Friday, December 29, 2006

Calvino Meme

When I asked in a recent post about novels written in the second person, Litlove mentioned Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. This is a book that I bought ages ago but hadn’t yet cracked open. I pulled it down off the shelf today and am completely drawn in after only a few pages. I’ve decided to give it the fifth heretofore undecided slot in the list of books I plan to read before the end of January to meet the From the Stacks Challenge. I can’t resist a book with marvellous passages like the following which details the process by which “you,” the reader, made it out of the bookshop with the book you hold in your hands:

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

It occurred to me as I reached the end of this paragraph that Calvino’s list of bookshop temptations would make a fine meme. So I’m dubbing it the Calvino Meme and inviting anyone who wishes to participate to join in. Since he speaks of books, plural, let’s say that at least two books should be listed within each category, more if you like. Here goes:

Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages:
I could list hundreds of books here but I’ll stop at three: A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success:
Since the advent of ebay and online second hand book vendors, there aren’t many of these on my list. But I’d still dearly love to find affordable hardback copies of the original editions of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Carney’s House Party and Emily of Deep Valley.

Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment:
Mark Satin’s Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada and Henry Mietkiewicz’s Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College. Both of these relate to my novel-in-progress which is partly set in Toronto in the late sixties and early seventies.

Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case:
Rob Colter’s Grammar to Go: A Portable A-Zed Guide to Canadian Usage and Malcolm MacLennan’s Gaelic Dictionary.

Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer:
There are a couple of big fat books that I’ve been meaning to read that might be best saved for the summer when I have a bit more time to spare: Mary Cosh’s Edinburgh: The Golden Age and The Complete Stories (in four volumes) of Morley Callaghan.

Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves:
Volumes 3 and 4 of Virginia Woolf’s diaries, to complete my collection.

Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified:
I generally find it easy to justify my curiosity about any book. But here are a few on topics that I didn’t realize I was interested in until I picked them up: Karen Dubinsky’s The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooning and Tourism at Niagara Falls, Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way and Gamini Salgado’s The Elizabethan Underworld.

Who else wants to play? Feel free to tack on any of the other categories of books Calvino enumerates in the passage I've quoted above. For example, is there anyone out there bold enough to list a title or two under the heading “Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them”?


Anonymous said...

Oh, what a fantastic meme! I'm in!

Imani said...

Yay, me too! I'm off to do it.

As a sidenote Calvino's use of second person in that novel did not work for me: I read the first page in a past bookstore browse and promptly reshelved it. With that passage you quoted I found myself skipping the "window" bits straight to the books in order to keep my irritation to a minimum. I do mean to try his Invisible Cities.

Stefanie said...

I loved If on a Winter's Night. Fantastic book. It got me hooked on Calvino. And how brilliant of you to turn it into a meme! I'll be playing. Will have it up in a day or two.

litlove said...

You've done it again, Kate, with another wonderful meme. This looks like a great one for New Year's Day, and I think the Calvino ought to figure on my listings, as I've been intending to read it (and Invisible Cities) for years!

jenclair said...

Emily of Deep Valley! I have not thought of this book in years, and I read it more than once. Just checked Amazon, and they have it in paperback - Emily of Deep Valley

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

Your Calvino Meme is just irresistable, so I HAD to do it. Thanks for coming up with them.


Anonymous said...

Saw your name mentioned at Semicolon's and just had to visit! I love all things bookish--great list you've got, but wow--you're a serious reade. Cool.