Sunday, July 14, 2013

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
Read: 18 June to 21 June 2012
5 / 5 stars

Your recent tango with a David Mitchell novel reminds you that he wrote Cloud Atlas under the influence of "If on a winter's night a traveler," a book you've been meaning to read since gleaning this information. You're anticipating a slow week at work so you'll need something to stave off the excruciating boredom you expect from the days to come: You grab the book on your way out.

You arrive at your job and are, indeed, greeted by a dearth of things to do. It looks like your day is going to demand even less of your time and attention than you thought. Excellent. You get as comfortable as you can in your office and crack open your first taste of Italo Calvino.

A few pages in, you read: You are at your desk, you have set the book among your business papers... you seem to be concentrating on an examination of the papers and instead you are exploring the first pages of the novel. Gradually you settle back in the chair, you raise the book to the level of your nose, you tilt the chair, you pull out a side drawer of the desk to prop your feet on it....

The part of you that appreciates tongue-in-cheek narcissism -- a rather large part of you, really (which is probably why you'd enjoy a book written in the second person) -- snickers and would deadpan a "How does a dead man know I'm reading his novel, published five years before I was born, at work?" if you weren't certain that your coworkers already harbor doubts about your sanity that would only be exacerbated by overhearing you pose questions to yourself or, worse yet, to a book from which you're clearly expecting an equally audible answer.

You settle for keeping your chuckles to yourself and read on: But doesn't this show a lack of respect? Of respect, that is, not for your job... but for the book.

This gives you pause. You wonder, with less self-congratulatory irony coating your thoughts now: "Mr. Calvino, are you judging me beyond the grave?"

You consider this. Ghostly criticism of your reading environment is a fate better than seven hours and fifty-four minutes of tedious inactivity, you decide.

You happily forge ahead.

As you are drawn deeper into the tale that Calvino spins, you realize that you've had an intermittent reading companion. Not an Other Reader and most assuredly not a specter nearly made solid by his own judgments, but your own dreamily intoxicated grin. The kind of unselfconsciously foolish smile often found in the throes of puppy love, the kind you reserve for the books that transport you somewhere magical.

You find this book to be a celebration of reading, writing and creative pursuits, all of which are things that you appreciate. It helps that you're the kind of person who seeks a certain kinship with fictional characters, especially those who steal your thoughts nearly verbatim from your brain. You find many of them in this book, highlighting passages and phrases and epiphanies that you recognize as your own.

As you near the end of the novel, you identify the connection linking each chapter. The dopey grin that nearly breaks your face grows wider as you read the final word, flip back through the pages in reverse and notice that your own handwriting and added notations are nearly crowding out Calvino's words.

You find this fitting.

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