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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
11,451235483 (4.05)1 / 534
Italo Calvino imagines a novel capable of endless mutations in this intricately crafted story about writing and readers. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.… (more)
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1970s (4)
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» See also 534 mentions

English (208)  Italian (7)  French (6)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (236)
Showing 1-5 of 208 (next | show all)
highly convoluted, self-referential story, something that Douglas Hofstadter would appreciate ( )
  MarkLacy | May 29, 2022 |
"… you cut your way through your reading as if through a dense forest." (pg. 42)

A clever book, but not quite the revelatory literary experience you expect. Italo Calvino's playful, labyrinthine novel is difficult to tackle at first – dense, verbose and intellectually cute, with little if anything to signpost you as to what is going on. Ironically – and perhaps intentionally – for a novel that is all about the experience of reading a novel, the reader has to relearn much of how they approach a book in order to draw anything of worth from If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The framework that the reader laboriously uncovers over the course of the novel is as follows: The book opens with a metatextual conceit, narrating a reader who opens a book called If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. (At this point, you will already know if this is the book for you.) The opening chapter of this book-within-a-book ends and the reader-within-the-book faces a blank page where the next chapter should be. Wanting to see how the story continues, he investigates the printing error with the publisher, and is provided with the opening chapter of another book and then, by increasingly outlandish conceits, is provided with the opening chapters of other books and is drawn into a byzantine conspiracy of books and storytelling, beginnings and ends, words and the spaces between words.

The appeal of this is obvious, to the right sort of reader: an inventive, looping narrative that illustrates how seemingly disparate stories can all draw from the same well, both for the writer and the reader. It provides ample opportunities for a commentary on reading and writing novels, on how we view and approach literature, and on how the written word – this unusual, unnatural but deep-rooted invention of man's mind – informs, qualifies and alters us. The framing narrative is, on reflection, rather strong, and the success of the book shows that metatextual and postmodern writing doesn't have to be pretentious malarkey.

However, I was surprised and disappointed that the book didn't seize upon the profundity of all this. Calvino writes that "books are the steps of the threshold" (pg. 71), that behind the metatexture, there is the void of existence, of the human mind. This is something that would be recognised – and be interesting to – conscientious readers of all stripes, whether a postmodernist, a Jungian or a traditionalist (who give that ineffable target the name of 'God'). But aside from the occasional off-hand reference to these forbidding depths, Calvino does not address either the terror or the sublimity of an existence that is bolstered by a mortal storytelling artifice – a mental safeguard that has long provided us with a sense of meaning by which we navigate the world. The storytelling need – whether as writer/creator or reader/audience – has been there ever since the cavemen who "felt the need to decorate the cold walls of their caves to become masters of the tormenting mineral alienness" (pg. 47).

Calvino traces this but does not explore it, instead delivering a sequence of opening chapters of various made-up books which seem to be erudite parodies of disposable literature and best-sellers; one chapter might be a historical romance, another a provincial drama, another a thriller-like attempt to evade the secret police. This is, for Calvino, "a saturation of other stories that I could tell" (pg. 109), with the parodic angle coming from the more deliberately hackneyed and formulaic content. We've all been in the position of the reader who picks up a novel and finds himself "reading the same book I have read a hundred times" (pg. 197).

The book is successful in what it does. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller emerges, at the end, as a complete novel despite being "a novel composed only of beginnings of novels" (pg. 197), showing to us the circular, bottomless nature of that well which stories draw from. You can pick it up at any point and join the circle; stories are enough alike that their separate beginnings can all merge into one narrative continuum. However, the temptation to which Calvino succumbs, of leaning heavily into those hackneyed parodies, begins to wear on the reader, who has to start afresh at the beginning of every new chapter until, finally, the more doggedly persistent of them will begin to see the method behind the mundanity. Instead of concentrating their mental energies on the nourishing literary wealth, the reader expends themselves too often on the deliberately hackneyed interchanges, and it compromises somewhat the erudition from which If on a Winter's Night a Traveller should gain its prestige. The book, for all its admirable cleverness, can't quite find the art in all the artifice. ( )
  MikeFutcher | May 15, 2022 |
I started reading this in December last year. I got to around the halfway point, then got distracted by another book and put it down. Then last week I realised I still had it - I'd forgotten all about it. It just wasn't the book for me - I was intrigued in the beginning but quickly got bored with it. I left on a bookshelf at a B&B I was staying in, so hopefully someone else will find it and enjoy it more than I did.
  Triduana | Jan 25, 2022 |
I tried to read this book. But unless you're REALLY into tarot cards it is both boring and difficult to follow. Bad combination.
  technodiabla | Dec 17, 2021 |
Calvino is a great writer and Weaver a great translator, undoubtedly... on the other hand this book is often sexist, and I found a lot of it frustrating in a non-productive way. ( )
  misslevel | Sep 22, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 208 (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
First words
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

Italo Calvino imagines a novel capable of endless mutations in this intricately crafted story about writing and readers. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
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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