions.”

• “The story adjusts its gait to the slow progress of the iron-bound hoofs on climbing paths, toward a place that contains the secret of the past and of the future, which contains time coiled around itself.”

• “Reading means stripping herself of every purpose… to be ready to catch a voice… when you least expect it.”

At every rereading I seem to be reading a new book for the first time. Is it I who keep changing… Or is reading a construction?

Profile Image for Luís.
1,827 reviews478 followers
January 31, 2023
This book was written for you, the reader, who loves words which are the bridges they create between our imagination and the immaterial worlds that float in the universe.
This unexpected meeting with Calvino left me with the furious imprint of a liberated work with crazy and delicious writing. Expect the reader to be roughed up by the cruel pen of the many-faced author. In this book, where beginnings have linked, and frustration accumulates, prepare to lose yourself, continuously further, in the maze of your desires, without ever succumbing to it.
Profile Image for Lisa.
974 reviews3,328 followers
June 16, 2019
If, on a summer's morning, a teacher ventured to explain why she loved this novel so much, she would probably end up with an incomplete sentence, leading to a tangle of thoughts strongly opposed to being untangled for fear of losing their beautiful chaotic pattern ...

If on a summer's day, a teacher got sidetracked and started explaining the charm of multiple beginnings, comparing them to the loose ends in life stories, she would probably lose her students to dreams, and they would drift and tangle their own stories in minds full of other things ...

If on a summer's evening, a teacher started reading the beloved book again, she would probably discover that it had changed since she last touched it, and that both writer and reader now seemed to be different persons, even though they are still a perfect match, and she would travel across new and wellknown territory into the wide open storytelling ocean ...

If on a summer's night, a teacher dreamed of a perfect story, it would contain several stories hidden in each other and they would be both a love story and a theory and a magic wand opening doors to the world and to the mind in a way that only travellers of Calvino's calibre manage, and she would smile in her dream and start a new story, and it would never end ...
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
855 reviews2,132 followers
October 31, 2022

Previously Unpublished Manuscript #1

Who am I? Who is I? Who is the I?

Unlike my friends and colleagues, Professors Calvino and Galligani, I intend to tell you my name and perhaps to reveal something of my modus operandi (soon, too).

This one sentence might already have supplied enough information or implication to let you work out or infer who I am?

Have you guessed yet? No? Well, my name is Professor Uzzi-Tuzii, though my friends call me Julian. Not only is that my name, but that is who I am.

Yes. It's true. I am Professor Uzzi-Tuzii.

See how much I have revealed about myself, see how much I have revealed about who I am, about who “I” is!

I is me. I am me. I could not be anyone else, could I? I am not and never was Italo Calvino. I am not the Reader, although it's also true I am a reader.

Nor then could I be you (as if that is not self-evident to any strict grammarian), so put an end to that speculation. It will not help you to realise anything. It will only frustrate you, which in a way was an objective of the novel "If on a winter's night a traveller".

I wish you could see the real me, sitting comfortably here on my swivel chair, on my polished timber floor, looking at my computer screen, surrounded by the music of time.

You might learn a little more about me, just by being able to see me.

To know the real me, to see the real me, might make me a sight for sore eyes. I am no eyesore (though I appeal less with age). However, I am the remedy you need for your eyesight, I promise, if you will let me, that I will heal your vision, so that you might see.

There are none so blind as those who will not see. So I will try to make you see. If you will.

What am I going on about? Perhaps, you do not believe me? Perhaps, now, as I promised, I need to explain my modus operandi?

Will the detail of my modus operandi overcome your skepticism? Will you only believe me, believe that I am I and I am me, if you know what I do? Do you honestly believe that I cannot be what I am unless I reveal what I do? Or what I did?

Oh, what unbelievers we have become.

Are you ready?

Believe me, I would tell you, I will tell you everything, if you would only believe me.

I only say this, I only make this diversion, because some do not believe me. Some believe I am unreliable. Some believe, without seeing me or knowing me, that I am an unreliable narrator.

How unfair! How hurtful! Do I deny you? No, of course, I don’t. How could I deny you? I don’t even know you. You must remain innocent, unless and until proven guilty. So I must believe in you, if I am to find you guilty.

In order to tell you what I did, there is one other thing I must tell you about who I am, or more precisely who I am not.

I am not William Weaver, I am not the translator of "If on a winter's night a traveller", the book you might be reading or would be reading if you were not reading my addendum.

That probably goes without saying, though I think it needs to be said.

I am not Ermes Marana, the translator of the fictitious book "If on a winter's night a traveller", the book within the novel "If on a winter's night a traveller".

Would it help if I explained, there is no such translator?

You might already think that he was a fiction, that he wasn’t real, that he was a figment of Italo Calvino’s imagination.

I have no doubt that, when my friend Italo learned of his apparent existence, he passed him off as a figment of his imagination. But he is, in reality (if that makes sense), a figment of my imagination, well, a figment of the imagination of those around me.

At this stage of my story, the book must be making less sense now than when I started? I apologise, yet I have to argue in my defence that this often happens during the telling of a story.

You, the reader, perhaps the Reader, have to let me get on with my story. I have to tell it at my pace, which at my age lacks apparent haste, but you have to cooperate. You have to do your bit. So, can we resume?

Perhaps, before we do so, now might be a good time to refill your glass of red or to make a cup of tea...

[Editor’s Note: The manuscript breaks off here. It is not known whether this is a piece of fiction.]

Previously Unpublished Manuscript #2

So how do I start to tell you my story?

Italo Calvino never had any such doubt. You should have seen him laugh when I told him about the line from Doctor Who, “First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

He enjoyed starting a story at the beginning so much, he couldn’t help doing it over and over.

So I will start at the beginning, in his footsteps.

When my story, indeed your story, began, I was in my thirties and at the height of my career as an academic, author and public intellectual as they used to say in those days.

Before I met your mother, I thought I could have any woman I wanted, and I almost did.

To my great regret, I persisted in this belief after I married Maria, though it was my great good fortune that I never acted on any of my impulses.

This story partly concerns just how close I did come.

Being an author of fiction, I looked on writing as an act of love, an act of seduction. I caressed meaning out of words as I would caress a woman.

I stopped when I met your mother, well, I mean, for a while she became the exclusive focus of my thoughts and caresses. Then, six months after our wedding, at the end of the academic year, I agreed to teach a Creative Writing Course for Masters of Fine Arts students during the three month break.

For the first time in many years, there were no male students, there were only ten female students, all of them young, intelligent, attractive, and available, or so I thought at the time.

They absorbed information and guidance quickly. Each of them gazed into my eyes, as if they wanted to know the full contents of the dark pool that lay behind.

At night, while I caressed your mother skillfully, if not lovingly enough, I could only think of these other temptations.

They progressed so well in their studies that we soon came to their practical exercise. Each of them was to write the first chapter of a novel that they would finish after the course.

I selfishly came up with the idea of the subject matter, and every one of them agreed compliantly. They would write in the first person, and that first person would be me. They would appear in the chapter under their first name. And each chapter would feature an object that would have significance in the story.

Madame Marne: suitcase

Brigd: trunk

Zwida: pencil box

Irina: instrument case

Bernadette: plastic bag

Marjorie: phone

Lorna: mirror

Makiko: white maple cane

Amaranta: fireplace

Franziska: sheet of paper

I was hoping that this artifice would disclose some secret feelings towards me, within the limits of what they could say, knowing that their writings would be scrutinized by their (jealous) classmates.

Instead of me seducing them with my words, I wanted them to seduce me with theirs. I could hardly contain my excitement. Your mother started to suspect something was happening and cooled to my touch.

Then one day, the deadline arrived and all of the students handed in their work.

I had insisted that the project be surrounded by secrecy, so much so that I even banned carbon copies (this was before personal computers and laptops). I didn’t even think to photocopy each manuscript at the office. I took them straight home that night and began to read them, one after the other.

I know now that, soon after I went to bed, Maria woke and entered my study to read whatever it was that had so fascinated me late into the night.

She only had to read a few pages to know what I was up to. She packed her bags and every single one of those manuscripts and disappeared.

