If on a winter's night a traveler Summary
The book opens with a curious line: "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler" (1.1). From the get-go, the book places you, the Reader, as its main character. Well then.
The story begins in a train station, where the narrator introduces himself as someone who is implicated in some sort of grand plot that he doesn't fully understand. Okay, Calvino, you've got our attention. Just when this story becomes interesting, though, it breaks off because of an error with the book's printing. Argh.
Frustrated, you (yes, you) return to the bookstore where you bought it and meet Ludmilla, an attractive young woman who's had the same problem. Now you not only want to read the book for its own sake, but to also have something to talk about with Ludmilla. In pursuit of Ludmilla, you agree to meet her at "the university," where you run into a nutty professor of dead languages named Uzzi-Tuzii. You also meet Lotaria, Ludmilla's academic sister, who reads novels only so she can project her political and overbearing theories onto them.
As the novel unfolds, you begin to read other books, only to have them break off the same way the first one did. Eventually, you go to the books' publisher and demand an explanation. A man named Mr. Cavedagna explains that a fraudulent translator named Ermes Marana has intentionally sent the entire publishing house (and possibly the publishing world) into chaos by swapping books' titles, contents, and authors until it seems almost impossible to set everything back in order. In the meantime, you continue to come across new novels that Marana has counterfeited only to find yourself completely engrossed. For one reason or another, though, you're never able to get past a first chapter.
Your search for an explanation sends you poring over Marana's letters, which eventually lead you to a reclusive old author of detective fiction named Silas Flannery. After confronting him, you learn that Marana might be in Ataguitania, and go there in search of—well, you're no longer entirely sure.
After landing in Ataguitania, you encounter a woman who goes by many different names, but who you're certain is Ludmilla's sister, Lotaria. When you arrive in the country, the police swipe the book you were trying to read (foiled again!) and you find yourself embroiled in some insane war between dictators and revolutionaries. Crestfallen after all your failed readings, you retreat to a library that seems to have copies of all the books you've begun to read.
While at the library, you encounter numerous readers, one of whom seems to point out a secret buried within all of the books you've been trying to read. (You'll have to finish the book to find out what.) After he explains to you that stories traditionally only have two endings, marriage and death, you decide that you want to marry Ludmilla.
- The book starts off pretty eerily by addressing "you," the reader, and telling you that you're about to sit down and read Italo Calvino's new book, If on a winter's night a traveler. At this point, you might glance over your shoulder to see if anyone's watching you.
It might look like an author's introduction to the book, but you're wrong. The story has actually started.
- The narrator goes into a description of how you might find your best and most comfortable position for reading. He even offers the idea of reading on horseback or in a hammock or chair, or hey, maybe even standing at a lectern. The only thing he doesn't recommend is green eggs and ham.
- The speaker then informs you that you don't expect anything from this book, because you are the type of person who doesn't expect anything from anything. What is this, a fortune teller? The book doesn't know you personally, does it?
- Apparently, you heard a little while ago that Italo Calvino had released a new book, and you went to buy it in the bookstore.
- Now the book switches to present tense, following you on your mission to buy a copy of the exact book you're holding.
- Entering the bookstore, you pass by all the other books you might read, haven't read, feel you should read, or needn't bother to read, and the list goes on… But you avoid these "traps" and press on to grab If on a winter's night a traveler and take it to the clerk.
- Next, the narrator leads you through several possible scenes in which you start reading the book: on a bus while holding a strap with one hand, at the wheel of a car and getting honked at for waiting at a green light, and finally at your desk.
- You bring this book to your place of work. No matter what your job, you're tempted to glance at it. You decide it's best, however, to wait until you're home.
- You don't open to the first page, but to the last to confirm how long the book is.
- The narrator admits that long novels don't have as much of a place in our lives nowadays, since we don't think of time in long stretches, but in little fragments—it has become more difficult for art and media to hold our attention. Man, imagine if Calvino had been writing in the 21st century.
- You look over the outside of the book, glancing at some of the phrases on its back, which don't tell you a whole lot about it.
- So you open the thing, and away you go.
- If on a winter's night a traveler
- Hey now, it looks like some sort of story is about to get underway. But the narrator (or whoever's speaking) still seems to be insistently present in the action, saying, "The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs" (2.1).
- Okay, so present tense, eh? Not a classic novel style, but fine.
- You read that a cloud of steam from a train covers the opening of the chapter, as though the images are somehow coming out of the book and blocking the words you're reading. The book seems to be getting confused about what's real "inside" its pages and "outside" of them.
