Mid-Point, If On a Winter’s Night… #ReadCalvino

Updated to add thoughts about Chapter 5…

Winter's Night Button

Ok, so where ARE we? How are we doing? Exceeding expectations or _??__.

Such interesting setup, yes? In Chapter One, we are the Reader and we are told to put up our feet and dive right in with a book called “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler” and the second part of the first chapter set is the ‘chapter’ called If On a Winter’s Night and we view the scene of a stranger in town with a suitcase who missed bumping into the guy to exchange said suitcase and he (we) meet the shoplady who didn’t want a neon sign and who also happened to be the doctor’s ex-wife.

SO that was the first set, Chapter One with an entry following from the ‘first’ chapter of the book described in Chapter One. Is everyone following?

I can see why so many love this first set, especially when Calvino is describing the love of reading and getting into a story.

The 2nd
The second chapter set started with our being frustrated. The frustration is that our book had pages from another book intermixed – publisher error, no doubt* –  and we/he goes to the book shop where we happen to meet another reader. I admit when I started “Outside the town of Malbork” I was confused as to whether or not we were reading the Polish book that was the one intermixed or whether we were back to If On a Winter’s Night

Sure enough, we are reading the Polish book. Or are we?

We are introduced to the idea of Zwida Ozkart.  I’m starting to get confused but somehow this Zwida seems like somebody to remember.

The 3rd
At the beginning of chapter three, a few of us on Twitter had an interesting conversation about cutting the pages of a book. I was not familiar that books could be purchased on a break-it-apart-yourself-to-save-money concept.  AND CRAP!  More blank pages — this book is defective, too!! AAAAUUUURRRGGGGhhhhhh. But rather than go back to the book store, we call our new fascinating ‘Other Reader’ aka Ludmilla for her take and somehow we agree to meet to discuss the book being Cimmerian.

Yea, Calvino lost me here.

The third story chapter is about a prison break out. I actually liked this one, lots of odd philosophy. And somehow we get to meet ZWIDA!

“Escape” is one of those words I cannot hear without abandoning myself to endless ruminations. The search for the anchor in which I am engaged seems to indicate to me an avenue of escape, perhaps of a metamorphosis, a resurrection. With a shudder I dismiss the thought that the prison in my mortal body and the escape that awaits me the separation of the soul, the beginning of the life beyond this earth. 

The 4th
Then we meet with the Cimmerian professor who is rather suspicious until they get him to talk about his beloved subject. Oh, and there’s the bit about our Other Reader Ludmilla showing up unseen. He translates the (we soon discover is unfinished) book, reading it aloud but it somehow is NOT the same book. And then we get interrupted by Ludmilla’s sister who has a whole ‘nother FINISHED translation from another language.

Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo:

All these oblique lines, interesecting, should define the space where we moved, …, where our story can emerge from nothingness, find a point of departure, a direction, a plot.

Revolution! Sex and betrayal. (That about sums it up, yes? Loved the feminism, too.)

The 5th
We get a nice sum up to this point. We also get some interesting philosophy and contrasting opinions. The following quote is Ludmilla about what she wants from this crazy reading experience and then I include a waxing poetic element from that set’s story.

“The novel I would most like to read at this moment,” Ludmilla explains, “should have as its driving force only the desire to narrate, to pile stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life on you, simply allowing you to observe its own growth, like a tree, an entangling , as if of branches and leaves …”

and then this from our wandering murderer:

“I’m producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who knows may already have told on some other occasion, a space full of stories that perhaps is simply my lifetime, …(blah,blah,blah)… you encounter always the same density of material to be told. 

…, I see a forest that extends in all directions…”

What I am getting from this ‘crazy reading experience’ is: 

Calvino wanted to write everything and couldn’t decide how his next book should go so he threw in everything including the kitchen sink. He wanted to explore philosophies and styles.

I have read a review somewhere that suspected Calvino just wanted to play a practical joke. I do think he might have had fun with this but his writing is very serious and well-crafted.

Also, I am very glad to be reading a physical book. I just bought a Kindle but it doesn’t feel right;  I don’t get that wonderful ‘book’ feeling.

Feel free to share thoughts and questions!!




* Those of us familiar with Cloud Atlas, KNOW this issue, yes!? If you haven’t read Cloud Atlas, I can only suggest that you keep reading until you meet Robert Frobisher. The first chapter ends abruptly on purpose. No need to take the book back to the store; keep reading.


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12 thoughts on “Mid-Point, If On a Winter’s Night… #ReadCalvino

  1. Great summary of everything! You took much better notes than I did. Ok so I loved the description of reading and pieces of the other chapters, but it’s seriously frustrating! I feel like the Cloud Atlas stories were at least a bit more connected. Calvino does have an incredible way with words. Time to dive into the rest.

    1. Love your comment about reading a “real” book too. I have it on kindle but have been reading my hardcopy the whole time. The kindle just doesn’t feel right. It does feel like Calvino just tossed in everything he could think of, but somehow he has the talent to make each story stand on its own. It’s an interesting experiment in writing!

  2. Haha, love your thoughts 🙂 Calvino is hilarious, and I had been totally lost until I understood what he was doing and got over the fact that we will never have a book ending here 🙂 I really enjoyed the “getting comfortable to read a book” and “visiting a bookshop” parts, but my personal favourite was the description of the university and this God-forgotten Cimmerian department. I’ve finished a philological faculty in a very old university, and I must say that these crazy old professors are EXACTLY LIKE THIS! I couldn’t stop laughing! 🙂

    I think that the main idea here is that the beginning really defines a book. I know that a lot of readers have “50/100 pages rules”, which confirms that we don’t need much time to figure out what will happen. And it’s very interesting how Calvino tries on different styles. Somehow, they all seem to suit him!

  3. I’m almost halfway through, and so far, my favorite story was the one with the corpse. Italo Calvino has the hard-boiled style down. I left off the novel for about a week to read something else, but I’m going back to it this weekend, hopefully less frustrated and more open to what Calvino is trying to do.

  4. I’m taking a break from it because it was beginning to mess with my head a little but, in general, I am loving the book. His writing is fabulous and he goes from serious to playful in nothing flat. One of the stories gave me loads of ideas for stories of my own and I stopped to write a short story in the midst of my NaNoWriMo writing. I had fun with that. I think he was just having a blast with the writing, myself.

  5. I am glad I am reading this. It is one of those books that gets tossed around as a must read. So I will be happy to cross it off my list. I loved the first couple chapters, but now I am just frustrated, like Bybee. I mean, I get that it is an exploration of the act of reading…but dang it, I want a story that ends!

  6. Great summary! I’ve been out of town, so didn’t manage to get a midpoint post written. Basically I’m loving the ride, but not sure what Calvino is trying to accomplish… we’ll see.

  7. I LOVE the things you’ve taken away so far. Spot on. I really liked all the bookish parts of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, about being a reader and such. The stories themselves lost me more than I’d have liked. They seemed to get weirder as they went. And also…

    I was so frustrated we never get the ends of the stories!! I adore Cloud Atlas, but I would not have adored it as much without the second half, where everything gets resolved. Haha, Calvino, good joke…now how do they end?!

    1. I can be ok with the no-ending thing but I get those people who found this aspect extremely frustrating. And, I admit, I skimmed the last few sections. What rather amazes me is that no one has finished the stories! Or maybe they have but I couldn’t find. OR? That there isn’t an annual contest to find the best endings? Or?…
      Another that I can cross off the list and unlikely I will ever reread.

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