Book 1.1 If on a winter’s night a traveler

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel,
If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate.


Flickr by margolove


This is a blog about books, about reading them and understanding the writers who write them. I remember a line that Stephen King (who makes it into this blog’s canon by a whisker) wrote in his memoir On Writing. King first writes a simple, if quirky, scene that is easy enough to visualize. He describes a rabbit in a cage that sits on a table. Then he makes an observation that, you can tell, still excites him even after many years of writing: “This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room . . . except we are together.”

When I read that line, it gave me a shiver. I’ve never seen anyone describe writing more simply and honestly. What excites me about reading a good book is the stepping into another reality that is made by the author – and then made again by me, the reader. And most remarkable of all about books, what makes them beat out movies in a lot of people’s minds, is that the reality is never the same. My Anna Karenina looks and sounds different than anyone else’s Anna Karenina. The meaning behind a turn of phrase or a suggestive image is left to me alone. As E. L. Doctorow said just recently, “People think films can do anything. They can’t. Books can do anything.”

So I will be reading every book in the Western Canon, loosely defined as a book that made two or more of twenty-four “best books” lists.

I could think of no better book to start with than If on a winter’s night a traveler. It is a book about reading and writing, about the relationship between reader and writer. The opening line is at the top of this post. (I’m hoping to finish, years from now, with a similar kind of book: Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two Birds.)

If you want to join in with me on this big reading adventure, pick up a copy and, as Italo suggests, relax. Concentrate. I’d love to hear your thoughts – and maybe some recommendations for the next book to pick up!


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