- Eventually, you realize that you are reading about some unnamed man who is entering the railway station and smelling the odor of the café.
- People look to him suspiciously; the cat by the cashier arches its back. The book tells us that based on this evidence, we can tell he is in a rural station, where strangers stick out like sore thumbs.
- Watch out, the novel suddenly tells you, because you are about to get absorbed in the reading. Every time you start to settle into the story, the narrator seems to insist on reminding you that you're reading a book. Way to harsh our mellow, narrator.
- At this point, the man in the story claims that "something must have gone wrong" for him, a statement that deliberately plays with your expectation for an interesting plot. You also find out that he's carrying a suitcase, and you might begin to wonder what's in it. The man thinks that he might be supposed to swap suitcases with someone else in the station.
- Finding no one he knows, the man wonders if he should go into the city, which doesn't really exist yet because it hasn't been named and we don't know if it'll show up in the story at all.
- Some higher power seems to be giving the man his orders. He's been told not to leave any traces of his presence at the train station, so he naturally becomes more nervous the longer he's there.
- As if he is only remembering now, the man informs us that someone was supposed to meet him when he got off his train. (PLOT! Hooray!).
- The narrator knows that he was supposed to mutter a password of some kind to this other person and then hand him/her the suitcase.
- There's a problem though: the last trains of the evening have already come and gone, and there's no sign of this other person. Not knowing what to do, the man glances toward the station bar and envies the patrons for their simple, familiar lives.
- Before we know it, the guy's taken a seat next to the only woman in the bar and has struck up a conversation with her. He suggests to her that she can probably predict everything that's about to happen in her town, but she denies this.
- We find out that the people in the bar pass the time by making bets about which barfly is going to walk into the station next. (Our money's on Norm.) They've also bet on who is going to talk to Madame Marne, the woman who the narrator is talking to.
- At this point, the narrator butts back into the action and tells you that your attention is focused completely on the woman. C'mon dear reader! Are you so easily manipulated? Muahaha.
- Back to the story, then: the woman tells the man that she has closed her shop for the night, and he says he wishes he could have been there to help her do it. You're not really sure if this is a romantic advance.
- Dun dun dun! The woman's ex-husband walks into the bar. But hey, he doesn't seem all that concerned that Madame Marne is talking to the main character. There's still a little tension, though.
- The man tells the woman that he often wonders about all the other lives he could have led. He could have been with this woman when they were younger. The woman smiles at this, deciding to take it as a compliment.
- She gets up to leave. The man tells her he will come by later and rap on her store's shutter, asking if she will hear him. She tells him to go ahead and try.
- The woman's ex-husband approaches the bar, possibly to get a look at the main character's face.
- Suddenly, the Chief of Police enters the bar, walks directly to the man, and mutters the password the narrator had been expecting.
- After this, the Chief wanders over to the cigarette machine.
- The man wonders if someone's given him up to the police, though he doesn't know if what he's doing is even illegal, since he doesn't seem to know what's inside his suitcase. This is so Pulp Fiction it's killing us.
- After a brief pause, the man follows the Chief of Police to the cigarette machine.
- The Chief suddenly says, "They've killed Jan," suggesting that someone important has died. He instructs the main character that there is no use for his suitcase anymore, and that he should get rid of it. The express train, which isn't supposed to come to this station, will stop at track six in exactly three minutes, and the narrator has that amount of time to get there.
- When he hesitates, the Chief tells him to move quickly or he'll be arrested.
- The narrator says that "the organization" he works for is so powerful it can control the police and the railroads. Now things are getting very, very interesting…
- The book just comes out and says that "you, the Reader" are now very interested in the story you're reading (yeah, the whole book can be pushy like this, so get used to it). You're told that the story you continue to read is so good it even begins to sound familiar, like something you've read before.
- But then as the second chapter begins, you realize that it's only the first chapter again, repeated word for word! Huh?
- You flip back in the book and realize that you've jumped backward to the start of If on a winter's night a traveler. The narrator informs you that the printer of this book has made a terrible error and printed the same chapter twice! No, three times! No, the whole book is just the first chapter repeated! Bah.
- The narrator says that you want to chuck the book away, now that it's been cut off at the very moment you were most interested. But your better nature prevails and you hold onto the thing and decide to bring it back to the bookseller.
- You go to bed that night and dream about wanting to follow a clear path, wanting things to unfold before you in a logical, straightforward way (like a story is supposed to do, you know).
- But this isn't what you're going to get from dreams. At this point, the narrator might be hinting that you're not going to get a clear story from this book, either.
