Tag Archives: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, by Italo Calvino

3 stars3/5

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, was my latest read for Riverside Readers book group.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, by Italo Calvino

Vintage Classics 2007 edition, 272 pages (paperback) - book group choice.

‘Unusual’ is probably the best word that I can use to describe Calvino’s novel. Is it a ‘novel’ I wonder or is it an experiment of sorts? The book is structured as a collection of unfinished stories with more linear narrative interspersed, and I found a challenging and intriguing read. Via the protagonist (who sometimes appears to be you the reader and sometimes another reader – confusing yes?) Calvino takes a journey through a sequence of different stories, and often talking directly to the reader to explore how and why people read and twisting perceptions about what a book should be.


Calvino’s writing is beautiful – he’s a skilled writer capable of beautiful descriptions and cleverly expressed ideas, but reading If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is often quite a painful experience because it seriously messes with your head. The first chapter is misleadingly easy to read and very engaging. The first ‘story’ seems to be leading you somewhere exciting until… it cuts of abruptly. Sometimes I loved the way that Calvino seems to speak to you and get into your thought process and sometimes this technique felt quite invasive. I still can’t decide if I think that he is merely a playful writer or a bit pompous – perhaps a bit of both?

The funny thing is, that Calvino pulls it off (kind of). When I finally struggled to the end of the book which felt epic despite it’s modest 270 pages, I felt that it was worth it and I did get what he was trying to do. I can’t rate it highly as a book as it wasn’t enjoyable read 90% of the time, however I can’t give it a low score, because I did think it was clever, quite beautiful conceived in parts and really unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Read what some of my fellow book-groupers thought about If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller:

Reading Matters – “While I admire Calvino’s ambition, his ideas, his ability to turn our notion of a novel on its head, this book clearly wasn’t for me.”

Savidge Reads – “A weird book that annoyingly defeated me…”

Chasing Bawa – “I think I can forgive him the mind f*ck, because he ended it quite simply, quite beautifully.”

What books have you come across that stretched your idea of what reading is about?

Books I Needn’t Finish?

I read the first chapter of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller last night in which the narrator lists the kind of books that a prospective reader might encounter on a trip to a bookshop including;

Books You Haven’t Read Yet
Books You Needn’t Read
Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading
Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them Too
Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days are Numbered
Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified

I smiled as I read, thinking of examples and also consider the two books that I had been reading and decided to give up on.

I am a Cat, by Soseki Natsume
(Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days are Numbered)

After noticing this book on Paperback Reader’s blog this book first fell into the category; Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified. This was probably because I like cats and the idea of a supercilious cat mocking human behaviour. I decided to read it as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 4.

However, although I got on well with the first chapter, by about page 85, I was finding it a little too supercilious and not funny enough to be engaging. Especially as there seem to be lots of strange, long conversations between the teacher (pompous) and his associates including one called Coldmoon (obsessed with people trying to hang themselves).

I tried, I really tried to carry on with this book for at least another 40 pages to the end of volume 1, but I just couldn’t cope with the ongoing waffling. This shouldn’t put you off at all if you enjoy books with large swathes of introspective conversation between characters. For me, life is too short.

Scottish Ghost Stories (available to read free online), by Elliott O’Donnell
(Books You Needn’t Read (All Of, Right Now))

Finding myself without a book to read on the Tube, having misplaced my current read yet again I turned to my trusty iPhone and decided to read something seasonal. Scottish Ghost Stories is a collection of 27 cases of haunting in Scotland, written in 1912.

It is an enjoyable collection to dip into for an anachronistic look at alleged haunting and spooks-past, but after reading the first four cases, I was a bit bored of reading about ‘Death Bogles and haunted attics. Because the tone of the book is very matter of fact (like a detective case-book), the reader needs to have a pre-disposition to believing in ghosts to find it frightening. While I do love a good scary movie or horror story, I need the drama built up for me Stephen King or Daphne Du Maurier style. Perhaps if I believed in ghosts and was on a holiday in Scotland in the depths of winter, this might have been a bit scarier.

Definitely a curiosity, but not enough to make me curious enough to read them all!

What books have you read lately and decided that you didn’t want to continue with, and why?