When I awoke with the sun, I thought your mother had gone to work early and someone else had stolen the manuscripts.

I couldn’t think of a motive, unless one of my colleagues had guessed my plan and was determined to frustrate it. Probably that damned Italo Calvino.

It was only late in the day, when Maria phoned me to say that she was staying at Italo’s for a few weeks, that I guessed what must have happened.

I quickly forgot all of my carnal designs. I was more concerned about what Calvino was doing to my wife, your mother. My colleague, my friend was sleeping with my wife. What better way to best your rival than to sleep with his wife?

For all my education though, it was an agitated guess. Jealousy made me err. Italo had no intention of sleeping with your mother.

I found out afterwards that he counseled Maria to return to me as soon as possible, especially only days later, when she learned that she was pregnant...to me, of course, with you.

It must hurt you to know that, at the time, your mother’s first thought was to have an abortion. Why perpetuate this bond with the fiend that I had become?

Italo managed to convince her what a mistake this would have been, and you know what joy you brought to your mother’s life.

Still, Italo did do something that I held against him for a long time. He read the manuscripts from beginning to end, even before I had finished them.

When, much later, I found out, I felt cheated, as if I had bought a first edition, only to have a friend whisk it away and read it before I had opened it.

Sometimes, only you should be the one to smell the scent of those first-opened pages. Not only did Calvino deprive me of this pleasure, he decided to put these manuscripts to much better use than I had intended.

He had been planning a novel, the progress of which had stalled at outline stage. These manuscripts provided exactly what he needed.

He needed the first chapters of ten stories, told in different voices. What could be better than ten stories told by ten separate students?

All he needed to do was insert metafictional interstices. He was planning to write just the interstitials.

Of course, he contacted each of my students privately and obtained their signed consent, on the basis that, when they finished their work, he would help promote their literary careers.

He did what he had bargained to do. Of the ten, six now have successful writing careers, which I attribute more to Italo’s assistance than my guidance.

Despite my pleas, Maria stayed with Calvino for more than four months, by which time it had become quite apparent to everyone that she was pregnant.

Her return coincided with the launch of Calvino’s book. Maria returned home to me, resplendent in pregnancy, the morning of his launch party.

We attended as an ostensibly happy couple, although I did appear quite sheepish and it took me many years before I actually read his book.

My failure to do so is also the reason it took me so long to put all of the pieces of this puzzle together.

My students had promised Calvino confidentiality, if only to keep his involvement secret from me.

Most importantly, Calvino had wanted your mother and I to repair our relationship, free of any external publicity or pressure.

I don’t know what would have happened if I had read his book straight away. I probably would have thought of him as a consummate manipulator.

You see, his book wasn’t just a quintessential exercise in metafiction. He was trying to teach me a lesson. He was trying to teach me to love your mother more, not to love her obsessively, but to love her as she deserved.

He saw love as the driving force of life itself. Love is the light that keeps darkness at bay. Stars shine and create light, but there is much interstitial darkness. It is the role of love to fill the gaps.

When your mother died many years later, I learned that Italo had given her a signed first edition copy of the book for each of you and her.

It was their plan to give the two of you your copy when you turned 30, when you had already learned something of life yourselves.

When she died, I committed to perform this task on her behalf.

You know how upset I was when your mother died. I always felt that I had never loved her enough.

You cannot overcompensate in love. An excessive act of love cannot make up for an omission to love. All you can do is love as someone deserves to be loved.

I felt so guilty about that time before you were born, that I planned never to write fiction again, at least until the two of you had reached the age of eighteen. I had realised that fiction is too selfish to be compatible with parenthood, after all you two were your parents’ greatest act of creation.

By the time you reached eighteen, I had got out of the habit. Only now, in my old age, is the desire to write fiction returning to me.

The inscription in your first editions varies in only one word, your first name. Indeed, Italo had two special editions of the book printed with your names reversed in the body of the text where they both appear.

In one edition, it reads “Ludmilla”, in the other it reads “Lotaria”.

So my beautiful twins, our beautiful twins, I present to you the gift of Italo Calvino and your parents.

Italo inscribed your first edition with these words:

“The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death. Your life is a story that must be told and only you can do the telling.”

Your father learned this lesson the hard way, but I am eternally grateful to your mother and my good friend, Italo Calvino, that you will have the opportunity to tell your stories.

Literary Executor’s Note:

The above manuscripts were found with Professor Julian Uzzi-Tuzii’s last Will and Testament and two signed first editions of Italo Calvino’s book, "If on a winter's night a traveller".

Professor Uzzi-Tuzii died on 8 May, 2012. He was survived by his twin daughters, Ludmilla and Lotaria Uzzi-Tuzii, who turned 30 five days later on Mother’s Day, 13 May, 2012.

The Executor of Professor Uzzi-Tuzii’s Estate made the gift to Ludmilla and Lotaria on behalf of both parents.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,222 followers
August 13, 2021
E vorba, firește, de o carte-manual. Există o figură, un procedeu numite de retoricieni „apostrofa / interpelarea cititorului”. Figura a primit diferite forme la prozatorii vechi și noi: Sterne, Fielding, Balzac, John Barth, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth etc. Ofer cîteva exemple formulate de mine ad hoc, pentru a vă face o idee:

- „Și acum, dragă cititorule, te voi lăsa să-ți închipui singur ce s-a întîmplat între cei doi tineri inocenți. Eu voi trage ușa după mine și îmi voi acoperi pudic ochii și urechile...”;

- „Cititor josnic și pervers, cum de ți-ai putut imagina că Eliza, blînda Elisa, sărmana Eliza, l-a putut trăda pe nobilul Josh? Mi-e rușine de tine. Numai la prostii îți stă mintea...”;

- „Cititor tîmpit, nu ești în stare să pricepi nimic din ce-ți spun aici. Ai o minte de găină...”;

- „Cititorule, ai observat deja cu siguranță cît de subtil sînt. Am știut io pe cine să mă bazez...”...

Interpelarea (frecventă odinioară) a ieșit din modă. Azi este folosită destul de rar și mai cu seamă ironic & parodic, în scop de amuzament reciproc. Italo Calvino a avut ideea să construiască un întreg roman folosind acest procedeu retoric. A rezultat ceea ce avem în față. Nu cred că există foarte mulți cititori care au simțit vreo plăcere ascuțită străbătînd cele 10 începuturi de roman. De distrat s-au distat, nu spun nu. Dar plăcerea rămîne una pur intelectuală. Cartea se cuvine citită (este o lectură obligatorie, de altfel) pentru ingeniozitatea diabolică a autorului.

Calvino spune limpede în textul introductiv: În acest roman, am dus la extrem ceea ce a inaugurat Edgar Allan Poe (în Corbul plus Filosofia compoziției) și a ilustrat Jorge Luis Borges în unele dintre povestirile sale (Apropierea de Almotasim). Scrisul nu mai este o demiurgie frenetică, un efect al inspirației, o țîșnire, un dar al Muzelor divine. A devenit o „ars combinatoria”, o activitate lucidă, un calcul meticulos.

Compoziția lui Italo Cavino e discutată îndeosebi la cursurile de naratologie și este privită mai degrabă ca un eseu decît ca o ficțiune propriu-zisă. Notorietatea ei printre studenți și „specialiști” este imensă. Cînd s-a redescoperit rolul fundamental al cititorului în „realizarea” textului (în anii 70 ai secolului trecut), scrierea unui astfel de roman a devenit inevitabilă.

Cine nu zîmbește cînd parcurge un pasaj precum cel transcris mai jos de mine? Să ne amuzăm:

„[Și acum, cititorule] alege-ţi poziţia cea mai comodă: aşezat, întins, ghemuit, culcat. Culcat pe spate, pe o parte, pe burtă. În fotoliu, pe canapea, pe balansoar, pe şezlong, pe taburet, în hamac, dacă ai un hamac. Pe pat, fireşte, sau în pat. Poţi să stai şi cu capul în jos, în poziţie yoga. Cu cartea întoarsă, bineînţeles. Sigur, nu există o poziţie ideală pentru citit...

