Italo Calvino is a genius who writes as if he were ordinary, which is a fantastic quality in a person doing you the service of writing fiction. (His stuff is also literally fantastic: like this amazing story about the moon growing old and dimming and the rest of the world’s consequent obsession with shiny objects.) But yeah–on this book, Amazon’s little “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” thing suggests Midnight’s Children, Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Tom Stoppard, Virginia Woolf, and several books on Las Vegas architecture)–and I think that that variety is telling, don’t you? It means that all kinds of people can love Italo Calvino: you could find one of his stories crumpled in a trash can and you would pick it up and read it and know within a few seconds that you were reading something luminous and brilliant, and best of all you would be able to understand it. Even when it’s constructed as a sort of puzzley mind-fuck.
This book is addressed to “you,” as if you were in the story, and the plot is about you trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler but not being able to. Every other chapter is a first chapter in a book you end up reading instead (you end up with ten different books that don’t make sense until the end), and the other chapters are about your pseudo-detective hunt. Simple, right? Like a more directed Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, or that part in The Neverending Story with the crazy book where everything gets written as it happens. Although this book could hit you over the head with its games about textuality and subjectivity and the death of the author and whatever, it doesn’t.
My favorite line is from the opening chapter, which starts, “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler,” and then proceeds to give you tips about a comfortable reading experience. “Cigarettes within reach if you smoke, and the ashtray. Anything else? Do you have to pee? All right, you know best.”
Come on, Italo, I think you know best!