If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler Readalong Wrap-Up

Saturday, November 30, 2013


This book is like a bibliophile’s acid trip or maybe their worst nightmare, but in a completely enchanting way. A reader picks up a book and just when it gets good the book ends. No matter what they do they can’t find a complete copy of the text and so they can’t finish the book. Instead they are led to begin reading one new book after another, each one ending before they can finish the text. At one point Calvino is blaming one of his characters for leaving a text unfinished and he says,

“Ermes Marana appears to you as a serpent who injects his malice into the paradise of reading.”

That’s exactly what Calvino was doing and it was hilarious that he was poking fun at himself through the text. At first I wondered if the stories would wrap up in the second half of the book à la Cloud Atlas, but soon I realized that wasn’t the point. The book is an exploration of reading, not of one specific story.

The thing I truly loved was Calvino’s language. He has a way of creating beautiful images, particularly whenever he was talking about the act of reading.

“To fly is the opposite of traveling: you cross a gap in space, you vanish into the void, you accept not bring in any place for a duration that is itself a kind of void in time; then you reappear, in a place and in a moment with no relation to the where and the when in which you vanished. Meanwhile, what do you do? How do you occupy this absence of yourself from the world and of the world from you? You read; you do not raise your eyes from the book between one airport and the other.”

Even the lines of each title are beautiful. They read like a poem, which we find out at the end is, of course, intentional.

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?

The introduction and the ending chapter were my two favorite parts. Calvino’s love of reading and his descriptions of it are just breathtaking. While some of the other chapters ran together a bit for me, those sections so perfectly captured the magic of being a reader.

I hope you all had fun with this one. It’s a completely unique book and one that I’m glad I finally read. It’s certainly experimental, but I think Calvino’s talent as a writer rises above any tricks he pulls.

What did you like about the book?

What didn’t work for you?

Was it what you expected?

You can check out Care's mid-way post here and mine is here.

13 comments:

Ekaterina Egorova said...

I liked it so much that I finished it early, so my impressions are not very fresh, but I remember having a problem starting a new book the same evening I finished Calcino - so impressed I was! Thanks for the read-a-long! Who knows, when I would have picked it if not for it! :)

Care said...

I am so glad I read this with everyone! Readalongs give an extra push when needed. I do wish, however, that I didn't take as big a gap between the halves and just powered through.
I do think I was most amused and impressed by Calvino's sex scene writings. I had to read the 'student' story out loud on our Thanksgiving trip (we had a lot of driving); I think it amused the hub, too. :)
Does anyone else think it would be interesting if someone did try to finish the stories? I am actually amazed there isn't a contest for it...

Susan Bybee said...

I'm glad I did this as a readalong, because I would have given up on it without giving it the chance it deserved.

A couple of the unfinished stories really caught my interest -- the Western and the noir one.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ekaterina Egorova - I'm glad you joined in! I think most of us finished it early. We should have just made the readalong two weeks or something.

Care - I can't believe no one has tried to finish those stories! I hadn't even thought of that! I pushed through the book as well. I wrote my midway post and then just read the rest of the book that week.

Susan - I'm glad we did this as a readalong too. It was such a strange book, I appreciated having the extra encouragement to keep reading.

Amy said...

I am so glad I read this with you guys. No way I would have finished it otherwise. It's going to take me a few weeks to gather my thoughts for a blog post. I write much more slowly than I read. Anyway, thanks for my first online read-a-long! I will definitely do more in the future.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amy - I'm so glad you enjoyed the read-along! I've learned that reading and discussing with others can really deepen my experience with the book! Come back and post a link to your thoughts when they're up!

JoAnn said...

I've written a post about my experience with If on A Winter's Night a Traveler… at last. Even though I didn't finish the book, I enjoyed the experience and learned a couple of things about my own reading habits. Thanks to you and Care for hosting.

http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com/2013/12/read-along-fail-if-on-winters-night.html

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JoAnn - I'm glad you joined in! Even if you didn't love it I'm glad you got something out of the experience.

cleopatra said...

I'm so disappointed that I missed this Read-Along!! I'm trying to read this book right now and am struggling a little so it would have been nice to have some buddies to read along with. I enjoyed reading your review!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

cleopatra - I hope it helps! It is a strange book. It helped me to think of the chapters as disconnected short stories.

Ruth said...

This book was not for me, but I knew it was unique in a weird way. I just could not finish it. I felt like I was not reading it honestly b/c I continued to skip over sections.

Now I see you are reading One Hundred Years, so I am interested in your opinion of that. It was another strange novel for me, but I did finish it. I guess I am just not a fan of post-modern or contemporary literature. I tend to be more critical of it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ruth - I'm strugglign with One Hundred Years right now. Those genres are out of my comfort zone as well. It's good for me to try different kinds of books, but I don't always "get" them in the way I feel like I'm suppose to.

bkclubcare said...

Hello, I just listened to the Jenny's talk about this book and thought you might enjoy it, too.

http://readingtheend.com/2014/06/04/reading-the-end-bookcast-ep-23-amazon-is-a-poop-books-age-fine-and-the-jennys-disagree-on-italo-calvino/

And I don't recall realizing the chapter titles made a sentence, though you say here it could be more of a poem. Still, I forgot.