Jeff'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
Aug 15, 15

bookshelves: prof-foster-recommends, powells-25b2rb4ud
Recommended to Jeff by: *How to Read Novels Like a Professor*
Recommended for: college lit profs & their students
Read in September, 2009

** spoiler alert **

#1: i'm tempted to click the "this review contains spoilers" box because i don't think it's possible to create spoilers for a novel such as this.

#2: This is the epitome of the metafictional novel. What a convoluted intellectual experience Calvino evoked for me. Better (metafictionally) than Molloy or The Dead Father or Lost in the Funhouse.

#3: It's also, possibly, the best college level lecture on fiction ever put into fictional form. Of which, i'm extremely envious because i attempted to write a "paper" in grad school in the form of a Shakespearean comedy in order to convey my assessment of Northrop Frye's assessment of The Bard's form of Comedy (tiresome stuff—and my "dramatization" didn't make it any less bland).

#4: If you choose to read this whole book, you get to experience multiple genres, myriad new and rehashed characters, and some wonderful prose. You get to enjoy the enjoyment of reading and the pleasure of writing and the delight of reading about the pleasure of reading and writing and all kinds of 2nd level experiences that are actually 3rd level because you're getting them through the medium of the novel. I would say that it even has a satisfying conclusion. Mental stimulation suffices for me sometimes, this time especially. If i were a famous writer or critic or reviewer, i'd want "Pleasantly ticklish!" to be the blurb they took from me and put on the back/front cover somewhere.

#5: Do not try to read this novel
if you require something traditional (if there's another book out there like this, then shame on the imitator)
if you want to become totally lost in the experience of reading (because it forces you to read self-consciously—kinda like the self-consciousness of writing your review of this book with your wife looking over your shoulder and your friend's recent praise of your Goodreads reviews running through your mind)
if you need all the storylines to wrap up neatly à la a Seinfeld episode (none? of them do)
or if you dislike translated novels and are not fluent in Italian (y'never know)

#6: Yet another book that i'd love to try to make into a movie. It would need to be converted into a meta film , of course. I envisioned animation, which would help with the echoing of characters from one intertwined tale to the next.

#7: What a pleasant surprise to've enjoyed this work so much when i detested all 3 attempts to read Cosmicomics. It might be that i expected true science fiction and the disparity between expectation and reality was too great to overcome. My next Calvino book might be The Baron in the Trees (one of his first?) because John Gardner's The Art of Fiction seems to recommend it.

Enough numbering.

So many books came to mind! But i associate my highly positive response to this book most closely with my Top Shelf assessment of José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Both played every one of the heartstrings related to my lifelong love affair with words, writing, reading, publishing, books—i.e., everything literary. Lisbon has much more heart, though. Winter's Night is an almost purely intellectual experience, and so it barely falls short of being Top Shelf.

Imagine if you will, a novel that's about the experience of a reader who begins to read the very same novel that you, the real life reader, hold in your hands and that is written by the same real life novelist. Here, i'll help you do that by typing the opening lines of the first section (i.e., Chapter One):
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. Let the world around you fade.
Calvino tells you how to read his book for an entire chapter. Then the second section begins ... and it's titled "If on a winter's night a traveler" and begins, "The novel begins in a railway station..."! Now Calvino/Narrator narrates as if you are in The Reader's head and that fictional Reader's experience is part of the novel that you/he are reading. But then the third section (i.e., Chapter Two) begins, "You have now read about thirty pages and you're becoming caught up in the story." Is that damned Calvino talking to me now or what? [checking the "this review contains spoilers" box definitely is the honorable thing to do ... i might as well just type up the whole book and call that "what i learned from this book"] And its 2nd paragraph starts, "Wait a minute! Look at the page number. Damn! From page 32 you've gone back to page 17!" (i actually checked) The Reader's novel has a publishing error (does mine?). So he goes to the bookstore to find out what went wrong (i'm not doing that; i'll read on), meets another reader (female, naturally) who had the same problem with the same book, and the two characters embark on a quest to find & read the rest of the book—the book that you are actually reading?!

Calvino twisted and turned this scenario so masterfully & so many more times that i felt imbalanced, akin to stepping off The Mad Tea Party at the carnival. Which would be blurbed as "Unpleasantly dizzying!" So scrap that simile. Comparing it with one of them vomit-inducing rides just ain't right.

I highly recommend this book, most especially to smarty pantsers and college lit professors & their students.
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Reading Progress

08/30/2009 page 84
08/31/2009 page 132
50.77% "The almost exact midpoint."
09/02/2009 page 244
93.85% "I managed to postpone the conclusion until i was more fully conscious (ie, too sleepy @ midnight to fully enjoy, so i'll finish today)."

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