If on a winter's night a traveler

A few weeks ago, I read If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. It's a novel told in the second person, the writer speaking to the reader. As the story progresses, we learn a great deal about the writer and the way in which he views the world, both the literary one and the, um, real one.

Most people (non-writers) who read this book, I'm sure, empathize with the reader. I, though, and I'm sure other writers as well, empathize with the writer.

When I first began reading this book, I was intrigued and excited. As I got further, I got more and more confused. Then I entered chapter eight, in which Silas Flannery, the author character, shares excerpts from his writing diary. I was really amazed at this section of the book, and I now classify it as a writer's tool, much like any of those books on the craft, even though it is a work of fiction.

In chapter eight, the author presents a scenario in which two authors, the productive writer and the tormented writer (I am definitely like the tormented writer, by the way), watch a reader through binoculars, see how enthralled she is in her book, and both believe she is reading the other writer's book.

There is some amazing writing advice in this chapter, and in this book as a whole. I'm not sure I would enjoy this book as much as I did if I were not a writer. Here are a few quotes from the book:

"Perhaps the woman I observe with the spyglass knows what I should write; or rather, she does not know it, because she is in fact waiting for me to write what she does not know; but what she knows for certain is her waiting, the void that my words should fill." pg. 171

"At times I think of the subject matter of the book to be written as something that already exists: thoughts already thought, dialogue already spoken, stories already happened, places and settings seen; the book should be simply the equivalent of the unwritten world translated into writing. At other times, on the contrary, I seem to understand that between the book to be written and things that already exist there can only be a kind of complementary relationship: the book should be the written counterpart of the unwritten world; it's subject should be what does not exist and cannot exist except when written, but whose absence is obscurely felt by that which exists, in its own completeness." pg. 171-172

"Will I ever be able to say 'today it writes' just like 'today it rains,' 'today it is windy?' Only when it will come natural to me to use the verb 'write' in the impersonal form will I be able to hope that through me is expressed something less limited than the personality of an individual... If we assume that writing manages to go beyond the limitations of the author, it will continue to have meaning only when it is read by a single person and passes through his mental circuits. Only the ability to be read by a given individual proves that what is written shares in the power of writing, a power based on something that goes beyond the individual. The universe will express itself as long as somebody will be able to say 'I read, therefore it writes.' This is the special bliss that I see appear in the reader's face..." pg. 176

Hey writers. Read this book.

Peace, Aimee

4 comments:

  1. Read it many years ago. Great book. I probably have it somewhere in my bookshelf (or in a box) >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  2. Never read that one, but I love the excerpts and what is being expressed.

    I think you're probably right. There's probably a lot of appreciation from a writer's POV to be had here.

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  3. I'm also a Calvino fan. Loved the excerpts you chose.

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