My only exposure to Italo Calvino’s writing is the first two chapters of his “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” We read it in the same English class that we read “The Library of Babel” in, and I was instantly hooked on these fantastic, well-structured stories.
“I start with a small, single image and then I enlarge it,” Italo Calvino explains.
He uses a certain idea to revolve his stories around, and the result is a fantasy world that is both captivating and confusing.
I was drawn to this post, and not Jorge Luis Borge’s (the writer of the Library of Babel), because it was broken up into three parts: a memoir written by a literary critic who knew him, his thoughts before an interview (like an excerpt of his journal), and a transcribed interview. Not being too familiar with the author, it was nice to have a biography, a piece of his writing, and the question and answer session.
As I read, I wrote down ideas and phrases that struck me. In his thoughts before an interview, he talks about how he feels obligated to prepare for interviews, because he wants to answer questions in a different way each time. He thinks that his answers should evolve so that they reflect the context that he is currently situated in.
“This could be the basis for a book,” he concludes. You take a set of questions and make each chapter of the book contain the answers given at different times. So then the changes would be the “story that the protagonist lives.”
This post provided me with a look inside of his mind; I got to see how he was inspired. I also find it fascinating that the architecture of his stories is more often than not his main purpose. I’ve never written like that, but it’s something that I want to try. I like the idea of writing something with a certain structure in mind, working through ideas as I go. Calvino describes this as “discovering truths.”
The interviewer also asked interesting questions, and it felt more like a dialogue than some of the other interviews I read. It seemed as if he were changing his questions to follow up and move the conversation along, which felt more natural than sticking to a prescribed list of generic questions.
He asks, “Are novelists liars?” and Calvino says that he writes fiction because “lies are as interesting, eloquent, and revealing as any claimed truth.” The first two chapters of “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” are terribly confusing, because you can’t decipher reality from the book that the protagonist is reading. I liked being confused, and I liked that his writing was almost whimsical, but I’m not sure what he was trying to reveal. I went to the library and requested the book, so maybe once I finish it I’ll have an aha-moment about the meaning behind the story. But I also don’t think that revealing something is necessary in writing. I feel like it’s enough to write something that provokes thought and imagination in readers.