Sunday, December 15, 2013

Experimental Reading


"...you dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive..." Calvino

Why do we read?  For the stories?  The characters?  The universal truths?  To be entertained?  To escape?  To learn?  To forget?   I don't know that I can verbalize why I read so much.  All of these reasons and more, and the reasons seem to change daily and to be different with the different books I read.    Sometimes I want to escape and sometimes just to be entertained.  Sometimes I want to forget, and sometimes I want to learn and to remember.  I suppose that's why reading works so well for me, because it's always different and always challenges me in different ways.

It's taken me several weeks to know what to say about Italo Calvino's novel, If on a winter's night a traveler, and even now I'm not sure I know exactly what I want to say.   It's not so much that I found it difficult to read, once I realized what was going on and learned to suspend any expectations I might have about the book.  It certainly is not a book to read for plot or character development.  It seems to be a study in genres and also a study about readers and reading.    Did I enjoy it?  Sometimes.  But also sometimes I was bored and irritated with it.  Did I learn from it?  Maybe, if only by being exposed to that type of experimental fiction.  It seems to be a sort-of precursor to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Reading If on a winter's night a traveler was more akin to working a jigsaw puzzle than to enjoying a good read, but I'm glad to have read it, and I certainly enjoyed reading it along with other people and following their tweets about it.

3 comments:

Barbara Bartels said...

I think one of the questions I like to ask myself when writing about a book is what does it feel like to me to read this book.
Putting together a jigsaw puzzle is a good answer.

JoAnn said...

Great post, Amy! I never was able to get back into the book after putting it aside at chapter 6. Clearly, my reasons for reading were different in the second half of November, and If on a Winter's Night didn't seem to meet my needs as it had earlier in the month. I'm going to hang on to the book though…. I might want to return to it later.

Amy said...

If I tried to read it right now, I'd never make it through. You need to attempt it when you're completely ok with taking your reading time for a book that won't feed you in the normal way. I would also advise taking a few days or a week to read it straight through with no breaks and no other reading distractions.