49. Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
Picking up If on a winter’s night a traveler, you can immediately tell that Calvino is ready to lead you on a merry ride. He addresses the reader directly, teasing them about their reactions to reading the book–but this isn’t what the author’s voice sounds like at all, even though he’s known for changing it book to book. It’s a strange and challenging book but recognizably Calvino, simply because you can just feel the love of books radiating from it. For example, this passage, I loved:
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 them there extend for 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 Being 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. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books that Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified…
Anyone who’s ever spent time in a bookstore knows that Calvino got it right, that’s exactly the sort of books lurking to find you in a bookstore. The “plot” follows two readers as they try to actually finish the titular story, which ends up being several other stories, all leading to a stunning conclusion. It’s a very clever book but somehow manages to not be annoying. I loved it, and sadly I don’t have much else to say about it other than that I’m extremely envious of Calvino’s brain, the way that he can weave together ten such disparate novel beginnings and still push the “reader” plot forward thematically…
It’s the sort of book where the impact is huge the first time you read it, and it’s not quite so breathtaking the second or third time, but then you begin to discover other little hidden gems, pieces of sentences that really speak to you—and it holds up that way.
And with that I’m done with Calvino for now, on to Camus.