Having spent the better part of the afternoon writing half a page about incomplete sentences (for a book I’m writing on literacy instruction), it occurred to me that the most apt selection for today’s post would be IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER by Italo Calvino.
Over the years, I have probably bought at least five copies of this book and lent them to people who never gave them back. I think this speaks more to the quality of the book than the quality of my friends. I don’t blame them. I’d keep it, too. In fact, maybe I’ll keep the next one. In any case, I don’t have the book at hand, but someone on the Internet was kind enough to quote the first page so I can give you a taste:
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. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice—they won’t hear you otherwise—“I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.
If it seems a little odd, that’s because it is. Calvino is not a mainstream writer. In this novel, he alternates between chapters written in the second person—to you, the Reader—and chapters that are meant to be the novel you’re reading, if that makes any sense. Except that after you read the “first” chapter (which, as I recall, is set in a train station, suggesting the promise of a journey), you discover that the book is missing pages, so you return to the bookstore for a new copy and end up with a different story. And then you meet an Other Reader, which adds yet another dimension to the plot(s).
OK, so it’s a little confusing. But for anyone obsessed with reading and writing, it’s totally worth it. Just ask my friends.