If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler

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Italo Calvino imagines a novel capable of endless mutations in this intricately crafted story about writing and readers.


If on a Winter's Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156439619
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/20/1982
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 65,253
Product dimensions: 8.02(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

ITALO CALVINO (1923–1985) attained worldwide renown as one of the twentieth century’s greatest storytellers. Born in Cuba, he was raised in San Remo, Italy, and later lived in Turin, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere. Among his many works are Invisible Cities, If on a winter's night a traveler, The Baron in the Trees, and other novels, as well as numerous collections of fiction, folktales, criticism, and essays. His works have been translated into dozens of languages.

Table of Contents

If on a winter's night a traveler
Outside the town of Malbork
Leaning from the steep slope
Without fear of wind or vertigo
Looks down in the gathering shadow
In a network of lines that enlace
In a network of lines that intersect
On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon
Around an empty grave
What story down there awaits its end?

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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
FocoProject More than 1 year ago
I have been on an experimental kick, which has been fun, I must say, and this one is the latest addition to it. Having read books like House of Leaves and Naked Lunch has really stretched my literary muscles. This book achieves the same in a slightly different way and though it will test most readers comfort level, it will not be so much in the content as in the format.

For starters, you are one of the man characters of the book. Yes, you, the reader, with the other character being `the other reader¿ who is a girl that has also picked up a copy of Italo Calvino¿s new book ¿If On a Winter¿s Night a Traveler¿ at just about the same time. In fact, as you start this novel, you are literally starting this novel. The author refers to you in second person, and pulls you into this book in a way that is quite impressive. There is only one problem¿the book you buy is flawed. Pages are missing, which means you have to go an get another one, and a second one is given to you which is supposed to be the correct one, and¿so you and the other reader begin to read this new book and once again, during a climactic moment, your story is stopped. This continues ten times, and you read the beginning of ten different stories, all different in content and style, and all of them incomplete¿and it is through these incomplete books that this book is¿well, completed.

Though it takes a while for you as the reader to settle into this new form of storytelling, I have to say that this was a very engrossing read. Rarely before has an author managed to truly place me in a story as this one has. And in the process he gives a tour of a number of worlds which I am unfortunately left wanting more of just as the characters in the book. Though there are a pair of stories which I could have done without, I found that the majority of them would have made pretty damned good books, and there were a handful that really had me wishing that they were real books, because I would have immediately added them to my list.

