It seems like every year I take on a challenging read. It's not a personal goal I make for myself, but usually just something that happens along the course of 12 months. A few years ago it was to tackle Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49 was all I could manage), 2012 was the year I finally battled through Anna Karenina. Last year all I wanted from myself was to rekindle my love of the written word. I did that, but along the way I discovered my unintentional goal - Italo Calvino.
I'd heard talk of If on a winter's night a traveler around the internet. it was apparently experience a resurgence in the way that only a half forgotten classic could. It would appear in quotes on my tumblr, on a flavorwire list, or mentioned in a post by a favorite blogger. Me being, well me, fell in love with the idea of a book that's written half in first chapters of other lost books. Books about books are romantic, right? Not romance books, but in general they appeal to the bookish set. Amazon told me it was 260 pages and I was in need of a new read, so 40 seconds later I was diving into it on my kindle.
I didn't know what I was getting myself into. What I thought was going to be an interesting second person story about a guy who was unfortunate enough to pick up a misprinted copy of If on a winter's night a traveler, and punctuated with chapters that were more short story than plot points turned into an outright adventure through fictional countries, with rouge translators, publishing houses and a shut away author.
Even though I was always interested in actual plot (not always the first chapter stories) it was still hard to push through Calvino's novel. There was too much musing on the process of writing, and a few to many fantastical turns for me to stay in the realm of suspended disbelief. It became a book I'd come back to when I had nothing else to read. I'd fight through five pages and then forget about it for months. This was no tome but I was treating it like one. It's the book that inspired me to write this post on ebooks. I couldn't easily flip back through the text to job my memory and found myself rereading chapters over and over again.
I know that's a flaw with myself, not the text. At the same time if I'd been compelled to finish this 260 page novel in a timely fashion it wouldn't have been a problem. In the end I was enchanted by a gimmick - a dozen first chapters, a book about books. If on a winter's night a traveler didn't hold my attention, and therefore lost my affection. Sorry Calvino, I promised I tried.