- The next day, you return to the bookseller, who isn't all that surprised at your problems. It seems that other people have had this same issue, because parts of the book you're reading were somehow swapped with pages from some Polish novel called Outside the town of Malbork by a guy named Tazio Bazakbal.
- You happily learn that the bookstore has a number of unspoiled copies lying around and that they are able to give you one.
- But now it turns out that the book you've begun reading wasn't Calvino's at all, but this other Polish one. That's the story that got you so interested, and that's the one you want to read.
- The bookseller can't make any promises about the quality of this Polish book, but he points you to a pile of them, where a young woman is standing. She has had the same problem with the Calvino, and like you, she now wants to read the Bazakbal novel.
- You like her the moment you see her. You want to strike up a conversation and show her how many books you've read. You go to her and introduce yourself a little awkwardly. Unfortunately, it turns out that she's read way more than you. You start stumbling over the things she asks you about.
- Now that you both have a copy of Outside the town of Malbork, you say that you'd love to discuss it with her after you've both read it.
- Being the sly devil you are, you use this opportunity to ask for her phone number.
- At this point, the narrator butts in again and says that you, a guy who thought life had nothing left to offer, now have two sets of expectations: the ones coming from the book you're about to read and the ones coming from the woman's phone number.
- You soon sit down to read, thinking about the Other Reader (the woman) who is sitting down to read this same book.
- And then…
- NO, it's not even the same novel you've begun reading the day before! It's a completely different one! But hey, now that you're here, you might as well check it out…
Outside the town of Malbork
- You are instantly plunged into some sort of kitchen, with the smell of onions wafting about the room. A woman named Brigid kneads meat into flour and eggs.
- You quickly lose track of how many people are in this kitchen, which seems to be filled to the brim with cooking relatives.
- A man named Mr. Kauderer has apparently come to this house to leave his son, Ponko, to live with the family. In exchange, Kauderer is taking the narrator (also a young boy) in his son's place. It will be the first time the narrator has ever left home.
- It turns out that the young narrator is going to learn the workings of the rye drying machines that the Kauderer family has imported from Belgium.
- The son whom Kauderer has left behind, on the other hand, is staying to learn about "rowans" and to essentially take the main character's place in the household. It seems that the two families are doing an agricultural learning exchange with two of their sons.
- The narrator goes to his bedroom, where Ponko is unpacking his things and preparing to take the narrator's place in the family. The narrator spots a photograph of a young girl peeking out of Ponko's things and reaches for it, wanting to know who the girl is.
- When he gets a hold of it, he reads out the name Zwida, but before he can ask anything more, Ponko punches him square in the face.
- They fight.
- Mr. Kauderer shows up at the door and pries them apart. The narrator's relatives appear as well, and from the ensuing discussion, you learn that the narrator's family has a long history of feuding with Ponko's.
- His mother asks whether he'll be safe among the Kauderers, and the answer to this seems unclear.
- In the final moments of the story, you learn that the young protagonist's name is Gritzvi.
- In the middle of an important sentence, you turn the page and find that it's… blank! You turn the page again and find the next two are printed properly.
- It seems that the bundles of paper in this new book have only been printed on one side, leaving every two pages white for every other two printed properly. You try to read every third and fourth page, but you can't get your bearings.
- The setting keeps changing and unknown characters keep showing up. You begin to wonder whether this actually is the book Outside the town of Malbork or something else entirely.
- You try to find out where the story is based, and after looking in an Atlas, you find that it is part of Cimmeria, a European state that has passed hands between different countries over many different wars. It used to be independent, but its culture and language have since disappeared from the Earth.
- You call the woman you met at the bookstore to see if her copy is like yours.
- Instead of reaching her, though, you get her argumentative sister, Lotaria, who invites you to a seminar at the university. She mentions several academic things that don't fully make sense to you, having to do with moral and social codes and reading analysis.
- It turns out that the woman you met earlier is named Ludmilla, and she doesn't even live at the address you've phoned. You find out that she always gives her sister's number to keep strangers at bay, and feel pretty bummed out about it.
- Just when you start to start to feel sorry for yourself, Ludmilla comes on the line. You tell her about the problem with your new book, and find out that she just so happens to know a scholar of Cimmerian literature at the university: a man named Professor Uzzi-Tuzii.
- You agree to meet her at the university, but once you get there, you can't find your way. Stumbling around like a chump, you eventually bump into a young man named Irnerio, who knows who you are and that you're looking for Ludmilla.
