Number nine? You’re up.

If on a winter's night check-in

“Around an empty grave”

If I could be a character in any of Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler“, the part of Nacho’s father would rank near the top of my list.  Score the part of the senior, and you get to give a dramatic death scene that includes the tragic moment where you finally are going to tell your son Nacho who his mother is, but then pass away before you can say her name

Playing the part of the mysterious stranger who follows Nacho would be pretty good too.  Riding my horse on the opposite side of the chasm, refusing to answer Nacho, and pointing my gun at him make for a dramatic scene.

Would it be more fun to play Anacleta Higueras or Doña Jazmina?


  • Agreeing to completing a secret mission gets the Reader out of prison.

(“official mission with secret aspects as well as secret mission with official aspects”)

  • Banned books and censorship are the focus of this chapter.
  • Marana’s work was inspired by Ludmilla–or rather the desire to prove to her that there is nothing behind the text of a novel.  But Marana was unable to do this and was allowed to escape the country.
  • The Reader would like to finish at least one tale and creates a plan to intercept the rest of “Around an empty grave” before Porphyrich can.
  • The Reader meets Anatolin who gives him a few pages at a time, but before the Reader receives the complete novel, Anatolin is arrested.

Whew… Almost finished.





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Eight is (not so) great

I can’t do it.  I can’t talk about beginning number eight: Calvino’s Japanese story.

We like to keep this blog PG as much as we can, but the amount of sex in “On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon” does not allow for that.  I will share that I marked one quote because it reminded me of Anna Karenina:

“…I made an unwise and involuntary movement of the mouth: I bared and clenched my teeth as if to bite.  Instinctively Makiko jumped back with an expression of sudden pain, as if she had really been given a bite at some sensitive spot.”

Remember Vronsky’s teeth?

The other thought I had was that the titled chapters of Calvino’s novel would make great names for jazz band pieces.  Don’t you agree?  “If on a winter’s night a traveler”, “Outside the town of Malbork”, “Leaning from the steep slope”— I can hear the brass section now.
Ooo  “Without fear of wind or vertigo” would have tons of percussion.  “Looks down in the gathering shadow” could be for a trio: piano, set, and upright bass.  If Modest Mussorgsky could write Pictures at an Exhibition based on Viktor Hartmann’s artwork , surely some jazz composer could do the same with Calvino’s classic.  The movement depicting “On the carpet of leaves…” may need to come with a parental advisory warning.

Chapter [9]
This chapter is a return to “cloak and dagger” with double agents and costume changes.  “On a carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon” is confiscated from the Reader.  Corinna (who looks like Lotaria, later turns out to be Gertrude, Ingrid, Alfonsina, Sheila, and Capt. Alexandra, but who really is Lortaria   ) gives him a replacement title that’s not a replacement because it’s a different story entirely.

“You have come all the way to Ataguitania to hunt a counterfeiter of novels, and you find yourself prisoner of a system in which every aspect of life is counterfeit, a fake.”

There’s imprisonment, censorship, and a reading machine: reminiscent of The Trial, 1984,  and Gulliver’s Travels.  In the end the book “has been crumbled, dissolved, can no longer be recomposed, like a sand dune blown away by the wind.”

Were you really surprised?





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Lucky Seven

If on a winter's nightWill our Reader have literary luck in beginning number seven?

Nope.  He begins a book by Flannery but it’s a different title and different book.  Once again, the Reader thinks he knows what to expect but is fooled.  “In a network of lines that intersect” is about a successful kaleidoscope-collecting businessman who creates a cunning and complicated plan to avoid being kidnapped.  Meetings with false mistresses cover the meetings with his real mistress, Lorna, from his wife, Elfrida.  The decoy kidnappings do not protect the business man from being abducted.  By whom?

Chapter [8] from the diary of Silas Flannery

“How many years has it been since I could allow myself some disinterested reading?  How many years has it been since I could abandon myself to a book written by another, with no relation to what I must write myself?