Bine, ce mai aştepţi? întinde picioarele, pune-le, dacă vrei, pe o pernă, pe două perne, pe braţele divanului, ale fotoliului, pe o măsuţă, pe birou, pe pian, pe globul pămîntesc. Scoate-ţi pantofii mai întîi. Asta, dacă vrei să ţii picioarele ridicate; dacă nu, pune-i la loc. Şi acum nu sta acolo, cu pantofii într-o mînă şi cu cartea în cealaltă...”.

Chiar așa: Nu uita, frate cititor, de pantofi!
Profile Image for Chloe.
348 reviews529 followers
December 27, 2009
I can not think of a book that has let me down more than Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. Admittedly, this may have been caused by in no small part by my high expectations for this novel after having read the deliriously exciting first chapter several times in a bookstore during one of those quite regular hunts for the next book to steal my heart. I mean, who can resist a first chapter that contains paragraphs like:

"In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed that among there there extend for acres and acres the Book You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered." Pg. 5

Has there ever been an author that more exquisitely expresses the stressful choosing of which books are to be adopted into your Home for Lost Books and which are to remain in the Book Repository awaiting their Lee Harvey? This, thought I, is an author who speaks my language. At least, that's what I thought until the end of Chapter 2, when the story I was allegedly reading "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" was perfunctorily cut off and Calvino began addressing his main character as the second person "you," leading to vast confusion of a wholly unpleasant nature. And so the book progresses, alternating throughout from the first chapter of various Books That Have Not Been Written to the maddening second-person pronoun-filled main "story," though none of it ever makes sense aside from as a plot device to string together 14 first chapters of Books That You Would Rather Read Than This One.

I'm not one to let books offend me on a regular basis. In fact, I can think of no other book that has so personally rubbed me the wrong way that I would like to slap its author across the face and challenge him to a duel. Calvino gets a pass on this by virtue of being dead, but come zombiegeddon his corpse and I will have words (or, rather, I'll have words, he'll have monosyllabic grunts (being dead isn't great on the language centers of the mind)). My rage reached a boiling point around the 3/4 mark when Calvino, in another of the "you" chapters begins describing in vivid detail your frustration at the book and your longing to just find the thread of one of the far more captivating tales begun previously.

Perhaps I'd have been more forgiving of this meta- style of writing if I hadn't seen it done far better in other books. Sure, maybe Calvino was breaking new ground in 1979 when this was first published, but a book recognizing that it was a book and using its inherent form to prank the reader is old hat at this point. Perhaps if Calvino had a character more like my own to address as "you" then I would have enjoyed it more. All I know is that all the things he attributed to me are in no way keeping with my character and that if he presumes to use me as a character in his escapades then he should have invested some time in getting to know his subject. This book was not fun to read. This book was not revelatory or ground-breaking. This book was simply jarring and irritating. I would be hard-pressed to think of a book read in the past five years that I enjoyed less- and I'm including my dabblings with Margaret Atwood here.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
December 23, 2018
You gaze, confounded, at your laptop, vainly trying to find a way to review this so-called novel, which you, an anglophone, have perversely read in French, not the native language either of yourself or of the author. Your companion notices your perplexity and tries to help, or, possibly, to confuse you further.

"It's beautifully written," she says. "But it has no heart."

"Mais chère Lectrice, how do you know?" you ask. "You have read If on a winter's night, a traveller, while I have read Si par une nuit d'hiver un voyageur. Neither one is the original, Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore. And this is just the beginning. Many portions of the book are supposedly translated from other languages: Japanese, Spanish, and, indeed, French. I assume that Calvino, an inventive and gifted writer, made their origin, and the fact that they had been translated, clear in the style. But they have in their turn been translated, and how can I know which infelicities are due to Calvino's fictitious translators, and which to the real translator? Who, to make things yet more complicated, is different in your case and mine."

Intent on your disquisition, you have closed your eyes, the better to see the bewildering maze of linguistic connections you are trying to imagine. Now, you open them again and find a different woman sitting in front of you.

"I am Lotaria," she smiles. "There was a matter which urgently required my sister's presence, but luckily I happened to be passing by. And, let me tell you, the situation is far worse than you imagine. Even Calvino's book is not the original. He has only translated it from the true source, composed in the language of Cimmerian."

"But this is ridiculous!" you protest. "There is no such language. It is merely one of the many fanciful creations of the author. And even if it were true, how could you possibly know?"

"Because I wrote it," says Lotaria calmly. "And not only the book, I invented the language as well."

"Impossible," you scoff. "Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with invented languages will know at once that no such thing could be done. A newly minted language is crude, coarse, lacking the patina, the web of associations that comes from long usage and a rich literary tradition. Open any book in Esperanto or Klingon; you will surely agree with me, and desist from these absurd suppositions."

"But I did not work alone," says Lotaria imperturbably. "Please allow me to demonstrate." She turns your laptop towards her, and quickly types URLs, codes, passwords. A few seconds later, the screen displays a page subtitled INSTITUTE OF CIMMERIAN STUDIES. Above it is a line in an unknown script. She clicks on a link, then another.

"I have a large and well-qualified team at my command," she continues, as her fingers continue to type. "Lacey, Laetita and Laine spent twenty years developing the theory of Proto-Cimmerian, a language which they have traced back as far as the common ancestor it shares with Cimbrian. Lakshmi, Lamila and Lamorna have composed a tantalizingly incomplete series of fragments in Early, Middle and Late Archaic Cimmerian; they have diligently reconstructed the course of a major vowel shift and the loss of both the dual and the aorist forms of the Cimmerian verb. Some of their poems - alas, all unfinished - are quite moving. Larissa, Laurel and Lavinia did a splendid job of creating Medieval Cimmerian. Their paper on sprachbund effects and grammatical links to Estonian and Saami is a true classic."

"By the time we reach the seventeenth century, there was ample ground to build on when the first great Cimmerian authors appear. Leah, Lena and Lenore invented the romantic Cimmerian verse-epic, using a form, the ostavino, unique to the language, while Lesley, Lillian and Linda laid the foundations for the heavier philosophical zaktrinva, which gained ascendancy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Linnet, Lisa and Liv have done sterling work here, documenting the bitter rivalry between the Northern and Southern schools; Lois, Lorelei and Loren went as far as composing eighteen whole novels, one of them nearly a thousand pages long. By the time we reach the present day, it was easy for me, ably assisted by Louise, Lorraine and Luana, to write the book you incorrectly attribute to Calvino. Any scholar of Cimmerian will immediately see the many allusions and borrowings from earlier works. Why are you staring at my breasts?"

By way of answer, you lean forward and nimbly remove the wig from her head; released from captivity, her long auburn hair swirls around her. "Jessica Q. Rabbit!" you exclaim. "How could I not have guessed that you were involved?"

She shrugs becomingly. "And so?"
Profile Image for بثينة العيسى.
Author 22 books25.2k followers
September 21, 2019
في أي روايةٍ عادية، ينقسم العمل إلى قسمين؛ الموضوع والمعالجة. بمعنى آخر؛ الموضوع والأدوات.
في رواية كالفينو ��ذه، الموضوع هو الأدوات.

إنه يتتبع فكرة ولادة كل جملة أدبية بوعيٍ مذهل، لدرجة أن تقرأ بأن "الجمل والفقرات في هذه الصفحة يغطيها الضباب"، وترى الضباب، ومحطة القطار، والجُمل أيضًا! يبرهن كالفينو هنا على أنَّ الكتاب يأخذ لغته بحسب استراتيجية الكاتب، فهو يكتبُ أحيانًا بطريقة غامضة، ويبلغك بأن هذا هو هدفه، ثم يعود في فصل آخر ليكتب رواية مشبّعة بالوصف الحسّي التفصيلي. في أحد الفصول، انتحل أسلوب الكتابة اليابانية، كما لو كان كاواباتا شخصيًا.

إنه كاتب قادر على أن يجيء جديدًا ومختلفًا بين فصلٍ وآخر؛ يكتب كأنه مئة كاتبٍ في جسد واحد.

