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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979)

by Italo Calvino

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,425218468 (4.05)1 / 507
You go into a bookshop and buy If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. You like it. But alas there is a printer's error in your copy. You take it back to the shop and get a replacement. But the replacement seems to be a totally different story. You try to track down the original book you were reading but end up with a different narrative again. This remarkable novel leads you through many different books including a detective adventure, a romance, a satire, an erotic story, a diary and a quest. But the real hero is you, the reader.… (more)
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    Artran: Metafiction, stories within stories, tale about power of storytelling, Ajvaz wittingly elaborate Calvino's aesthetics.
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1970s (5)
My TBR (21)

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English (190)  Italian (7)  French (6)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (215)
Showing 1-5 of 190 (next | show all)
The structure of the book is designed to prevent it from ever having any forward momentum. As a result, there are little islands of brilliance, but it became hard to get invested in any given chapter knowing that the events of that chapter would be utterly irrelevant and unresolved once the next chapter started. Also, I found the payoff of the sentence formed from all the chapter headings to be kind of disappointing. The characters in the book act as if it's an amazing opening line of a book they'd dearly love to read. I thought it was a meandering mess. Oh well. To each his own. ( )
  James_Maxey | Jun 29, 2020 |
This is a wonderful book, about the joy and complexity of reading. Calvino intersperses his unusual second person narration ("You are about to begin reading...") about a reader whose attempts to read a new novel keep getting interrupted and each time you (he, I) think you have found the continuation of the story it is actually a different, even more intriguing book.

As well as allowing the writer to exhibit a command of language and particularly of voice which is nothing short of breathtaking (I especially think of fragments set in Japan and in South America, where I could instantly hear the subtle nuances of accent and a different culture in the narrators' voices), he explores the various things that it means to read a book, to connect with the words on a page and the meaning and experiences, the worlds that they contain.

Calvino explores reading for pleasure and information, for seeking truth and for bolstering ideas already strongly held. He looks at the effects that perceiving possible readers might have on the writer and, most importantly and most powerfully, he points to the power of books and the effect of censorship.

It is one of those books that will leave thoughts and images and, most especially, ideas swirling around my head for a long time to come. As an intellectual exercise "On A Winter's Night A Traveler" is magnificent, but it is also superb as a story, subtly thrilling and funny.

As always with a translation, it must be a work of two minds. Especially with a book as clever and subtle as this, the talent of translator William Weaver should be applauded. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 21, 2020 |
I wonder why this is my third Italo Calvino book and want to kick myself. I should have read this first even though his Cosmicomics is more my speed in general. Gaah!

That being said, there's something awesomely lulling and beguiling and downright charming about this book. It reads wonderfully and with such a light touch that you can't help but feel as if you're riding in a giant's careful hand, a soft but omnipresent voice telling you where you're going and what you'll be experiencing and that you really shouldn't be surprised that you're going to be dropped into one opening novel after another after another, beckoning back to previous novels and forward again, all of which are fascinating and provoking, sexual or paranoid, driving you forward until the count of ten.

That's right. Ten novels in one. That's just how Italo Calvino rolls.

But don't think this is hard to get through! Oh, no! This alway has a helpful fouth-wall-breaking hand to guide you on your way, with a constant theme of self-reference that often goes off the deep end of metaphysics but doesn't really. After all, the novel is only referring to the nature of itself.

What is its nature? It is ten novels in one, always starting, never ending... a story within a story within a story.

I love this stuff. Like, big time. Total meta-fiction, but so damn charming and carefully crafted and often dreamlike and firmly plotted, or anti-plotted, to excite and titillate and then draw back and return once more to the idea that


You know, just like the droids.

And yet, it always is the novel you were looking for, fake within fake within fake and always turning back in upon the central theme that makes this so special: Books. Stories. Truth hidden deep, a story like an onion that can be peeled over and over and yet remains always the same.