- Irnerio seems a bit strange to you. He has curiously taught himself how not to read, because he's sick of all the writing (like advertisements) that bombard him in his daily life. You figure it's best to leave him alone to do his thing, and he directs you to the department of Bothno-Ugaric languages.
- When you arrive at the department, the place looks rundown and deserted. A suspicious professor opens the door and asks what you're doing there. You say you've come to learn about the Cimmerians. He tells you that the Cimmerians are utterly gone from history with almost no trace, then whines for a while about how no one studies them anymore.
- The professor leaps to life, however, when you describe the novel you've been reading. He tells you that it's called Leaning from the steep slope and it's by a Cimmerian poet named Ukko Ahti.
- This story hasn't been translated, so he picks it up in the original and starts translating it as he reads along.
- He starts telling a story whose characters have the same names as the book you began to read, but that's where the similarities end. It is clearly not the same story. Nonetheless, you listen as the man reads on…
- Anyone detecting a pattern yet?
Leaning from the steep slope
- A narrator introduces himself by insisting that he keeps seeing messages in the world around him.
- One day while walking to the shore, he glances up and sees a slender white hand waving through the grille of a prison window.
- He continues down toward a beach and sees a woman named Miss Zwida.
- It seems that he often tries to speak to her, but for various reasons, always chickens out at the last second. Passing by on his bicycle is a man named Mr. Kauderer, who works at the nearby observatory.
- Stopping for a chat, Mr. Kauderer offers to show the narrator how to use the observatory's instruments, and before the narrator even knows what's happening, he's taking care of the observatory while Mr. Kauderer is away for the next few days.
- Eventually, the narrator works up the courage to speak to Zwida. After a brief but stimulating conversation, he asks her to meet again.
- She says she can't the next day, but can do something the day after that. (Sweet!) Later that same day, two men approach the narrator in heavy coats and ask after Mr. Kauderer.
- The narrator admits that he doesn't know where Mr. Kauderer went.
- It is not long after that, passing by the prison, that he sees Zwida hanging around inside the walls for visiting day. Near her, he also spots the two men who questioned him about Mr. Kauderer. Something's clearly up, but he's not too sure yet.
- Two days later, he asks Zwida about being at the prison. She explains to him that she likes to go into the prison and draw the prisoner's visitors.
- The narrator accepts the explanation, though he doesn't recall seeing Zwida carrying any drawing supplies the day before.
- Zwida turns the subject back to drawing, and tells the narrator that she's interested in sketching a little anchor with four "flukes." She shyly asks him to buy her one, since she doesn't want to openly show interest in crude men's things. She specifies that she wants a rope of twelve meters attached to the anchor.
- The next day, the narrator's doctors tell him that he is well enough to drink again.
- He celebrates by going to the local tavern, where one of the prison guards brags about a pretty woman who always bribes him to let her visit one of the prisoners at odd hours.
- The next day, the narrator asks a man by the shore about buying a "grapnel" like the one Zwida wants.
- The other man becomes immediately suspicious, and tells the narrator he won't sell such a thing to foreigners, since it might be used as a grappling hook to break someone out of the prison.
- Later, the narrator receives a secret note from Mr. Kauderer, asking him to meet in a nearby graveyard.
- That night, Kauderer informs him that on the following day, he [the narrator] will be questioned by the chief of police about trying to buy the grapnel.
- Confused, the narrator returns to the observatory and stands outside during a storm. Sensing something moving nearby, he glances down and finds a bearded man curled up on the steps beneath him.
- The man claims he has escaped from the prison, and that he needs the narrator to meet someone at the local hotel for him. Again, very interesting stuff…
- And of course, the story breaks off. Bahhhhh!
- You have been completely absorbed in this plot, and only now do you glance to the side and find Ludmilla sitting beside you on a pile of books, also rapt at Professor Uzzi-Tuzii's reading.
- When the professor suddenly stops reading, he informs you that at this point in the story, the author apparently sank into a deep depression and committed suicide. Yikes.
- Then the professor gets all weird and disappears behind some shelves, yelling for you not to ask where the rest of the book is. He obscurely says that the story you've been listening to has descended into another language: the language of the dead, which you'll never be able to understand.
- You don't like this explanation, but before you can speak, Ludmilla challenges the professor about what readers can and can't understand. Hearing her speak, you realize that Ludmilla is a lot smarter than you.
- When Ludmilla has finished speaking, her sister Lotaria suddenly appears from behind a bookcase and says that the novel you've been looking for is the very same one she (Lotaria) plans to use for her "feminist revolution" (7.21).