يقول عبدالفتاح ك��ليطو بأن في داخل كلّ قارئٍ شهريارٌ غافٍ. ويبدو أنَّ كالفينو أدرك ذلك أيضًا، فكتب رواية تتكون من سلسلة بداياتٍ لروايات، عشرة روايات تبدأ ولا تنتهي أبدًا، وتورّط قارئها في رواية تخصّه، موظِّفًا استراتيجيات القصّ لدى شهرزاد، تاركًا قارئه مع كل فصلٍ أكثر جوعًا مما كان عليهِ. بلغت بكالفينو البراعة إلى حدّ أنك مع كل (بداية جديدة لرواية جديدة) تنسى الرواية التي قبلها وترغب بتتبع الخيط الجديد.

لم يسبق أن قرأت شيئًا شبيهًا بهذا الكتاب.
وأشعر بالسعادة؛ لقد كانت الحياة كريمة معي، لكي أنضم إلى شهودِ هذه العبقرية الخالصة.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews730 followers
November 19, 2014
You are scrolling through the reviews and statuses and various examples of book mongering on Goodreads, eyes lazily wandering in hopes of something that will snatch them and hold them fast in fascination. After several refreshings of the page you see that Aubrey has recently finished and rated "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler', which means that a review will not be long in coming, as Aubrey is not the type to carefully compose and coordinate a review for more than a day, often submitting words underneath the stars within the hour. You can see from the preview shown on your updates feed that Aubrey has taken the route of imitating Italo Calvino's singular point of view that he grants the reader in this book, and confident in your expectations of what's to come you click the link to read more when...

Stop. Hold the phone. Did you really think that was how it was going to go? Sorry, but if you want the style, you're better off with the master. I have a different agenda in mind.

This is a book for readers. This is a book for writers. This is a book for devotees to the word, to stories of black lace spilled out on white landscape, to the holy communion of the author, the book, and the audience. This is a book for worshipers at the altar of ink and paper and string, intangible impressions fixed forever on tangible emptiness, bound into a construct so much greater than its parts.

This is a book for those who believe in its magic.

Italo Calvino knows you, Reader. He may not know your age, or your gender, your most secret of wishes or your most hidden of shames. But he knows the part of you that reads, and for some, that is their soul entire.

He knows why there are Readers, and how they are so. He knows the broad spectrum of culture and the fearful gaps between their languages, through which a few pieces of literature manage to wing their way, bent and battered and shaken by the voyage but made oh so beautiful by both what survives and the effort of their passage. He knows the constant battle of conveying writing on the page without conveying self, or perhaps it is better to mix the two, and how real or fake is all this stuff anyways? He knows the often insurmountable barrier between flying thought and plodding script. He knows the tricks and the trades of drawing together a universe from simple lines on a page, how to render it all a wasteland of existence in a mere turn of phrase, and the temptations and atrocities resulting from both. He knows that this power has as much effect on reality as the world bound by print, for really, what difference is there between the two but the modicums of time spared them by a flighty and fidgety God, you, the Reader? He knows prose, plot, character, setting, theme, literature, publishing, all those classifications that fly in the face of the chaos and attempt to break it down into bare bones and raw data. He knows how the world uses and abuses the book to its own ends. He knows, despite all that, there is still hope.
"If on a winter's night a traveler, outside the town of Malbork, leaning from the steep slope without fear of wind or vertigo, looks down in the gathering shadow in a network of lines that enlace, in a network of lines that intersect, on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon around an empty grave—What story down there awaits its end?—he asks, anxious to hear the story."

Why do you read, Reader? For the story? For the magic of no rules, no laws, no regulations, save the limits of physical scope and the realm of human imagination, beautifully coupled in the form of a book?

How about for the magic that enters you through the words you read, pierces straight through that enraptured pupil to that constantly churning brain of yours, lights up patches of neurons in a brilliant display that puts the Northern Lights to shame, a physical signal of the force of a realization of life as you know it, or actually that you did not know it until now? How about, for once, the magic stays, long after the last page is turned?

You will find it here, Reader. You will find it here.
Profile Image for Mevsim Yenice.
Author 4 books966 followers
December 15, 2017
Kahramanı okuyucusu olan postmodern roman. Kafa karıştırıcı gibi en başta. Çok geçmeden ne olduğunu anlamaya çalışırken olayın içinde buluyorsunuz kendinizi, romanın başkahramanı oluveriyorsunuz ve Calvino'nun tam da yapmak istediği şey bu aslında.

Roman boyunca romanla aynı adı taşıyan bir romanın eksik bir parçasını bulmaya çalışıyoruz ve bunu adeta bir ölüm kalım meselesine çeviriyoruz. Roman içinde roman oluveriyoruz. Bir yapboz gibi sürekli parçaları yerine koymayı deniyoruz, olacak gibi oluyor ama bir türlü tam olarak olduramıyoruz.

Kitap bu anlamda, biçim olarak bir süre sonra anlattığı şeye dönüşüyor. Bu muazzam bir dönüşüm ve o kadar farkettirmeden yapıyor ki bunu Calvino, kitabı kapattığımızda puzzle eksik kalmış oluyor, açtığımızda oyun devam ediyor.

Calvino Bir Kış Gecesi Eğer Bir Yolcu ile bize kurgu nasıl yapılır, öğretiyor. Biran kendimizi çok önemli bir işin parçası sanarken, aniden kayıt duruyor, "kestik, kestik" diyor sanki. ve şunu hatırlatıyor acımasızca : "sen bu kitabı okuyan kişisin aslında sevgili okur ve ben nereye istersem artık oraya gideceksin, seni esir aldım" Kitabın o farkındalık anlarında bana bir hüzün çöktü desem yalan olmaz. Neden derseniz şöyle açıklamaya çalışayım; kendimizi kahramanı sandığımız hikayelerin aslında birer figüranı olduğumuzu fark ettiğimiz o yıkıcı anlar, yine de içinde var olmaktan vazgeçemediğimiz ve kitap bitene dek orada kaldığımız hikayeler geldi aklıma.

Calvino kötü okur olmak ile ilgili çok düşünmüş iyi bir yazar. Hikaye anlatmakla oyun oynamanın da birbirine paralel gittiğini iyi çalışmış, çözmüş bir yazar ayrıca. Kimbilir belki de bu romanıyla bize, artık klasik bir yöntemle, hikayeyi doğrudan anlatmanın monotonluğunu göstermeye çalışıyordur, belki de kendisinin doğrudan bir hikaye anlatmayı başaramadığını, belki de her ikisini de!

Benim en en sevdiğim kitaplardan biri Bir Kış Gecesi Eğer Bir Yolcu. Şiddetle okumanızı tavsiye ederim.
Profile Image for StefanP.
162 reviews72 followers
August 9, 2020

Čitanje je samoća.

Književna romansa. Nepovezanost. Prostranstvo književnog svijeta. Sklapanje.

Kakvim se superlativima Kalvino može okititi, a da oni budu svježi, ne otrcani? Ova knjiga se bavi knjigom. Autor se na svojstven način suočava sa potragom za čitanjem, poteškoćama u potrazi za knjigama. "Ako jedne zimske noći neki putnik" je knjiga koja je izobličena i njeni junaci dobijaju kopiju i slažu je pomoću zasebnih priča. Ono što mi je bilo naročito fascinantno jeste posjeta biblioteci jednog od junaka te nemogućnosti da se iznajmi knjiga, vještina izvlačenja, prefinjeni govori bibliotekara kako baš ta knjiga nije trenutno na stanju jeste nešto što zaista izaziva smjeh, porinuće u gotovo nezamislivo, poigravanje sa realnošću. Previše je bizarnih momenata u knjizi, na neki šaljiv način oni naginju prema nadrealnom.

Teško je smisliti širinu kojom ovaj roman dejstvuje s obzirom da se one granaju i jedna drugu dodiruju, a opet one su nove, autentične svaka po sebi; gdje jedna stane, druga nastavi, i kao da postoji mogućnost da jedna od tih širina bude uhvaćena, ali one nekekako izmiču, sve dok ne budu na okupu u jednom kotlu kada se u konačnom dobija smisao rečenog. A onda smisao počinje da izmiče. Rečenice su posebno dizajnirane, gdje je pretpostavljam, Kalvino izvodio facijalne ekspresije dok ih je ostavljao na papir uočavajući da je ova knjiga ili bolje rečeno više knjiga, jedan eksperiment zapravo. Obraća se čitaocu, a onda uđe u ulogu čitaoca i piše iz drugog lica množine tako dočaravajući reakciju njihove reakcije, preplićući i ukrštajući njihove sudbine unutar čitanja. Inovativno dijelo.