A fun read, that is for certain, though beware that the author uses an arsenal of words which can be rather intimidating. More than once I had to find my way to the dictionary, which in a good story can be slightly problematic, because you are left with two options 1) cut the flow of your reading to find out what the word means or 2) skip it and look it up later at which time you may have forgotten the context. Though, with this slight flaw set aside and the fact that in some occasions the details can be daunting, this book is certainly a breath of fresh air for anybody tired of reading the same old stories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wrote my last research paper about this book - it was that interesting to me. The novel is written in second person, making you the main character. This point of view is notoriously difficult to pull off, but Calvino manages to do just that, without seeming phony or conceited (which is rare). The novel is broken up into several different stories, all of which are begun but none of which are finished (curious, aren't you?). Various adventures unravel as you (the protagonist) search for the endings to these stories, which in turn lead you to other stories, etc. Within the novel are various examinations of what roles the reader and author play and what an ideal story should be like (this is the most intriguing aspect of the book). Although the premise might sound silly or contrived, it works beautifully due to Calvino's great storytelling ability. This story (the ideal story?) is captivating and intelligent; you won't be disappinted.
Columbian More than 1 year ago
Read this book several times, and always get something different from it.  When someone asks what it is "about" I still cannot give a clear answer, which is a good thing.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
This was a strange read for me. I loved the idea of the novel, and I really enjoyed the first half. It was very interesting to read these small snippets of different books, and I liked the absurd way the search for the rest of one book lead to the beginning of another. The problem for me was the second half, and the introduction of a weird semi-plot. It was completely uninteresting to me, and served to bog down the novel. I really wish Calvino had stuck to what seemed to be the original premise; a kind of post-modern anti-novel, with no plot, exploring vastly different styles and themes, delighting readers with the very things which should frustrate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I may not be a literary genius but I do read a lot and this book was horrible. The first chapter pulled me in, the second made me feel all would be well, but by the third I was completely lost! Avant- guarde? It just isn't my cup of tea.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino's inventive discourse, is a genuine masterpiece of convolution, evolution and conversation; a work of synthesis that draws upon traditional narrative and then revises, creating and recreating images and perspectives on reading, writing, perception and reflection in the postmodern world. Particularly insightful is Chapter Eight which contains the diaries of a writer in doubt and poised on the brink of a novel; the entire work, however, explodes readership in a fresh and fascinating way. An immensely tantalizing read, this book can be as irksome as a fly behind your ear or as softly appealing as a lover's kiss. It is, above all a deeply satisfying and brilliantly original book and one that cuts through the excesses of fiction like a lawn mower cutting through new spring grass. Calvino reels off ideas like fireworks on the Fourth of July and he provides us with an ending that is sharper and sweeter than pink lemonade on a hot summer's day. This book is a perfect literary vacation: refreshing, rejuvenating and simply delicious with new twists and turns around every bend. It definitely takes us places we have never been before, but absolutely hope to see again. The prose is alternately dreamy, sensual, crystaline and precise, but always perfect. With levels of organization as complex as a molecule of DNA, the ten stories that make up If On a Winter's Night a Traveler are a true joie de vivre and is unique among modern novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calvino captures you in a world that you become a part of. You are the main character. This book is an amazing philosophy on reading. Recommended for those who are looking for something a little different.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got it from a library but am considering buying a copy. It's a must-read for anyone considering writing a novel as Calvino makes the reader a charactor (assuming the reader is male) and discusses various writing techniques while using them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author divides the novel into several separate, unfinished stories which are connected to the two main characters' own story in this way: the two characters (one of which is supposed to be YOU, which creates a weird situation for a female reader, *wink*) are in search of first one novel's ending, which leads them to a new novel entirely, the ending of which is also lost, leading them to the next story, and so on... All in all, I recommend this book to those who are tired of the 'same old' format.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calvino is a master story teller and once you read this thoroughly interesting book, you'll also agree. The story dynamics are incredible, what he's done in one book, in one chapter, alot of postmodern writers would have a hard time writing. A wonderful wonderful book.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
2.5 stars If On A Winter’s Night, A Traveller… is the 3rd stand-alone novel by Italian author, Italo Calvino. It is translated from Italian by William Weaver. The format is somewhat unusual: the chapters are addressed to the Reader (=you), written in the second person. These are interspersed with opening chapters from books the Reader is reading, or tries to read. Frustrated by printing errors, the Reader returns to the book shop to complain, where he is joined by the Other Reader (Ludmilla). The fragments of the various books are vaguely interesting, but not as compelling as they apparently are to the Reader and the Other Reader, intent on finding the original titles and completing their reads. Some pieces are so dense, so tortuous (or is that torturing?) that the reader’s eyes (mine) glaze over. The stories feature espionage, leaving the farm, prison escape, revolutionaries (x2), murder, ringing telephone paranoia, mirrors as means of deceit, Japanese seduction, erasure and a duel. The chapters featuring the Readers’ quest presents philosophy on the experience of books and reading from different perspectives: the reader, the translator, students of literature, publishers, authors, analysts of books and censors. The Reader is difficult to identify with, and must be starved for literature to be so enthralled by these fragments. It’s a mercifully short read that will at least give the reader an idea if they want more of Italo Calvino, or not.
Cecrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
IoaWNaT employs the rarely used 2nd-person point of view. It begins with describing you in the act of preparing to read the book, as the author makes broad assumptions about you in order to be inclusive and draw you in. Later on, Calvino establishes a more specific character for you and some fictional events: you are male, and you encounter printing errors with your copy. This begins your quest to find a correctly printed one, only to encounter a sequence of other novel fragments that for various reasons also break off and leave you hanging.The impression isn't so much that of a proper novel as of a collection of unfinished short works that showcase various styles and aims, linked together by an artful framing story. I read it initially as an ode to the importance and love of reading, seeing it as a metafiction - fiction about fiction, like I'd previously encountered through allegory in Ende's "The Neverending Story." There's still the other side of the coin to be considered, and a great part of the fun lies in the slow reveal of what exactly the author is driving at with all this peculiar construction.I liked the inserted sly, self-aware commentary on how each story was being told, and how this later spills over into the portions between. During the bridging segments I began to anticipate Ludmilla's veiled introductions to each story with her "the novel I would like to read now" dialogue. Meanwhile, Calvino doesn't merely display his talents as a virtuoso in accomplishing each instance of what Ludmilla is seeking; he relates the inner workings of each narrator's mind to determine why they would want to tell their story in the way Ludmilla describes. IoaWNaT takes a while to live up to its first chapter's promise as a book to get lost in, but it does come - for me it finally happened with Chapter Eight's explicit outline of intent. This puzzle of a book was ultimately very rewarding, and I see more Italo Calvino in my future.
amydross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Intermittently fascinating and dull. Mostly, it's a book about how reading and writing are structured, and many compelling ideas are raised and examined. But this is interspersed with excerpts from "novels" that are supposed to engage yet never satisfy the reader... unfortunately, I thought these ersatz novels almost universally banal, and found myself skimming them.
knittingfreak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that I've wanted to read for quite a while. It just so happens that it was one of the books that my husband bought me for Christmas. So, this is my first official read of the new year. Yeah, I know many of you are already on your second, third, and fourth books. However, in my defense, this was not exactly quick reading. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book, and I'm still not sure about it after having read it. I did enjoy the book after an initial state of confusion. What probably helped me more than anything else is the great introduction in the edition that I have.The novel is about books, reading, writing, publishing and the interrelatedness of all of these. The author looks at some serious subjects in a comedic way. O.K., I already feel like I'm rambling. Let me try again. The book is written in a format with twelve chapters, which are addressed to the Reader who is also the protagonist. In between each of these chapters is the beginning of a fictitious novel by a fictitious author. Sound confusing? Well, it's really not once you get into it. You see, the Reader begins a book entitled If on a winter's night a traveler but is unable to finish it due to a publishing error. It seems that two different books got put together in the binding process. This sets the whole story into motion. The Reader is on a quest to find the ending to this book, which only leads him to the beginning of another book by another author, etc. This happens a total of ten times. So, each chapter sends the Reader to a different location and a different set of strange circumstances only to find the beginning of another book.The great thing about this book is its inventiveness and the way that it captures the way readers interact with books. In chapter eleven, the Reader finds himself in a library desperately seeking any of the ten of the novels he has begun. He encounters other readers in the library who explain the way they read and why they read. I won't go into all of them, but the one that stuck out to me is the reader who says that he encounters a new book each and every time he rereads a book. This reader believes that the meaning comes from the reader in that particular time and place. So a rereading of the same book can never yield the same emotions. I would have to say that I pretty much agree with that statement. I know I've begun books and put them aside only to pick them up later and devour them. It wasn't the book that had changed. It was me.This is probably not a book for everyone, but I did enjoy it. It did make me stop and think about the act of reading, which I usually just take for granted. But, take my word for it, if you're going to read this, find one with a good introduction.
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
50. [If on a winter's night a traveler] by Italo Calvino. Italo Calvino is a brilliant writer. I would argue he's more brilliant because he realizes he's brilliant and makes sure you realize it too. But here's the catch, he does it and it doesn't seem pretentious. That's brilliance in my book. Apparently, it's brilliance in Calvino's too. In "If on a winter's night a traveler . . ." the reader is somewhat a part of the story. At first, this was very promising an idea and actually good for some laughs or at least some self-reflecting smiles. But I'm not convinced he managed to pull the reader into actually being a part of the story as strongly as I felt he was doing at first. Still, it was a well-written piece and while it might not again have reached the laugh-out-loud moments of the first chapter, it was still amusing and enjoyable.
TheWasp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two readers start the same novel by Italo Calvino only to find everything after the first chapter is missing. Their quest to read the rest of the book leads them to other books which for various reason only begin, to authors who do not exist and writers imitating other writers.This book is very cleverly written, mixing the "beginnings of stories" into the quest for the complete story.This book is so multi-layered that it requires the reader to "pay attention". You will lose your way in the story if you lose concentration.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was completely mesmerized by the structure of this book and enamoured with the poetic prose. A near classic.