Preach it Flannery.  I mean, Calvino.

“Style, taste, individual philosophy, subjectivity, cultural background, real experience, psychology, talent, tricks or the trade: all the elements that make what I write recognizable as mine seem to me a cage that restricts my possibilities.”

Could it be that Flannery, I mean, Calvino would disapprove of the WEM wrap-up questions?

Flannery has a lot going on in this diary of his:

  • two authors that write the same novel
  • a cameo by Snoopy
  • lines from the opening of Crime and Punishment
  • fake Flannerys in Japanese
  • the Koran
  • aliens
  • electronically transcribed novels
  • a visit from the Reader
  • The book idea for “If on a winter’s night a traveler…”

Flannery’s words or Calvino’s?

“I have pondered my last conversation with that Reader.  Perhaps his reading is so intense that it consumes all the substance of the novel at the start, so nothing remains for the rest.  This happens to me in writing: for some time now, every novel I begin writing is exhausted shortly after the beginning, as if I had already said everything I have to say.”






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For the sixth time

If on a winter's night check-in

If on a winter’s night a traveler… beginning number six: “In a network of lines that enlace”.

In this beginning we have a slightly unstable professor who is obsessed with the telephone.  He runs for his health and his nerves.  The professor is compelled to answer the ringing telephone in a stranger’s home while he’s out jogging.  He learns of a crime that will be committed.  What will he do?

Did you read?  Do you know?

[7]  Setting: Ludmilla’s home
Point of View: Other Reader–Ludmilla  and Reader

After a perusal of Ludmilla’s home by the Reader, Irnerio enters, the man who makes art of books but doesn’t read.  It is revealed that Marana translates from a room at Ludmilla’s.  The Reader also learns that the Other Reader is an acquaintance of Silas Flannery’s.  While Ludmilla and the Reader are in bed the copy of “In a network of lines that enlace” disappears.  Irnerio is suspect.

Ludmilla is the perfect reader “always ready to follow [authors], in the fickle, carefree relations one can have with incorporeal persons.”   Marana wants to break that trust.

Up next?  Take seven.





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Give Me Five

If on a winter's night check-in

How’s your reading of Calvino’s classic coming?  Making your way through the maze?


If on a winter’s night a traveler: Beginning number five!  and it starts with a man trying to get rid of a dead body.  Native Son anyone?

In “Looks down in the gathering shadow” the main character Ruedi and his sidekick Bernadette are living their version of Weekend at Bernie’s.  When dead Jojo doesn’t fit nicely in a plastic bag, they put him in a convertible and ride around town.  Cops prevent them from dumping the stiff in the river.  An empty gas tank uses up all the fuel for the bonfire cremation they were planning.  They can’t seem to get rid of him.  Ruedi has a shady past that can’t be escaped.  His daughter performs a nightclub show with crocodiles.  He has been/will be blackmailed.  Finally they throw the dead body off the top floor terrace.  As the elevator doors open on the ground floor, Jojo’s mob sees their “boss’s” (father’s?) shoe in the bag and the chapter ends.

It is in Cavedagna’s office in Chapter [6] that I learn why The Trial irked me so much:

“…you are gripped by the fear of having also passed over to “the other side” and of having lost that privileged relationship with books which is peculiar to the reader: the ability fo 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.”

Cavedagna shares publisher intel (and letters) with the Reader.  It seems that stories are written by the Father of Stories who consumes hallucinatory mushrooms and weaves tales that authors record.  Wait.  That’s not correct.  Stories are written by computers that analyze an author’s style and then complete the story, much like the writing machine at the Academy of Lagado in Gulliver’s Travels.  Perhaps writing machines are the way to go.  Unlike author Silas Flannery, computers don’t resist product placement in their stories.

CCOM is a big fan of abbreviations, but OEPHLW takes the cake– Organization for the Electronic Production of Homogenized Literary Works.