Profile Image for فؤاد.
1,047 reviews1,696 followers
October 18, 2017
یه بار با خواهرزاده م که اون موقع یک سالش بود بازی می کردم، و با کلی زحمت براش با لگو یه ساختمون ساختم. اما دختربچۀ یک ساله بدون این که به اون ساختمان اهمیتی بده، با ذوق و خنده زد و خرابش کرد. یه مقدار بهم برخورد، و به این امید که این بار بیشتر تحت تأثیر قشنگی ساختمون قرار بگیره یا حداقل یادبگیره مثلش رو بسازه، باز تلاش کردم بازسازی ش کنم و اون این بار قبل از این که ساختمون تموم بشه زد و خرابش کرد. چند بار امتحان کردم، و دیدم انگار لذت بازیگوشانۀ خراب کردن خیلی بیشتر از ل��ت انتزاعی ساختنه. این کتاب هم چیزی در همون مایه هاست. مال دوران کوتاهی که پست مدرن نامیده میشد و الان حدود سی چهل سالی هست که به پایان رسیده.

ماجرا از این قراره:

کتاب هیچ چیز نیست. نه یک رمانه، نه یک مجموعه داستان، و نه حتی یه داستان با سر و ته. داستان راجع به یک «خوانندۀ» بی نامه (که نویسنده با ضمیر مخاطب ازش صحبت می کنه) که کتابی رو می خره که بخونه، اما می بینه که کتاب ناتمامه. میره برای عوض کردن کتاب، بهش یه کتاب دیگه می دن اما وقتی اون رو می خونه، می بینه یه داستان دیگه است. به خوندن داستان ادامه میده اما اون هم نیمه کاره است، و وقتی میره برای عوض کردن باز به اشتباه یه کتاب دیگه بهش می دن و اون هم نیمه کاره است و همین طور... و هر بار که «خواننده» یکی از این کتاب ها رو می خونه، بخشی از اون کتاب روایت میشه، ولی نیمه کاره رها میشه.
در نتیجه کتاب «اگر شبی» همچین ساختاری داره:

فصل اول: خواننده کتاب را می خواند.

- روایت بخشی ناتمام از آن کتاب

فصل دوم: خواننده کتاب را به کتابفروشی می برد تا عوض کند و کتاب جدیدی می گیرد.

- روایت بخشی ناتمام از آن کتاب جدید

فصل سوم: خواننده به جای کتاب قبلی کتاب جدیدی می گیرد.

- روایت بخشی ناتمام از آن کتاب جدید

الی آخر.

وقتی این ساختار برای خواننده لو بره (که الان من برای شما لو دادم) کتاب هیچ نکتۀ جذاب دیگه ای نداره. اون روایت های ناتمام از کتاب های مختلف، گاهی (فقط گاهی) جذابیتی دارن، اما وقتی میدونی که قراره نیمه کاره رها بشن، همون جذابیت نصفه و نیمه هم از بین میره. فکر می کنم نوشتن کتاب برای نویسنده بیشتر لذت داشته تا خوندنش برای من خواننده. از همون دست لذت بازیگوشانه ای که خواهرزادۀ یک ساله م از خراب کردن ساختمونی که من ساخته بودم می برد: شکستن ساختار رایج رمان، و همین.
Profile Image for Laysee.
491 reviews225 followers
August 16, 2021
If on a sick bed, a reader picks up If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino, he or she is almost certain to become more ill. Why, oh why, of all the times I could have read this, I picked it up when I was physically unfit to read it? At first I was just mildly under the weather, and I was comforted by the opening pages which extended an enticing invitation to put up one’s legs and settle down for a good read. How lovely, I thought. The atmospheric first chapter opens in a provincial train station with attention drawn to a cloud of smoke on a damp evening. Nice lulling effect or was it the cough mixture I had taken?

Then the narrator addresses the reader, “For a couple of pages now you have been reading on, and this would be the time to tell you clearly whether this station where I have got off is a station of the past or a station of today: instead the sentences continue to move in vagueness, grayness, in a kind of no man’s land of experience reduced to the lowest denominator. Watch out: it is surely a method of involving you gradually, capturing you in the story before you realize it - a trap.” In the gathering fog of my reading, I knew that this travel on a winter’s night is not going to be an easy journey. True enough, the journey became curiouser and curiouser. Two days later, my head was literally splitting, and I had to go see my favorite GP to tame an evil flu bug.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler is a clever writing experiment in which ten stories are each broken off midway and each becomes a different story. In essence, it is a post-modern novel with a meta-fictional structure. There is the Reader (which is also the narrator) and the Other Reader (Ludmilla) to whom the Reader is romantically linked. There is Ermes Marana, a trickster translator, who fouls up the translation of these stories with diabolical intent, and who is responsible for the rude truncation of all the stories. Marana has founded a group called the Organization of Apocryphal Power that produces counterfeit books all over the world. Calvino must be prescient. Before fake news, there are already fake books! There is Irnerio who has stopped recognizing groups of letters as words, but subverts reading by turning books into artwork. There is Lotaria versus Ludmilla, two sisters who read in totally different ways. Lotario technically does not read. She reads quickly via a computer software that churns out lists of words in a book in order of frequencies and from there derive thematic recurrences to confirm her preformed convictions. Ludmilla is the true reader who spends hours immersed in a book and welcomes the open spaces in which to give it meaning.

The ten stories are located in diverse and exotic settings that are matched by strange-sounding character names. Not all are easy to read and follow, and demands close attention if one is not to get befuddled. At several points, I had wanted to give up reading.

But I soldiered on. Calvino does tell good stories, a few of which I wished to read more just when they ended abruptly. These stories have an interesting cast of characters: two boys trading places to pick up new skills and having to leave their sweethearts behind (‘Outside the town of Malbork’), a female artist wanting to help her lover break out of prison (‘Leaning from the steep slope’), a murderer trying to stuff a corpse into too small a bag (‘Looks down in the gathering shadow’), a visiting professor obsessed with the ringing of telephones (‘In a network of lines that enlace’), a prolific writer who can no longer write and is afraid to now that he is made to believe that aliens can infiltrate his mind (‘In a network of lines that intersect’), a research assistant seducing his professor’s wife as well as daughter (‘On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon’), an adolescent boy returning to an Indian village to be reunited with his biological mother after his white father dies (‘Around an empty grave’), and a few other tales I did not track as well (in my medicated stupor). The writing in some of these is beautiful - lyrical and sensuous.

Fundamentally, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler is a book about reading and the author’s job of writing. Calvino has, in fact, brilliantly provided a narrative structure that allows the reader to take a step back and de-construct the reading experience. There are rich thoughts on the sanctity of reading, the pain of literary composition, the productive writer versus the tormented writer, and what gives writing its substance. Calvino also offers an insider perspective of what literary composition demands of the writer and the toll it can take on him or her. Below are quotations that I believe many readers and writers can relate to:

When do words assume meaning?
“If we assume that writing manages to go beyond the limitations of the author, it will continue to have meaning only when it is read by a single person and passes through his mental circuits. Only the ability to be read by a given individual proves that what is written shares in the power of writing, a power based on something that goes beyond the individual. The universe will express itself as long as somebody will be able to say, 'I read, therefore it writes.’"

Until a thought or idea is penned, it has no communicative value.
‘It is on the page, not before, that the word even that of the prophetic raptus, becomes definitive, that is to say, becomes writing. It is through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the nonwrtten becomes legible, that is, through the uncertainties of spelling, the occasional lapses, oversights, unchecked leaps of the word and the pen. Otherwise, what is outside of us should not insist on communicating through the word, spoken or written: let it send its messages by other paths.’

A risk writers take
“Since I have become a slave labourer of writing, the pleasure of reading has finished for me.”