Joshers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While many other works of metafiction appeal to the minds of writers, the playful and enigmatic 'If on a winter's night a traveler' was created more for the individuals who identify themselves as avid readers. In fact, you as the reader take on the role of the protagonist. With each chapter, you (you - the Reader) begin reading a book and for varying reasons have to cease this endeavor, always right at the peak of suspense. Snapped back into reality, the Reader has to track down what has happened to the remainder of the story, only to find and begin other stories along the way - all of which end just as abruptly. In this journey to find a tale that ends, the Reader encounters a beautiful woman who shares his passion for reading. The two find themselves caught up conspiracies regarding the falsification and ghostwriting of other novels by multitudes of secret organizations and counter-organizations. Author Italo Calvino asks the reader (Reader?) several open-ended questions regarding how we read books and the roles of both the author and reader. There is a specific focus on what books mean to certain people, as well as what makes a work authentic or original. These interesting conversations provide a lot to think about, although I'd be lying if I said this were an easy read. Some portions are rather difficult to get through, and a few of the mini-novels don't hold up to be as engaging as the others. Regardless, if you have the time and are feeling up to reading a strange, playful, meta-and-then-some book, you'll get a kick out of this.
Kayla-Marie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really fantastic book! I can't resist the books that start out in second-person, thus speaking directly to me. In the beginning, it really seemed as if the narrator was in my mind and I could actually imagine myself being the Reader. As I read farther, the Reader started to develop more characteristics (such as being male, for one) so that feeling of being an actual character in the book didn't last, but I still loved it. The chapters that focused on the Reader were my favorite of the novel, and I sped through those parts. The stories told were pretty interesting too, except for a couple that I really coudn't get into: Without fear of wind or vertigo and In a network of lines that intersect weren't really to my taste, but that was bound to happen considering how different each story is from the other. Looks down in the gathering shadow was by far my favorite of the ten stories. I wish that one was a full-length novel (I truly felt the Reader's frustration in not being able to finish that particular book). What a way to begin a story!--a man driving around with a dead guy that he's trying to get rid of. How Calvino set up the stories in the first few chapters was amazing. Here's a sample from the opening of the first story, If on a winter's night a traveler: The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph...The pages of the book are clouded like the windows of an old train, the cloud of smoke rests on the sentences. I repeat: A-ma-zing. It really makes you feel as if you're sitting right in the middle of the action and that you're truly a part of the setting. He doesn't use this method of immersion in all the stories, unfortunately, but the entire book is truly wonderful. It's a new favorite of mine.
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much of the time while reading Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" I felt like I was examining a beautiful treasure map from an ancient, long lost culture -- I could appreciate the map for its aesthetic qualities but would have no clue where it was telling me to go. For much of the novel, I wondered if Calvino just decided he had a bunch of half-started stories he wanted to get rid of so he found a way to toss them into a novel. All that said, I really enjoyed the book anyway, even though it took me until the penultimate chapter to understand what the heck was going on. I found the stories (told in an alternating manner of a reader just trying to find the ending to a book...) and the various stories so compelling it was tough to put the book down. The narrative structure alone makes this an interesting read and it's really interesting how the story comes together in the end.
asawyer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've started this book twice before in the last 20 years, and never got very far (which is odd for me). So when my bookgroup decided to read it, I was glad that I'd attack it for real. However, after reading more than half, I gave myself permission to not read another word. What an odd book. I have to say, some of the story "starts" were interesting and well written, but by about the 5th one, I got tired of being dropped mid-story only to return to the author's self-indulgent treatise on his disgruntlement with the writing and publishing process. If you carefully pick through, there are interesting philosophical sentences on human nature and reading, but the excess around these made for my feeling it was a tremendous waste of time... and when do I ever feel that way about a book?!!
prophetandmistress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has literary balls the size of small dogs.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading If on a winter's night a traveler is like being in a tug-of-war-slash-slapfight with the author the entire time you're reading, engaged but combative. Oh, and you lose of course, because readers are pretty much at the mercy of authors and their works. Right?The entire book is about You, the Reader, as you search for the elusive perfect book, but come up short with only truncated works that weren't what you expected at all. The structure of the book challenges what a book actually *is,* not an inert stack of pages and ink but a process that exists somewhere between the author and reader, and subject to the whims of both. After reading through the third or so aborted work, the Reader exasperatedly notes that you've "lost that privileged relationship with books which is peculiar to the reader: the ability to consider what is written as something finished and definitive, to which there is nothing to be added, from which there is nothing to be removed." That's quite how I felt when reading this, extremely on my guard and off-kilter, since I knew that the 'fake' novel would stop in only a few pages - to what? Get back to the 'real' fictional novel that's equally crafted and fake? If on a winter's night a traveler becomes less of a novel and more an experience of reading; fascinating and unique.