I can honestly say I'm thrilled to have read this. It's probably the most accessible post-modern novel I've ever read and it's a comfortable and comforting ride all the way through despite the sense of uneasiness that the author intends to project upon us. Or maybe that's just me. I like labyrinths, after all. :)

Damn fine read. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
On the first page of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino anoints you (The Reader) as the protagonist of the novel. If you're anything like I was, your eyes will roll a little and you'll mouth the word "gimmick" to yourself. I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Ok pal, let's see how far you can take your little trick. As long as we're not about to do some dopey 'choose your own adventure' thing, I guess I'll be able to stomach this." Weirdly enough, the moment that thought popped in my head, Calvino immediately called me out for it. It's not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You're the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. Shit. Guilty as charged. Shame on me.

Calvino was right. I really had become too cynical as a reader, never hoping for much more than a tool to help pass the time. So from that point on, I made a sincere effort to let the book take me wherever it wanted to go. I'm glad I did.

This is a book that could have gone wrong in so many different ways. Half the chapters are written in second person. There are (at least) eleven different plots written in eleven different styles. Metafiction is pervasive, and this was particularly scary for me, because nothing makes me want to set a book on fire like an author hanging around his own story. Calvino, though, never falters once.

Despite the frequent transitions between styles, the prose is airtight. There are a whole lot of locations throughout the various stories that The Reader (me, or I guess it would be you) reads, but it's always clear where we are and what we're doing.

What I found most impressive about each of the ten interrupted narratives is that Calvino uses The Reader's mindset at the time he's reading to influence the way the narrative is presented. A good example is the second story, Outside the Town of Malbork. Before we begin reading, we have a conversation with a woman in a bookstore named Ludmilla, who tells us: "I prefer novels that bring me immediately into a world where everything is precise, concrete, specific. I feel a special satisfaction in knowing that things are made in that certain fashion and not otherwise, even the most commonplace things that in real life seem indifferent to me." Lo and behold, Outside the Town of Malbork is presented to us in that exact style. We aren't reading straight text. We're reading a brain that's processing the text. That to me is pretty awesome.

Most importantly, this is a really fun book. I haven't had this much fun reading a book since at least Pale Fire, and it wasn't surprising to me in the slightest when I found out that Vladimir Nabokov was an influence on Calvino. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler reminded me that reading should be a convivial experience, one that connects you to a world of places, actions, and emotions that feel brand new to you whether you've experienced them before or not. This isn't a philosophical heavyweight by any means, but who says great books have to be about something heavy? A book can obviously change your life by making you think, but it can also change your life by enhancing it, by putting you in touch with the aspects of the world that bring you the most joy. I don't consider that to be escapism. That's just living right.

And if you still had any doubts about picking this one up, there's a character that's suffering from terrible writer's block brought about by a poster of Snoopy on his wall. In a very serious voice, he says: "I must take this damned Snoopy down from the wall as quickly as possible, but I can't bring myself to do it." God, I love this book. ( )
1 vote bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
I only read 20 pages, if that, and it just wasn't for me.

It's as if breaking the fourth wall is somehow clever and innovative. "Hey, I'm the author, I'm writing this book" . . . oh, fuck off. ( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 190 (next | show all)
Re-reading a novel you loved is like revisiting a city where you loved: you do it in the company of your younger self. You may not get on with your younger self, or else the absence of what is missing colours your judgment. Despite my reservations, however, I wouldn't want a word of If on a winter's night a traveller to be different, and if Calvino's ghost seeks me out after this, I'll still get down on my knees and pay homage.

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Calvino, Italoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
功, 脇Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benítez, EstherTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cooley, StevenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kapari, JormaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kroeber, BurkhartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mays, JeffersonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melander, VivecaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raboni, GiovanniAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sallenave, DanièleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salu, MichaelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strömberg, RagnarPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlot, HennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walsmith, SheltonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Washington, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Daniele Ponchiroli
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You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler.
"Your case gives me new hope," I said to him. "With me, more and more often I happen to pick up a novel that has just appeared and I find myself reading the same book I have read a hundred times."
In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days are Numbered.
What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from time and measurable space.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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If on a winter's night a traveler

Outside the town of Malbork

Leaning from the steep slope

Without fear of wind or vertigo

Looks down in the gathering shadow

In a network of lines that enlace

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?
Haiku summary
Reader do beware / You are just a reader, yet / Here you're subject too. (Ludi_Ling)

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