Writer’s Burnout
‘For some time now, every novel I begin writing is exhausted shortly after the beginning, as if I had already said everything I have to say.’

‘...but at every re-reading, I seem to be reading a new book, for the first time. Is it I who keep changing and seeing new things of which I was not previously aware? Or is reading a construction that assumes form, assembling a great number of variables, and therefore something that cannot be repeated twice according to the same pattern?’

We read only one book.
‘Every new book I read comes to be a part of the overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual book must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confirmation or gloss or reference text. For years I have been coming to this library, and I explore It volume by volume, shelf by shelf, but I could demonstrate to you that I have done nothing but continue the reading of a single book.’

To me, this last quotation nicely sums up what this brilliant book is all about. I have to admit that I am glad to have read If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler. I am also equally glad to have completed the journey.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
687 reviews22 followers
December 21, 2014
I have not finished the book but it does not matter. I can post my review already.

You are wondering whether to phone the police to remove Mark Nicholls from your house. You are deeply confused as to why this reviewer whose opinions you find facile and banal is suddenly sitting naked on your couch reading the very book you were reading about,” he says. You look for a blunt instrument to hit him with, but can find only a cup. You throw the cup, but he ducks and it breaks against the wall. Then Garima tells Mark: well, I am not here to review this book but since that’s the only option available here so I can’t help it. I have nothing new or different to say that hasn’t been said earlier and neither am I one of those seasoned reviewers on GR that other members look forward to read their views on a particular book (OK! Enough of self-pity).

Of course Geoff Wilt has an opinion. He thinks that This is a fun interactive novel where the reader is prepared by the words, intelligence and a lot of temptations, and Italo Calvino, the central image in the book - Triumphal Entry of art, the writers might have to deal with major changes in our global communications.

Oh, I forgot to mention that in your nightmare, you will be a man!, Fionnuala replies. But Declan retorts: If the book was created by pages torn from the grand narrative, then they were fortuitously chosen because they form one the the most enjoyable and amusing novels you could hope to read, a maze of narratives (none of which ever get close to the exit) whose main subject is the experience of reading a novel about how someone might go about writing a novel about the experience of reading a novel about....etc.

Geoff Wilt has something to add to what he said earlier: This is a novel of interesting interactions where the reader is prepared by the words intelligent, and so many temptations, and Italo Calvino, the central image in the book Triumphal Entry of the art, writers can have to deal with major changes in our global communications. And in this he agrees with Kris, who is ready to quote: “Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life, if they are a defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they area dream into which you sink as if into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the outside, toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books.”

Don’t forget Paul’s piece of advice, when he warned us that Some of Calvino's inventions are true; Cimmerian and Cimbrian are both languages that have existed. Calvino was influenced by Nabakov and by an organisation called Oulipo (look it up, it's rather odd and explains a lot about Calvino's writing). Oulipo members use certain types of writing techniques to produce creative works. Another book on my tbr list, Perec's "A Void", a rather long novel which does not use the letter e, is another example. Interestingly members of Oulipo remain members, even after death.

Thank god we have a clarification from David Mitchell himself. He believes that The element of humor will often tumesce—which is a lovely word—it will often tumesce and form this nodule that we call a joke, and here we are, it's a funny story. You can find humor in funerals, you can find humor, God help us, in divorces, you can find it in the worst stuff that happens to us. Of course all languages have equivalents for gallows humor, black humor. Yeah, sure,Marilynne Robinson writes serious books, it would be like bread that didn't contain water, it would be stale and unswallowable. She may not be known for her hilarious anecdotes, but there's a lightness and a levity—a humor there. And of course in this he coincides with Geoff Wilt, It is interesting interactive novel where the reader with many cases understanding words, and Italo Calvino, the triumph of art with a picture book entry is made, the authors deal with significant changes in our global communications to be.

Luckily for Jan- Maat Landlubber he has been quick to tell us: This is one of my favourite books. Comfort reading. Fairly sure that I bought this in the early to mid 1990s in Webberleys bookshop in Stoke-on-Trent. It was an old fashioned shop with dark wooden bookshelves that where too close together so that it was difficult to get round, you had to pick your way and wind about to get to the books you wanted to look at. Great place.

But Kalliope would like to summarize all viewpoints.

“ ; . ¿ , ?. : , , , , .” . “ ;

“ ; . ! , , , , . “ : ? , ? , , ? !!!!!”

Only Italo Calvino himself can clarify: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore; راگر شبی از شبهای زمستان مسافر Si par une nuit d’hiver un voyageur; If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler; Wenn ein Reisender in einer Winternacht; Ако пътник в зимна нощ; Si una noche de invierno un viajero; Dacă într-o noapte de iarnă un călător; Αν μια νύχτα του χειμώνα ένας ταξιδιώτης.

Profile Image for Seemita.
179 reviews1,569 followers
January 1, 2016
Imagination, Winged

Push me not, not right now,
Frozen feet is all I have;
Shine me not, not right now,
Calming dark is all I have;
Correct me not, not right now,
Impelling doubt is all I have;
Wake me not, not right now,
Breathing dream is all I have.

Long ago, when I jotted down this poem, I was amidst a whirlwind of events: my final year exams were impending, my heartache was fresh, my best friend had left the city and my muscle tear was repaired but still throbbed a bit. So, I had little to rejoice about and more importantly, little time to take stock of the situation. And like always, I fell back on the only way of redemption I knew: writing. When I sat down to write, words came to me like a storm; malicious, malevolent, spiteful in their fury. I took the gust on my diary with audacity. But like most storms, the gust lasted only a few minutes. And then, lull. Nothing. No matter how much I wracked my brains, nothing would ever reach me again, not until I placed a new idea in the terrain. Once I did that, the storm engulfed me again, like a magnetic attraction to a new target, but like its predecessor left me empty within minutes. And so, the cycle continued and I, after numerous efforts, cowed in and ended up writing just these eight lines.

Not as timid as me, of course, Calvino drew much constructive fury from his various storms. And so, we got this masterpiece of laborious love, the kind that only a true passion for story-telling can kindle. Simply put, it is a story of a Reader (which is you) who starts reading a book after buying it from a bookshop and after reading a few pages, finds the rest of pages missing . He goes back to the bookshop to return the defective copy and instead, get the correct one. And from there, he enters into the nebulous world of jumbled up versions of books, book jackets, authors and yes, fellow readers. He finds at the end of each brief investigation, a new book in his hand, which although has a link to the earlier book, contains nothing of the earlier book. Yeah, does not make sense? Calvino would be happy to do the honours.

Like every key on the piano, when pressed and left, sets a discerning vibration that lingers on if we put our ears to it, each of his stories leave a trail of restless rambling of cells inside, frantic to join the dots. And although the next note draws us in with a renewed vigour into its throes, the previous note still makes its fledgling presence felt, somewhere in our pits. So, we are never out of the song, although the notes that make it, continue to live their own lives. And the beauty of Calvino lies in his mastery of making them all look like ingrained in the same song, much like how a single family can define its members, who in themselves, have different passions and pursue different lives.

The stories are immensely engaging, sparkling with wit and imagination. In one, we are the allies of two murderers who are disposing off a corpse while in another, we are witness to a man, obsessed with phone rings. There is erotica on Japanese soil and adolescent feud in Polish alleys. My favourite, though, tough to pick, was “in a network of lines that intersect”. This was an unusual story of a man, attempting to foil a murderous attack on him and his beloved, by drawing fake circles of protection around him and her by using the virtues of catoptric instruments. Of course, the pinnacle of this rollercoaster ride lied in the penultimate chapter, where all the stories converge like they were all headed for no other destination. His ingenuity hits at the end, soft and easy though, since by now, I already know my mind has had one of its best walks ever.

His very style of writing is so spell-binding that I was often at loss to answer the question of what I enjoyed more; the heart of the stories or the way the stories were told. He almost does a confession of presenting us just the tantalizing beginnings of the stories and not their fascinating ends when he says:

“I have pondered my last conversation with that Reader. Perhaps his reading is so intense that it consumes all substance of the novel at the start, so nothing remains for the rest. This happens to me in writing; for some time now, every novel I begin writing is exhausted shortly after the beginning, as if I had already said everything I have to say.”

