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on April 26, 2015
"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler."

Thus begins Chapter 1, Part 1 of Italo Calvino’s "if on a winter's night a traveler", and if you believe for one second that the traveler finally placed in a train station – note the cover illustration - in Part 2 is ever going to get anywhere, you are very much mistaken. He’ll never even get past Chapter 1, Part 2. He is, in fact, never seen again.

*C1P1: Chapter 1, Part 1. Each of the first 10 chapters are divided into 2 parts, the first with the reader as narrator and the second purporting to be the first chapter of yet another novel

Nor are any of the other protagonists in Parts 2 of Chapters 2 through 10. Calvino’s protagonist is actually the reader from C1P1* who spends the rest of the novel searching for the rest of the story – or stories, as it turns out, because there are ten first chapters of ten different novels – so the novel itself is never about a traveler, or about Malbork, the steep slope, fear of wind or vertigo, the gathering shadow, a network of lines that embrace and or intersect, the carpet of leaves, an empty grave, or even, finally, “what story down there awaits its end?” Although, as it turns out, the first lines of each of the ten chapters finally make up a story outline of its own, a story outline that might even, if followed through, complete a novel called, If on a winter’s night a traveler …”

Confusing? I’d say so. I’m not a huge fan of the nouveau-novel (I just made up that term) – novels that seem to be so self-referring that they are more chore than pleasure to read.

And yet I was so taken with C1P1 – Calvino takes us on a journey through a bookstore to find his new novel and then curls us up, like a fussy cat, searching for the perfect place and atmosphere in which to read it – that I read the whole thing. Because it seems to be a novel about reading, about the relationship of a reader to the thing read, and even to the writer of the thing read. Each new beginning leaves us wanting more, and the search for more never satisfies – it only initiates another search for something that doesn’t exist – which in turn initiates … Oh, well. You get the gist.

What is it about enigmatic Italian writers anyway? I read Umberto Eco, too, even the Latin, French, or German parts which I convince myself I can comprehend if I read them out loud – like shouting in my own ear in a foreign tongue thinking I can make myself understood through sheer volume. And I like it.

Somewhere in the house is another Calvino novel, Invisible Cities . I haven’t even opened it yet. I do hope it isn’t full of blank pages, because I’m not sure I could even begin to suss out the invisible joke there. There’s enigmatic and then there’s enigmatic, ya know?
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on January 11, 2018
Interesting but difficult to follow. The book is designed that way and became more interesting and readable the deeper I delved into it. I was reading this for book club and may have stopped reading if it wasn't for the others in the group pressure to finish it.
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on August 20, 2013
I am in agreement with the fourth and fifth readers. Just as I am the sum of my experiences and each experience exists, not on its own but as a single episode in a much larger narrative, I cannot help but making each book I read "part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of all my readings." Cosmicomics is the first book I read by Italo Calvino, and I could not help but search for shades of that in this book as I transformed it and allowed it to "enter into a relationship with the books I have read previously, [to] become their corollary or development or confutation or glass or reference text." I often wonder how my opinion of a book - or anything I consume - would change if I could consume that thing without the influence of me. This particular book certainly gave me cause to ponder that question rather extensively. Which, given what I was hoping to find in the pages, was really quite a surprise.

I think I was looking for a love story. I want to share words on a page with someone. I want to think that another pair of eyes is taking in the same words as mine and transforming them in their own unique way to fit their own unique overall and unitary book. I want to delve into our shared experience and take apart the details of how and why we were affected so differently and marvel at the ways in which we were affected similarly. I've felt that shared experience before, long to feel it again, and believed that this book was going to take me on that journey once more. I wanted to see the ups and downs of a relationship related by and existing within the shared words and thoughts of others. I wanted the hero and the heroine, "having passed all tests, get married" and not die. So from the outset, I fell in love with this book. The point-of-view, the internal dialogue, the fear and the hope... everything was related beautifully, and I easily lost myself in pursuit of that Other Reader.

As the story progressed, however, I felt like I was losing my grasp on the love story I thought I was reading. I tried to read into each of the external novels something affecting the overall story... something tying it all together... something that made me see how our two readers were growing closer with their reading. Once the two separated over the boundary line of those who make books and those who read them, I think the author finally shook me free from my preconceived notions of what I was reading. While I felt like the stories themselves certainly became easier to understand and stood more on their own after the Cimmerian episodes, I also was able to change my focus and begin to enjoy each episode on its own much more fully than I had before. It was as though he was trying to teach me how to step outside of my unitary book and value these snippets of different times and places without resolution solely for their existence. Once I got that, I began enjoying the individual stories as much, if not more than, the framing device of the love story. Was it possible to consume these new narratives in something approaching a vacuum? I was getting there.

I believe I had about half the book to read with my new point-of-view, but while I enjoyed it, I still couldn't get what I wanted to see out of my mind. This was becoming a 3-star review, but it had to wait for the end. I was so scared that this book would end without an ending and leave me searching for non-existent resolutions. Rarely have I had such anticipation for the end of a novel to tie things back together and let me resume my normal breathing pattern. And not since One Hundred Years of Solitude (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) 1st (first) Edition by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gregory Rabassa published by Everyman's Library (1995) has the ending paid off so brilliantly. See? Even now I am attempting to transform this book and fit it into my greater story. So to watch Calvino turn this around on me and bring everything to a wholly satisfying and twisting conclusion was an absolute pleasure.

