This Is a Really Strange Book

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Okay, so Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler  is the strangest book I have ever read.  I have read lots of post-modern literature at all levels and got to learn all about Post-Modernism and Deconstruction in Literary Criticism.  This book definitely fits the bill for study through either of these lenses and is a perfect model for Post-Modernism.  Here are just two examples that show this:




“To read properly you must take in both the murmuring effect and the effect of the hidden intention, which you (and I, too) are as yet in no position to perceive.  In reading, therefore, you must remain both oblivious and highly alert, as I am abstracted but prick up my ears, with my elbow on the counter of the bar and my cheek on my fist” (18).




“You fling the book on the floor, or would hurl it out of the window, even out of the closed window, through the slats of the Venetian blinds; let them shred its incongruous quires, let sentences, words, morphemes, phonemes gush forth, beyond recomposition into discourse; through the panes, and if they are of unbreakable glass so much the better , hurl the book and reduce it to photons, undulatory vibrations, polarized spectra; through the wall, let the book crumble into molecules and atoms passing between atom and atom of the reinforced concrete…” (26). 


Calvino is able to incorporate both of these writing trends into his book before either of these was very popular.  He invades the reader’s space, using unconventional language as he breaks down the fourth wall to engage the reader.  He even refers to himself as “abstracted” explicitly showing the reader that this is a fictional world that the reader is engaging in while simultaneously causing the reader (at least me) to feel that I have to go along with what he says and feel what he says is there.  This really makes it a powerful narrative.


He also deconstructs his own work and the idea of books and writing in general, breaking them into the basic units of words, sounds, and then the atoms and parts of atoms that all things in our world possess. 


He is really able to explore what a novel, or any writing for that matter, is and in doing so explores communication. Calvino writes, “Does this mean that the book has become an instrument, a channel of communication, a rendezvous?” (32).  In this sentence, he refers to a book as a tool, and a medium, and as an event, never as the lifeless and unchanging thing that we often think of when we see a book. 


Although I found these parts of his writing to be interesting, I have to say that right now, I don’t really like the story very much, but maybe it is not about the story, but about communication through books.


See what others have to say about Calvino’s book.


"Although I found these parts of his writing to be interesting, I have to say that right now, I don’t really like the story very much, but maybe it is not about the story, but about communication through books."

I like this statement that you make and have to agree with you to some extent. I do not like this book at all actually. I have seen this style of writing be able to get better points across in other novels better than what I can see Calvino trying to make so far. (I wrote in my blog about one of the works I've encountered that I liked much better, that I think makes better life arguments than what Calvino is trying to do.)

However, I have to disagree when you mention in an earlier paragraph that books are not lifeless and unchanging. I have to argue that I think books (even though I am writing one) are lifeless. I think that the reader is what makes a book have a "life" and keeps them from being unchanging; which is the point I think Calvino is trying to make, he's just not doing it for me yet.

EricaGearhart Author Profile Page said:

You make a really great point here about the book being what the reader makes it. This is very true. I guess I am just looking at it from the point of view of if there were no books, there would be no voice, and you are seeing it as if there were no reader there would be no book. Like the age old dilemma "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, is there a sound," I don't think we can ever really come to a decided consensus. I did want to say though that it is awesome that you are writing a book! I would really like to know more about it.

Erica, another lens to consider is reader-response. And, of course, since we've been talking about Calvino's reasons, author intent.

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