He talks to us like we are right in front of him; the Reader, probably, would have never felt so close to an author he/ she was reading.

There are times when I finish a book, take a mental flight, reach the author, look in the eyes and say, Thank You. I can still feel the vibration of the last two words in my mouth.

Profile Image for Argos.
983 reviews283 followers
December 17, 2019
İLK OKUMA (Mart 2018)
Modern, postmodern ve sürrealist romanlarla sorunum var benim, sevmek istiyorum, barışmak istiyorum ancak şu ana kadar başarılı olamadım. Ama parlak olmada da bir umut ışığı yakaladım bu kitapla. Çok zorlandım aslında, bitirince ağzımda kekremsi bir tad kaldığını hissettim. Çok umutlanmasam da haydi hayırlısı...
Nerede okumuştum hatırlamıyorum, Calvino için “aynalarla çevrili bir odada insanın eline de bir ayna tutuşturan yazar” diye tanımlanmıştı, bu cümle beni çok etkilemişti okuduğumda. Görünmez Kentler’i okurken pek anlamamıştım bu tanımın derinliğini. Ancak “Bir Kış Gecesi Eğer Bir Yolcu”yu bitirince “tamam işte buydu” dedim.
Kitap klasik romanlardaki gibi sizi kendine bağlayıp sürüklemiyor ancak sizi öyle bir bağımlı kılıyor ki kopuk kopuk metinleri terkedemiyorsunuz, hatta onları siz sürüklüyorsunuz, ilginç bir duygu aslında, heyecanlandırıcı, zorlayıcı, hatta sinir bozucu ama sonunda yaratıcı. Hayalgücü ile gerçeklik arasında sıkışıp bırakıyor insanı, hatta çözüme varmanız için kışkırtıyor.
On farklı romanı (metni) birbiriyle birleştirmek mi, yoksa bunları birbiriyle harmanlamak mıydı amacı Calvino’nun ayırt edemedim. Okurken hep “ben bu kadar zorlanıyorsam yazar bunu yazarken ne azap çekmiştir kimbilir! “ diye düşündüm devamlı.
Elimdeki kitap YKY 4. baskı, kitabın 71. sayfasındaki “Çarşamba Akşam” paragrafında “Belki bu günce.... “ diye başlayıp sayfa sonuna kadar devam eden bölüm kitabı en iyi tanımlayan cümleler bence. Postmodern bir kitabı zorlanarak ama bırakmayı hiç düşünmeksizin okudum. Büyük bir yol aldığımı zannediyorum. Okumanın amacı da yol almak, yol alırken keyif almak değil mi?
Bir başka Calvino okur muyum emin değilim.

(Bu yorumu yazalı bir buçuk yıl olmuş, şimdi tam bir Calvinokolik oldum. Müthiş, beni kısa sürede tekzib etti Calvino, bu kitabı da yeniden okuyacağım. Sadece not düşmek istedim önyargısız okumanın önemini vurgulamak için. Ekim 2019 )

İKİNCİ OKUMA (Aralık 2019)

İlk okumamda 3 yıldız vermişim. Şimdi ise 5 yıldız. Kitap aynı kitap, öyleyse değişen ne ? Değişen benim okuma tarzım, kitaba bakış açım, okuma yelpazem, önyargılardan kurtulmam ve benzeri bir sepet dolusu neden. İnsanlar değişir (ve gelişir), sanırım özeti bu.
Mükemmel bir bilmece, bulmaca, yap-boz tamamlama romanı. Calvino usta, okuru ve okumayı kendi uslubunda anlatırken yazarlar, yayınevleri, yayın dünyası ile de kozunu paylaşıyor bence, inceden kafa buluyor gibi geldi bana. Kitabı anlatan en iyi bölüm, kitabın sonunda, kütüphanede bulunan yedi okur ve bir de “erkek okur”un sekiz farklı okuma biçimi tanımlaması bölümü. İyi okura iyi okumalar....
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,765 followers
August 3, 2016
Well,I am not here to review this book but since that’s the only option available here so I can’t help it. I have nothing new or different to say that hasn’t been said earlier and neither am I one of those seasoned reviewers on GR that other members look forward to read their views on a particular book (OK! Enough of self-pity).

I mean come on, Calvino didn’t write this novel (or antinovel, like I read somewhere) so that some random reader would read this epic book and dare to have an opinion. He has already pampered his readers enough to expect any kind of judgment on this awesome work of his. He made you the effin Protagonist for heaven’s sake or was it a master stroke on his part? Oh I just judged it..Aargh!

Anyways, so I read this another book, Goosebumps- Escape from the Carnival of Horrors in my childhood, wherein the reader needs to make a choice from the various options given at the footnotes in order to ESCAPE from the Carnival and as a result, the book became suitable for n no. of re-reads. And no, I am not trying to establish a relationship or comparison between the two books but can’t help myself admiring this kind of experimental literature where the reader feels like a part of the book from both inside and outside.

So what could be the possible aspiration behind such inventive writing? An aim to constitute a cult or to write something which being a reader one always wants to read (He mentioned Arabian Nights more than once which could be a possible influence). Having read Invisible Cities before, I expected the unexpected from this book but didn’t expect to be completely knocked out. The structure is not the sole winner here but the content too about which I was not entirely convinced with Cloud Atlas (That reminds me, Thank you Mr. Mitchell for introducing me to Mr. Calvino). Of course there are no lessons learnt from this book, no philosophies thrown in your face to make you consider bigger questions about life but it's an experience about the experience of reading. Well Of course you can ask yourself, “ So, what kind of reader are you? Or; What kind of books you like? “ Hmmmmm

Here’s an excerpt from an interview Of Italo Calvino :


Turgenev said, “I would rather have too little architecture than too much because that might interfere with the truth of what I say.” Could you comment on this with reference to your writing?


It is true that in the past, say over the past ten years, the architecture of my books has had a very important place, perhaps too important. But only when I feel I have achieved a rigorous structure do I believe I have something that stands on its own two feet, a complete work. For example, when I began writing Invisible Cities I had only a vague idea of what the frame, the architecture of the book would be. But then, little by little, the design became so important that it carried the entire book; it became the plot of a book that had no plot. With The Castle of Crossed Destinies we can say the same—the architecture is the book itself. By then I had reached a level of obsession with structure such that I almost became crazy about it. It can be said about If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that it could not have existed without a very precise, very articulated structure. I believe I have succeeded in this, which gives me a great satisfaction. Of course, all this kind of effort should not concern the reader at all. The important thing is to enjoy reading my book, independently of the work I have put into it.

Enjoyed to my heart’s content Sir.

P.S. I need to know the ending of that Arabian Nights story. Hope it’s available somewhere.
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
688 reviews567 followers
July 12, 2021
57th book of 2021. Artist for this review is Argentine painter Lucio Fontana.

You are new in the area and your parents are desperate to get rid of you because though you are only trying to help, you are getting in the way of the moving process—the boxes are too big for you to lift, the lorry-men talk with such cigarette-smoked voices that you cannot understand them or their quips to you, and as much as you'd like to appear helpful, you cannot wait for all the boxes to be gone and everything go back to how it was (that is, move back into the house you've just left, the house you loved dearly).

It is for these reasons that they allow you to go (alone) to the park opposite the house ("we can still see you fine," they argued). The park is named "The Oulipo Playground"; and because you are new to the area, you (and by extension, your parents) are unaware that the playground is generally avoided. The boys found in the playground are strange; they play odd games that no one else has heard of, they whisper to one another, talk in inside-jokes (one quickly realises who is on the inside—it isn't you) and laugh at a lot at things that don't seem, to you, particularly funny. You are ignorant to this, and so push the gate open with happy abandon and enter into their strange domain.

All other playground inhabitants are also without parents and many of the boys look like grown men: one boy, nearby, looks at you quizzically from behind very round glasses. Your eye is drawn to another boy though, and the reason is twofold: firstly, he is standing at the top of the slide and looking down on you and secondly, his hair is wild, an explosion from his scalp, thick and curled. You are naturally drawn away from the slide-stander and towards a genial-looking chap to one side. You ask him what is going on. He replies, with a foreign accent, that the boys are playing a game. (You look around you but can't form any concept of a game: all the figures in the park are very still and looking at one another with silent, but smirking, faces.) You introduce yourself anyway and the other boy introduces himself back, Italo, he says.

