Malcolm's Reviews > If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
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's review
Jul 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-contemporary, lit-like
Read in August, 2011

A book about reading a book about reading. Simply outstanding.

Aug 2011 - Re-reading: about 20 years after first reading........

I first read If on a winter's night a traveller in the early 1990s, encouraged by a friend in the English Dept at my University who then tried to use it to explain hypetext to me. Odd as it may seem in 2011 there was a time when hypertext, hyperlinks and all the taken for granteds of contemporary internet and webpage formations was new, unknown and perversely had to be explained by reference to a textual form - a novel - that they were/are held to replace/be replacing. Looking back, the parallel between this novel and hypertext is strained but I can see why, at the time, it seemed to work - although the textual forms of the internet still seem to be replacing the novel - and maybe this is one of those always-already-happening cases.

Twenty years later the novel remains provocative and playful: a Reader always addressed in the second person - but not Jane Austen's dear reader - is continually prevented from getting more than few pages through a novel, although each one he (this Reader is most certainly male, if only because the Other Reader is most certainly a woman) starts is, he is assured by the person who gives it to him, the previous one where progress was so bizarrely prevented. Along the way, there are frauds, fictions and counterfeits, romance, literary disputes, vaguely and not so vaguely perverse politics and conspiracies, and amid it all reading, the effects, affects, pleasures, absurdities, purities and impurities of reading, intertextualities and some close to straightforward storytelling - in short, all that we have come to expect and enjoy from Calvino.

And amid it all it is hard not to suspect, that just maybe, Calvino (and his Reader) is playing an enormous joke on us.
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