Within Chapter [6] we (the Reader, you, and I) are swept into a story about Marana and a Sultan’s wife.  Marana (or Calvino) shares a classic that “is a trap-novel designed by the treacherous translator with beginnings of novels that remain suspended…”

Random note #1: Who knew that an author can write what he sees on the face of a reader and in doing so plagiarize?

Random note #2: Are you a person of “strong eyesight and nerves”  are you willing “to be subjected to the uninterrupted reading of novels“?  Contact the OEPHLW to volunteer to be a test reader.

Like “Looks down in the gathering shadow”, Chapter [6] also has an elevator scene.  This one doesn’t involve a murder, a plastic bag, and the mob.  It involves tricky translator Marana and a manuscript-stealing boy.  Which brings us to the next beginning of our next beginning.

Take six.







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Beginning number four

th“Without fear of wind or vertigo”

Ack!  Military vehicles and propaganda slogans?  It’s 1984 all over again.  1984 with an ungrateful, dizzy woman, a revolt, an artillery soldier and a weird threesome relationship.

Anyone else have to look up what lazaretto means?

Our main character, Alex Zinnober must expose the identity of a spy.  Is it Irina?  At the end of the chapter Calvino twists the plot and has Alex find his own death sentence in the pocket of his friend.

Next!  One chapter is all we get.

Chapter [5]

Ludmilla and the Reader reject Lotaria’s in-depth analysis of “Vertigo”.  They (and I) “dream of putting behind you pages lacerated by intellectual analyses, you dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive…”

How?  By having the Reader go to the publisher to find the rest of “Vertigo”.

Two shout outs in this chapter: 1. Dostoyevsky: spelled just the way I like it.
2. scatological: you know true classic literature must contain this theme.

Mr. Cavedagna is likeable but too overwhelmed at the publishing house to be much help in the Reader’s quest for “Vertigo”.  There’s discussion of a fake translator, Ermes Marana: one who believes a shake of the dice determines if a story or author becomes classic.  “Who knows which books from our period will be saved, and who knows which authors’ names will be remembered?”  Let’s revisit these two questions at our wrap-up, shall we?

Cavedagna shares yet another tale with the Reader and we are ready for…

Take Five!







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The Third Beginning

If on a winter's nightI feel like I would have benefited from reading this book in one or two long sessions.  When I’m forced to set Calvino’s classic aside for a few days (or a week), I come back discombobulated.  What am I reading now?  How many beginnings have I read?

Three.  This is the third beginning.
“Leaning from the steep slope”

What does the main character of this begininng want?  To meet Miss Zwida.  What’s standing in his way?  He tells us in a most orderly fashion, laying out the obstacles one by one.

The main character takes a brief interest in Mr. Kauderer’s meteorological hobby when he realizes it will help him in his goal of meeting Miss Zwida.  Once again I’m reminded of The Trial when men in heavy coats show up saying things like “It’s not important”.

Artist Zwida knows a prisoner.  She insists she visits the prison to draw, but it’s difficult to make pretty pictures when you leave your pencil box at home.  She wants the main character to get her a grapnel with rope attached.  Ummm hmmmm.  That’s not suspicious at all.  She might as well have asked him to bake her a cake with a file inside.  Requsted a lovely gift of a dozen sheets tied together.

It seems that Kauderer is more than a weatherman; he’s a prison break plotter.  His plan was successful.  During a dark and stormy morning, the main character spies a convict who begs him to inform someone at the hotel of his escape.  This must be Miss Zwida’s prisoner.  “Do not betray me.”  And why not?

The end.

Chapter [4]

Prof. Uzzi-Tuzii shares that “Cimmerian books are all unfinished”.  Resolution?  Logical Exhaustion?  No need to decide for this story.

We’re not surprised by another book switch.  We’re familiar with Calvino’s trick.  This time the variation has Lotaria and her companions divvying up assignments to decode  every part of “Without fear of wind or vertigo”.  Their analysis is very 1984-ish.  When Lotaria begins to read aloud, the two Readers find themselves listening to another beginning. surprise-surprise.

Take four.




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