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If on a winter's night a traveller

I didn't finish it at home, although that's where I read the nihilist story. I didn't finish it at the GP's, although I thought i might. And that's how I came to finish it at the library itself, reading a scene set in a library while, myself, in a library. Rarely in my life has a book been so apropos and so story-laden in so many ways. (See yesterday's post, "The Haircut Book", for more details.)

This is a book about books, about reading, about theory, about quests, and about being human. It's a loose novel and it's a collection of short stories. The premise is that all of these "short stories" are the opening chapters in a novel which perennially eludes the protagonist; fortunately, they are all too self-contained to not be short-stories. It's an immensely self-conscious book, but recovers from the worst of that indulgence by the end of a few chapters, to my relief, after which stories only refer to themselves once or twice, rather than incessantly.

One of my largest disconnects from this book is that I am not male. The novel part of the book is addressed to a second-person reader of this book, a male reader, and I kept stumbling over the assumption that I am a man. Further, all women in this book were sexual to some degree or other; not quite as bad as the virgin/whore dichotomy, but erring in that direction.

All that aside, however, it's an impressive piece of work, as a means of thinking about storytelling, about why people read and what they read for, about the search for truth, and the elusiveness of it. Postmodernism has never seemed anywhere near so appealing to me as it does embodied in the lines of this collection.

If I ever had to teach a literary theory class, I would want to use this book.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
In the spirit of the text, I first came to this book via a retelling of it as a Blake's 7 fanfiction...

...which I now can't find online in its original form (!), but here is a link to this (slightly) annotated version.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
Neat! Thank you for the recommendation. How very appropriate that you can't find the original form, given the nature of the book.
Aug. 21st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
Another female friend has said the same thing about the disconnect. Of course it's hard to judge these things but even as a heterosexual male reader the second person narration often leads to the disconnect you talk about for me because I think "I simply would not do that". How the addressed reader behaves is not always in character for how I would behave.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
True, although presumably you could at least make it through a chapter or so before the disconnect really set in for you; but it's still there. Also, briefly, in the middle, there is a female second person, but only briefly.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
It has been too long since I read it for me to sensibly comment I'm afraid (must be 15 years).
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
I don't know what it says about me as a reader that I didn't even notice that assumption of male-ness ;-) I encountered the book in a course on Reading (for English education), but I agree with you that it would make a perfect text to teach lit theory. And I love metafiction, so of course it might have been written for me :)
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)
I wondered about that! Of the three people who recommended the book (whether yesterday or originally), you were the only female among them.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
The fact that it's addressed to a male reader isn't exactly an 'assumption' -- Calvino knows perfectly well what he's doing, and (in the spirit of metafiction) I think it's intended to trip you up, or at least undermine your certainties about the narrator and the reader. He plays a similar trick in The Nonexistent Knight, where we don't realise until late in the novel that the narrator is female.
Aug. 21st, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
It's true, that the addressee is male is explicit by the end of the second novel chapter. (Appropriately, given the nature of the book, having returned the book to the library, I know get to approximate its contents from my memory.)

Thank you for the point: given how extremely deliberate the rest of the book is, I should have thought more critically about that aspect. Still, I can't help wondering if it might have been affected by however he thought or knew his readership was gendered at the time was, and how best to lead them astray.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )