If On A Winter's Night A Traveller — Book Musing No. 1


Winter Railway Station In The Mountains

Caption: Winter Railway Station


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This is not a book review. Book reviews are difficult to write. You've to keep all these notes, and make tradeoffs to keep the book review terse yet powerful and useful. This is a book musing. I underline and write in books I read ( bite me? ), and I thought those notes get lost.

So maybe I should wrap those highlights and notes in the garb of musings and publish them to live on the internet for eternity 😈

So useful.


Italo Calvino might have given a lot of thought about how he reads – the physical posture of it. In the first chapter of his book If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, he's written extensively about it.

Asking the reader to get ready to start reading the book ( refering to it as Italo Calvino's new novel, which seemed bleh at first but extremely intriguing as the book progresses )

Find the most comfortable position: seated, stretched out, curled up, or lying flat. Flat on your back, on your side, on your stomach. In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock. In the hammock, if you have a hammock. On top of your bed, of course, or in the bed. You can even stand on your hands, heads down, in yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally.

Of course, the ideal position for reading is something you can never find.

Clearly he didn't know what yoga is.

Also new word learnt: hassock.

By taking the responsibility of hooking up the reader and telling them what to think or do, subtly directing them in the disguise of being told what the reader is doing in the book, while reading the book, he opens up ways for humour to arise, which otherwise wouldn't be possible.

Well, what are you waiting for? Stretch your legs, go ahead and put your feet on a cushion, on two cushions, on the arms of the sofa, on the wings of the chair, or the coffee table, on the desk, on the piano, on the globe. Take your shoes off first. If you want to, put your feet up; if not, put them back. Now don't stand there with your shoes in one hand and the book in the other.


Calvino defines the reader as someone who can still allow themselves to expect to be surprised by a book and the reason for it:

You're the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.

What about books? Well precisely because you have deined it in every other field, you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn't serious.

The number of the kind of books that he leads the reader to admit while telling the reader what they would do in a book store is fascinating to say the least. I'm going to list down all the different types of books he makes the reader believe there are for them in the book store:

  1. Books You Needn't Read.
  2. Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading.
  3. Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written (🤔🤯).
  4. Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered.
  5. Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First.
  6. Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered.
  7. Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback.
  8. Books You Can Borrow From Somebody.
  9. Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too.
  10. Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages.
  11. Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success.
  12. Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment.
  13. Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case.
  14. Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer.
  15. Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves.
  16. Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
  17. Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread
  18. Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.
  19. New Books Whose Author or Subject Appeals To You
  20. New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New ( for you or in general )
  21. New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown ( at least to you )
🤯

And listing them down here doesn't justify how he walks the reader in a book store through the reader's eye.

After he has helped the reader buy his book, he helps the reader settle down

Gradually you settle back in the chair, you raise the book to the level of your nose, you tilt the chair, posed on its rear legs, you pull out a side drawer of the desk to prop your feet on it; the position of the feet during reading is of maximum importance, you stretch your legs out on the top of the desk, on the files to be expedited.


Towards the end of first chapter, as he helps the reader sit in their office chair, book in their hand, amidst all the office work they still have to do, he says

But doesn't this seem to show a lack of respect?

And then clarifies

Of respect, that is, not for your job ( nobody claims to pass judgment on your professional capacities: we assume that your duties are a normal element in the system of unproductive activities that occupies such a large part of the national and international economy ), but for the book.

And then he continues to include the ones that like their jobs so as not to offend them?

Worse still if you belong — willingly or unwillingly — to the number of those for whom working means really working, performing, whether deliberately or without premeditation, something unnecessary or at least not useless for others as well as for oneself;…

Then he makes the reader guilty of having brought the book to the workplace and getting distracted by it away from the principal object of their attention.

I think I'm going to enjoy this book very much. And these musings are so that I could keep reading the book. This is the third time I've abandoned and restarted the book. Aaaaaaaaa!


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