Over the next few weeks as your parents continually unpack, decorate, argue, redecorate, etc., you continually go downstairs and across the road (you've never seen a car drive down it, but you remain vigilant as taught) to The Oulipo Playground. You now consider yourself friends with Italo, though you find him volatile; at times he is eager to explain the games the other boys are playing with one another, saying Perec (the French boy with the wild hair) is doing this, and this means that Duchamp must do this and Queneau (round glasses) must retaliate with this, and so on. You never really grasp what Italo is explaining to you and the others sometimes call upon him (“Calvino! Calvino!”) to join in and he leaves you for a time to do so, but you remain interested all the same. Other times you arrive at the playground and Italo seems irritated by your presence and despite your questioning, will not give you any answers to what is happening or why. “Why is Perec doing that? What must Queneau do?” And Italo turns his back on you, even, at times, holds up his hand, but most irritably: begins to tell you but before he has finished his explanation, suddenly stops and goes quiet; and no amount of badgering gets him to finish what he was saying. You have cried sometimes at night thinking that it must be your fault that Italo is acting in this way: suddenly cold and disinterested from the day before, when he was affable and witty. You’ve tried only once to talk to Perec but otherwise you shy away from him. The others seem too distant for you to even try. Queneau incessantly repeats himself to you, telling the same story over and over again but each time with a slightly different spin on it, so you never quite know whether he is telling the truth or mad. You report none of this back to your parents because it is baffling for you, let alone them, and they are already tired enough from attempting to build cheaply-bought but apparently highly convenient and affordable furniture.

Once again it is a day (a slightly overcast one, but warm) where you find Italo in a disgruntled mood. He began by explaining the current game, “Yes, and you see Perec over there on the swings, well this is because…” but soon he appears bored by explaining it all to you in minute detail and stops. You hide your frustration and stand silently (and sullenly) beside him to observe the rest of the unintelligible game of long silences, strange words, odd movements, and general, you believe, madness. You go to bed that night flustered and hurt, once again. The following day you set out with purpose: to tell Italo that his manner is unfair. He is standing in his usual spot at the side of the playground and the other boys are dotted about, some standing, some sitting, some doing precarious handstands (seemingly vital to the game at hand) and some with their fingers either over their eyes or ears. “Italo,” you say, “I am tired of our friendship.” His eyebrows jump. “But why?” he asks. You throw your hands in the air, how can he not see! “One day you appear to be my friend and the next not! Some days you tell me the games and the stories and other days not, or you tell me only half and leave me frustrated! I never know where I stand. I can’t even call you a friend, but you’re not an enemy,” you hasten to add; “I don’t know what you are!” Italo, for once, is the flustered one between the two of you. He scratches his face and tuts. “We are playing our own game, I thought you knew.” You say: “I didn’t know, and I don’t understand this game, or any game!” Once again, you fling your arms around. Italo pacifies you with a smile and says, “The rules hardly matter, only that you have fun.” You grumble. “I can’t have fun if I don’t know the rules or what the aim is, I don’t understand the point of any of this. I think you might all be mad.” Queneau is standing nearby but luckily he has his hands over his ears and does not hear this. “We play differently from other boys,” Italo tells you; “but we think our games are more fun.” You don’t see anything wrong with hide-and-seek. “All games are the same, so banal,” Italo moans (you don’t know what banal means but it sounds negative), “we are trying something different. That’s good, no?” You honestly can’t answer: your mother says being different is a wonderful thing and that you should embrace the fact that you seem to have less friends than everyone else and read all the time instead of playing football, but on the other hand, this sort of different seems so farfetched. “But Italo, I’m not sure I’ve had any fun at all.” Italo sighs and yawns loudly (rudely) and then says, “You kept coming back, I thought that meant you were having fun." “I came back because,” you begin to say, and find you aren’t sure why you kept returning; it was all so strange and different, it intrigued you, yes, that is one reason. Were you having fun, through your frustrations? On some days it might have been close to fun, on other days it was certainly frustration, even boredom. Italo had a nice way of putting things and you liked that. Under all his stories and false-starts he seemed like an interesting person and a good sort of fellow to have around, but other than that, what was the reason? Even after yesterday’s poor affair you returned once again, if only to tell him your true feelings, but what was your purpose for doing that, to reconcile and allow your friendship to carry on? “It doesn’t matter why you came back, only that you did,” Italo says, interrupting your thoughts. “We all have so much fun here,” he says. You knew that already, looking at them all smirking and whispering to one another. “If I stay will it be worth it? Does it get more fun?” Italo shrugs his shoulders: “I don’t know! I invent the fun. You have to invent your own sort of fun here too.” For a split-second you consider hitting Italo on the nose as your fun-invention but that thought is gone in a flash and you embrace your strange comrade. “So, let me explain this game currently,” he then says. You rub your hands together. “Queneau is standing here like this because Perec over there, and Duchamp, are teaming up against him. Rumour has it there is some back-stabbing involved. The swings are key, as is the jeep on the springs that rocks back-and-forth. The others are all somehow involved too. There’s a great conspiracy. The truth is, the real back-stabber…” Italo looks up suddenly and sees a bird going overhead. You ignore it, listening in. But, he’s gone. Italo is no longer going to finish what he was saying. You walk home in a sulk, kicking old cans and grumbling (though you do check left and right at the deserted road). The next day though you wake up and find yourself eager to return to the playground to see what Italo has to say to you, if anything at all.


2nd Reading: 2021.

The fakery in the novel appeared to me more overtly on my second reading. The games were, as ever, frustrating and engaging at once, in typical postmodern fashion. I refer to it as the Postmodern Pendulum; it tends to be, for me, the swinging between high-brow and low-brow, which is more Pynchonian and DFWallian, but here in Calvino it feels more like Nabokov postmodernism, which is perhaps subtler. (Calvino gives credit to Nabokov and Borges for this novel, which is no surprise.) On one page we feel almost as if we can sympathise with Humbert Humbert, for example, and on the next we are reminded of his true nature and we are sickened by him, and in turn, ourselves. Calvino adopts this sort of pendulum of emotion: boredom/frustration v. intrigue/wit/entertainment. This book is only 200/250 pages long but feels longer. All the false-starts bog it down and the second-person sections are enjoyable especially in the beginning but eventually go too far and become a little too much. That first chapter is purely golden though, a giant reflection on reading as a process and as an abstract idea. As the novel opens:
You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's 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'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that 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.

“Concetto Spaziale, Attese”—1960

(Calvino reflects on literature in other books too; he does with great warmth and beauty in The Baron in the Trees, which is vastly different from this.) As it goes on it gets deeper and deeper and more tangled in its own web, so to speak. Really, we end up looking at multiple fakes, multiple forgeries, multiple beginnings, conspiracies, ideas, realities: it is quite a lot for such a short novel. Calvino lets us in at times and blocks us out at others, making for a very volatile experience. Frankly, almost for this reason alone, the book falls short of 5-stars for me, though I think it’s quite exceptional. I have read before (I don’t know if it’s true or not, so to add more fakery) that Calvino was being pressured to release another book but had nothing but a load of first chapters of abandoned projects so he lumped them altogether, added the second-person chapters to the mix and published it, calling it, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. If it is true it’s sort of brilliant and a giant cheat all at once, which describes the novel perfectly anyway. It’s a head-wobbler.

I still think Invisible Cities is better. Not the best place to start with old Calvino. If you like him, dive-in, and see if you still like him. As my lecturer once called him, "the icy postmodernist", prepare to get cold (but, also, at times, warm).

1st Reading: 2019.

It's taken me a while to read this, which is no fault of the book. I've had a real surge of writing and inspiration recently so I've spent my time writing rather than reading. Then that will exhaust itself and I will read constantly and have no time, or inspiration, to write. It's quite frustrating how the two can't work in perfect harmony beside one another. Almost as frustrating as trying to find If On a Winter's Night a Traveller.
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