Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler - For the love of reading

All the novels I have read are for other people. Interesting, challenging, disturbing, motivational, whatever they might be, they are still for other people. I have identified with them, differentiated from them, loved them and hated them, but I was never them. Calvino is the only writer (so far), who writes about me. Puts me in the center of his novel. Actually, he puts you, as well. Yes, you, the passionate reader, for whom reading can easilly be a substitute for breathing. Yes, you, who would prefer a good book over anything everytime, whose eyes are glued on the novel, who derive immense (almost sexual) pleasure from a literary masterpiece. You, me, us, we the readers are the characters of Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

The novel is structured as 10 chapters in 2nd point-of-view (adressed towards you and me, the readers) alternating with 10 beginnings of different novels. The poor reader starts a novel, only to realize everything but the first chapter is missing. He sets on a journey to discover the rest, driven by his reader passion and restlessness. Unfortunately, he doesn't discover the rest of the novel, but the beginnings of another 9 novels. What a complete torture for any reader. You just started something and you are getting curious about what the rest is going to offer, how is it going to make you feel, what it is going to tell you about the world, and how it is going to change you and BAM, you are deprived of that greatest of all pleasures.

To make things easy for us (the reader) Calvino gives us a female reader. To accompany us in the search, to share our reading obsession, and to put a little love touch, without which every self-respecting novel is just words on a piece of paper. The female reader is the personification of the perfect reader. She immerses herself in the world of books. She reads several novels at a time because neither is enough to satisfy her book hunger. She refuses to meet the authors because their mortal body would only ruin the image she has through their voice in the novels. For her, you the reader, travel the world to find that special book or that special self. And along the way, you (me, us) discover the essence of reading. Calvino looks at it from several possible angles, presenting a different literary form with each of the new beginnings. He attempts to be 10 different authors and to his honor, he succeeds. Whatever the new novel is about, the chapter before that has already hinted to. At first it might seem Calvino just lacked ideas to write a whole story, but if you come to think about it, he is a genius indeed.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is a strange novel. It takes sometime to get accustomed to Calvino's unusual style. I was even annoyed in the beginning, as I felt completely lost, but once I found my place as "the reader" the novel indeed turned into something else. Calvino in this book needs to be experiences with the soul and not with the mind. It is difficult to say what If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is about. However, the most important fact is that it will appeal to everyone for whom the reading world is an unseparable part of the real world.


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