Friday, May 27, 2005

Book 9: If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino (Infinite Feast XVIII)

Paperback: 276 Pages
Publisher: Harvest/HBJ Book (October 1, 1982)

You are about to begin Rockefeller’s review of If on a winter’s night a traveler, the masterful and clever novel by the Italian novelist Italo Calvino. Sit back. Take your shoes off. Grab a beer if you’re not at work and if you are, grab one anyway. Focus on this review and this review alone. Push all of life’s other distractions to the periphery. Tell those around you to shut up, to stop reading blogs out loud at work, that you’ll take your lunch hour later.

Now that you’re comfortable, you can start the review. It’s not that you expect to gain anything in particular from this analysis, after all, you still carry a partial disdain for bloggers and their rampant self-indulgent and unprofessional writing. You’re not expecting Rockefeller to suddenly become Harold Bloom after all. From his previous reviews, you can tell he’s still a bit immature and covers up for a lack of understanding by making his language incredibly dense. But perhaps you have a spare minute during the day to kill or you remember that If on a winter’s night a traveler is a book you’ve always wanted to read but have never gotten around to. And just maybe Rockefeller will say something that makes you decide to stop delaying and head directly to the bookstore – you never know, stranger things have happened.

So you plunge in only to discover that you’re already on the third paragraph and the review is still in its infancy. You think this Rockefeller might be better suited to reviewing fast food chains than canonical literature, but withhold your judgment for a moment more, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt just this once. Still, you wonder if he’s ever going to describe how Calvino interweaves ten separate beginnings of partially imagined novels into a grander discourse on the reasons for reading in general. You wonder if he’ll mention Ludmilla or her twin sister, and their contrasting views on how to read – whether it is better to let a work exist in its own artistically constructed universe or if all books are only mouthpieces for ideologies like feminism and deconstructionism. Hopefully he’ll get to all those points.

You remember that Calvino is frequently compared to Borges and more recently Paul Auster, but you’re sure this Rockefeller hasn’t read widely enough to know this. So he probably also missed the meta-textuality of the novel, the way a narrative is contained within another narrative, which is contained within another narrative, which is contained…Rockefeller certainly has no idea that Calvino’s characters in If on a winter’s night a traveler are deliberately unlike typical “characters” per se, so abstract they more closely resemble concepts than people. Or is this an unfair critique of Calvino – doesn’t his novel focus on the detrimental effects of over-interpretation or a reading conducted with tunnel vision? Well regardless, Rockefeller will glaze over all these intricacies and probably comment only on how the love interest of Reader to reader is an ingenious way to juxtapose reader and author, reader and words. Or he’ll say the cover is pretty, what with the train steaming words. Yes, you’ve come to expect such superficial accounts from this amateur.

But maybe, just maybe, Rockefeller will describe how Calvino’s ultimate achievement is his exuberant defense of reading’s place in our lives. How Calvino shows that reading brightens our existences. How no matter what or why we read, reading is always worth our effort. How If on a winter’s night a traveler is about everything, it is the world, how in certain ways it could be viewed as so encompassing as to be the end of literature – and yet, when finished, all one wants to do is read more.

Yeah, this review will surely fail to grasp any of that.

1 comment:

teen fiction writer said...

this doesn't make any sense. it doesnt fit itself correctly.