PinkPandaParade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Italo Calvino's book, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, begins by assaulting the reader: "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice--they won't hear you otherwise--"I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell; "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone." And so goes the opening paragraph. The entire introduction is an encouragement to read, with the punchline being that Calvino himself is delaying your reading of his novel! But don't think this book a non-fiction. The book is in fact a text that is part short story collection, part novel within a novel, part commentary on reading, and part... well, I don't know... It's hard to say. The format follows The Reader and The Other Reader (the latter a woman named Ludmilla) as they go through reading ten very different novels, never quite finishing any one. As the characters find themselves not finishing their novels, so do the readers of Calvino's book. Interspersed through these engaging vignettes are some very interesting ideas on what reading means and how different types of reading can affect the way a story is perceived. In showing us this view into his mind, Calvino in effect plays a magic trick on the reader by affecting the way his very novel is read. Unlike authors who try to immerse you in the worlds of their novels, Calvino takes his words and encourages them to float off the page, insisting that you be reminded over and over again that you are, in fact, reading the novel. His idea becomes then to not "let the world around you fade" but to capture it and celebrate it in text. The texts themselves are far from humdrum. In fact, their stories are so absorbing that it is no wonder that some readers simply can't take it. Consisting of everything from romances to typical airport thrillers to strange science fiction, the stories remain threaded together by the equally enthralling experience of the two characters. For those who find the Reader and Other Reader less compelling than the stories they read, frustration is definitely a given. Hence, this novel is not for everyone. In the MTV generation of fast-moving everything, it's hard to believe that this novel doesn't have some place among those not interested in a unique and entertaining treatise on reading and writing, but it's very possible that we're just not as finicky as we thought. There's no doubt in my mind that Calvino tells a great story. In fact, he tells several great stories. Still, keep in mind the caveat that picking up this novel is not the same as picking up a focused one-story narrative novel; it's not even the same as picking up a collection of short stories. Still, the novel as a whole is funny, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and, yes, frustrating. It is a love note to the act of reading, and a love note to all kinds of readers. And, sometimes, love hurts. It's possible that Calvino derives some kind of masochistic enjoyment from playing with the readers, and it's possible that those who get to the end of the novel are masochists themselves. Still, it is also possible that Calvino is letting his readers in on a delicious secret, if only they are willing to stay for the ride.
AndrewBlackman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewing this book in the New Yorker, John Updike said that it "manages to charm and entertain the reader in the teeth of a scheme designed to frustrate all reasonable readerly intentions." I don't think I can put it any better, so you may want to stop reading now. But I'll put down the rest of my thoughts anyway.The most striking thing about this book is that addresses you, the reader, directly: the opening line is, "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler." You then become a protagonist in the story, along with another reader, Ludmilla, to whom you feel an immediate attraction. The other striking thing about the book is that after the first chapter, the story changes. Your copy is defective - it just contains the first chapter repeated over and over again. Angrily, you take it back to the bookshop, where you receive a replacement copy, which turns out to be a completely different book. This one, too, contains only one chapter, and in trying to track down the rest of it you end up reading a different one, and a different one, and a different one. All fragments, all broken off at the moment of greatest suspense.This is the frustration that Updike was talking about.Nevertheless, you keep going, and you gradually become closer to the Other Reader, and a whole bizarre plot develops around you and your attempts to read the book. It sounds as if it should be a nightmare, but it really works. For one thing, the aborted novels are mostly very good. I did find myself becoming absorbed in them, even though I knew they would soon be interrupted. Calvino is a great storyteller, and this is what made me tolerate his endless digressions and interruptions.The other thing that made me tolerate them was that the digressions themselves were often fascinating discussions of the nature of reading or of writing. One character for example, talks of the reader for whom "reading means stripping herself of every purpose, every foregone conclusion, to be ready to catch a voice that makes itself heard when you least expect it, a voice that comes from an unknown source, from somewhere beyond the book, beyond the author, beyond the conventions of writing: from the unsaid, from what the world has not yet said of itself and does not yet have the words to say." Meanwhile another reader "wanted, on the contrary, to show her that behind the written page is the void: the world exists only as artifice, pretense, misunderstanding, falsehood."There's a lot of falsehood even in the stories that the reader reads. There's the one about the rich man who, to avoid being kidnapped, creates endless doubles of himself, each going about his routine, and then he creates duplicate mistresses, duplicate cars, etc etc so that the kidnappers will never know which is the real one. He then even creates a fake gang and carries out fake kidnappings, before eventually his counter-plot to a kidnapping plot is foiled by a counter-counter-plot and he ends up imprisoned in a room of mirrors. At all points there are mysterious, shadowy groups, double-agents and triple-agents, infiltrators and infiltrators of the infiltrators, deceptions, fictions and confusion.Yet amid all this falsehood you do "catch a voice" every now and then communicating something else, something deeper, and this is perhaps what Calvino is saying good fiction does. He is both a cynic and a prophet, showing us all the artifice of fiction, the shabby "tricks of the trade", and at the same time going beyond mere storytelling and saying some important things about books and reading. It's an impressive achievement to start off with such a difficult premise and to pull it off.