I am, as he said, "always a possible me." "The only truth I can write is that of the instant I am living," and I am pleased to write this now as the me who exists today. There was much here that simply aligned with my life and my current reading habits. I do not know if I would feel the same about this book had, "I read it when I retired... since then I think that it wouldn't be the same thing anymore." As it is, I am pleased with the resolutions, intrigued by the storylines, and amazed by the author's ability to pull me out and around myself to make this somewhat academic study on the nature of writing, reading, and being read flow and fill up my mind without me even really seeing it happen.

There is more to say, but I will have to do it later and as a new person. But for now I need, "just a moment... I have almost finished If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino."
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on March 25, 2014
The premise of this novel is a second person presentation to Reader, who gets lost in a procession of novel beginnings that keep morphing into other beginnings like nested dolls. The pieces of stories that abruptly cut off at moments of tension are uniformly great. Any one of them could have been expanded into a full novel that I might have read with pleasure. But the collection of the pieces into a semi-coherent plot, while clever, is less than compelling. In the beginning of the novel, it puzzled me. A few chapters in, it had my interest. I stayed interested for about 100 pages. Then I started to be annoyed, and Calvino never recaptured my good will. There are a lot of 5 star reviews of this book, and I understand their appreciation for Calvino's creativity. But this book is definitely not for everyone. If you like books that have a story to tell, and characters that are fully drawn, this one is not for you.
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on June 28, 2015
First off, this is not a book for everyone. This is an experimental work. There is a story but it is deeply wrapped up in a discussion of the nature of reading, of writing, and of books; the role of the reader and author, and the separateness or interconnectedness of stories. You, dear reader, will be addressed directly by the narrator and in doing so, you become a part of the story as well, which is part of the philosophy.

There are 10 stories within the story and they are separate but interconnected. There is a mystery and a love story. This is a challenging and interesting book. But if you want a straightforward narrative, this book is not for you.
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on November 15, 2017
This book begins with a first chapter, presumably of a novel, that is never finished. The writing alternates between following the main character (called “you” or “the reader”) and other supposed first chapters similarly aborted. The trajectory of the main character’s story is ‘finished’ but through no real plot devices, simply you have reached the end of the book so here is an ending.

I did not like this structure, as plot is my favorite part of books, and reading the chapters that I knew would never continue I could not become interested in the story for I knew that would only be punished. This ruined the experience of reading for me within any of the ‘beginning’ chapters. The more of this truncated beginnings I read the more I was annoyed that they existed.

The one promise all books make as you start them is that they have a story, and it may turn out that you don’t like it or are unsatisfied with the ending, but if you stick with it there will be an ending. The story of “you, the reader” had one such hastily compiled endings which left that story unfulfilled as well, but at least it gave me a solid place to leave “the reader.” It was better than the lost beginnings in between, if not enough to make the whole book worthwhile.

This book is about the experience of reading, and, to a lesser degree, the experience of writing. Calvino purposefully destroys the expectations a reader can have from a book and at the same time dictates how they feel about it (through “the reader”). At one point it is said that the beginning of any book, when every possibility for it is still open, is the best part. “The reader” continues encountering and reading new books which he has no promise of finishing. I disagree: my favorite part of any book is the ending when you see how everything fits and can weight the value of the whole book. Of course, for this to be truly fulfilling the book must have been good, whereas the pleasure when beginning a book (while less full) is not grounded in reality; most books will supply it. This book had only the beginning pleasure, the end was purposefully hasty and unmotivated.

In the end “the reader” encounters several other “readers,” all of whom share their opinions on the nature of reading. I agree with none of them. They look for some larger meaning beyond the book, or use it as some conceptual aid. My desire in story is simple: I want to read such as will entrance me and fulfill what promises it makes.

This book is about the experience of reading, but I find I cannot agree with any of the conclusions it draws, and was annoyed at the format it took to go about showing them. I rate this book 2/10.
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on July 22, 2008
I'd flopped on a bed in a luxury hotel in Amman, Jordan last spring and flipped through a magazine, landing on page with little blurbs about about books. I was intriuged by a couple of titles. One was a book about the international sex slave trade (still not available in the USA until this fall) and the second was IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER.

The little blurb said this book had ten Chapter Ones. You read that right. One book, ten first chapters.

I wrote these titles down and ordered the latter after I got back home. And I just finished it. Wow.

I won't try to explain everything that goes on in this book but I can tell you--and this was the part that really surprised me--I was able to follow it all. Even when I suspected about two-thirds of the way in that my attention would waver and I'd lose complete track of this strangely-written book, I still knew what was going on. I have to chalk that up to the writer. I've gotten lost in far more conventional stories after wading through thick and ponderous writing...but not this one!

This is a book about books, about reading, about the solitary existence of readers and the fantastic journeys they find on pages. The writing is particularly strong and I wonder how much credit the translator should receive.

I can't imagine anyone who really loves reading disliking this book.
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on June 21, 2017
Italo Calvino's masterpiece is complex, sometimes frustrating and difficult to read, and often amusing. It's in a class by itself, as is the author. It's not a casual read. The Reader will want to go back to it again and again.
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on February 6, 2014
This was my first Italo Calvino. I really enjoyed his lyrical writing style, although this book was an introduction into so many different writing styles that it would be hard to define him from this tale. I enjoyed the suspense and the way he approached this work. Partway through I almost gave up because the story became too contrived and silly and I was frustrated. Ultimately though, I did truly enjoy reading this book and there were some turns of phrase and questions he posed that I just couldn't shake (in a good way). He helped me examine my own reading style and even way of living within a disjointed mass of stories writhing to be set free.
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on March 18, 2017
Of all the Italo Calvino books, this is one of my absolute favorites. Calvino is a surrealistic author, so don't go into this book with any expectations, just be prepared to be continuously pulled in multiple directions.
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