A reader sits down to start reading Italo Calvino’s latest novel. He gets through a single chapter only to find blank pages where the second should be. The pattern repeats throughout the novel in an obvious production error, so the Reader gives up and plans to take the book back to the bookstore the next morning. There we meet a second Reader, a woman named Ludmilla who is passionate about reading and is exchanging the same novel. The shopkeeper explains to them that not only were there novels faulty, the actual story was not even Calvino’s but an insertion of a different novel by a different author. Already engrossed in the story, both Readers decide to buy a proper copy of this new novel instead. When they resume reading that night, they find that this new novel has absolutely no relation to the one they’ve started.
Thus starts the two Readers’ adventure to try and secure an ending to one of the countless novels they encounter. The story is divided between the actions and thoughts of the original reader and the chapters of what he reads throughout his journey. He travels to distant lands, encounters numerous readers with vastly different opinions on reading and becomes embroiled in literary conspiracies, all in pursuit of being able to finally finish just one novel.
I gave this novel the subgenre metafiction because it’s an important factor to note when deciding whether or not to read it. As with all of Calvino’s works, the plot of this story is far from linear or anything you’d expect from your average story. This novel is fiction about fiction (the meaning of the term metafiction), and urges the actual reader (though the character readers do this as well) to think about reading and all of the varieties of reading that exist in the world. Why do you read? What do you look for in a novel? What is the most important thing you aim to get out of reading? This novel brushes on the topic of the writer as well, but primarily this story displays the vast diversity of readers and kinds of reading. The writing is witty and at times mind-teasing, but you’ll find that you learn a lot about yourself as you follow the path of the Reader.
As I read I found numerous points of inspiration which I plan to share as a series of quotes to get us all thinking about our reading using Calvino’s amazing language.