If on a fall’s afternoon a reader

In aid of preparing to write the novel, I spent a couple of hours at Victrola today writing notes, re-reading bits of Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, but mostly staring out the window. I headed over to Horizon Books to browse. A copy of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler immediately caught my eye.

Now, if you haven’t read the book, you’re not going to grasp the full significance of what I’m going to lay out here. But, briefly – so you’re not entirely lost, the novel is about reading. It constantly refers to the person reading the book, who develops into a character. Excerpts: 1, 2, 3

My copy, currently on loan indefinitely, is covered with annotations and underlinings that were penciled in by a previous reader. Because of the nature of the story, reading this copy was very satisfying to me.

I picked up the bookstore copy and flipped through it. The pages were covered with pencilled in notes and underlined passages. At first I thought it was my old copy, that Naomi had gotten rid of it when she’d pulled out her roots and packed up her RV. But this copy’s cover was a bit crisper than mine had been; and upon closer inspection, the annotations in this copy seemed to be briefer and spread more thinly than those in my old copy (which had no notes for the first 50 pages and then stretches of several annotated pages followed by long stretches of unadorned pages). I didn’t spot any familiar notations, so it wasn’t additional notes made by Naomi or another reader.

I bought the book of course. And will no doubt read “this version”. I’m troubled by something. Is this a game? Is there a group of readers who are purposely trying to trip people out by writing in copies of If on a winter’s night a traveler and then distributing them to bookstores? To self-consciously write notes in the margins of this precisely written book would be cynical. My old copy’s notes were clearly those of someone who was writing in the margins by their nature and by the nature of the book. Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but when I read this copy, if I suspect that some reader somewhere is trying to pull something . . . well, I’ll be very upset.

One thought on “If on a fall’s afternoon a reader

  1. Something like this, this here. To be honest, I only did some of those to one book– a literature anthology of short stories, not Norton, but I don’t remember what it’s name was.

    The key to good writing is to make the unique universal and the universal unique. Do that and you have a great piece of literature!

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