- Her university study group is going to read and debate this same book in their next session, which you and Ludmilla are both invited to join.
- Lotaria also notes that the book you're actually looking for is not by a Cimmerian author, but one from the geographically similar nation of Cimbria.
- At this point, Professor Uzzi-Tuzii throws a bit of a fit, insisting that the Cimbrian claim to this story is just government propaganda intended to erase the accomplishments of the Cimmerians.
- A rival professor named Galligani enters the room and argues with Uzzi-Tuzii.
- At this point, you and Ludmilla have little to no clue about what all of these academics are talking about. They just seem to be fighting over trivial things, and you want to know how the rest of the book unfolds.
- You and Ludmilla follow Lotaria out of the office and sit at a table in another room, where Lotaria pulls a manuscript out of the book you want to keep reading. You quickly learn that the true name of the story you've started is not Leaning from the steep slope, but Without fear of wind or vertigo.
- You want the story to begin, but first, all of the university students have to decide which narrow angle they are going to use to analyze the book. Some want to give a psychoanalytic reading, some a Marxist one, some a feminist one, etc. For you and Ludmilla, it's all very boring and frustrating.
- Finally, when you can wait no longer, Lotaria starts to read and… that's right. This story has nothing to do with the one Uzzi-Tuzii was reading to you.
Without fear of wind or vertigo
- The story opens with people milling around a town and heavy military vehicles driving about. A band is playing music and some drunken people are leaving bars. All in all, the setting has the feel of an eastern European dictatorship.
- The narrator is walking down one of these streets with a man named Valerian and a woman named Irina. He mentions that Irina seems to hold a special power over both him and Valerian.
- There are strikes occurring in the city, and counterrevolutionary armies have begun surrounding it.
- Suddenly, the narrator jumps back in time and speaks about how he met Irina while trying to cross the "Iron Bridge" amidst a confused and dangerous mob. Irina almost fell in the crowd because she was suffering from vertigo, but the narrator saved her.
- Switching to present tense, the narrator introduces himself to her as Alex Zinnober, and the two have a conversation about how much the revolution has changed them and the people around them.
- He wishes to continue walking with her, but the two of them are separated by a crush of military vehicles. Those pesky dictatorships—always getting in the way of love.
- In an aside, Alex mentions that he doesn't belong to any particular part of the army, but is sort of a wandering soldier throughout the city.
- One day, he goes to visit his friend Valerian, who is cleaning his revolver at a military desk. After they have spoken for a moment, Irina appears from behind a screen. Plot twist!
- Irina grabs the revolver from Valerian's desk, assembles it, and points it into her eye, making a philosophical comment about wanting to die and joining the void of nothingness.
- Alex tells her not to mess around, so she aims the gun at him. In this moment of power, she claims that it would be good if women possessed all the weapons in society and men had to be women for a while. She orders Alex to go stand beside Valerian.
- At this moment, though, someone walks in with a bundle of files and conceals Irina behind the open door. The situation is immediately diffused, possibly because they're all nuts.
- The three of them eventually go to Irina's for sexual activities. Fairly steamy language ensues.
- During this scene, Alex informs you that he's actually been entrusted to identify a spy who has penetrated the ranks of the Revolutionary Committee and is about to hand the city over to the enemy.
- In the throes of passion, Irina grabs Valerian by the hair and forces him to perform oral sex on her. While this is happening, Alex crawls around the room and searches Valerian's pants, where he discovers his own death warrant, signed and stamped for the crime of treason.
- Oooh, interesting! But—
- The narrative breaks off again, and the university students in Lotaria's study group discuss the book in terms of general concepts and themes, rather than what they enjoyed about it. You and Ludmilla, however, think only about continuing the reading.
- You try to peek at the manuscript, but Lotaria informs you that the full story has been torn apart to share between different departments at the university.
- You take Ludmilla aside and look back on the books you've started so far: moving backwards, you know that Without fear of wind or vertigo is not the same story as Leaning from the steep slope, which is not Outside the town of Malbork, which is not If on a winter's night a traveler.
- This whole thing is getting a little too much like Inception, so you decide to go to the source of your frustration, the books' publisher, to demand full copies of the books you've begun to read.
- Ludmilla says this is a good idea, but refuses to accompany you to the publishing house. You're hurt that she doesn't want to do it together.
- When you press her for an explanation, she tells you that she doesn't want to go because she doesn't want to involve herself with people who produce books. She'd prefer not to know how books are made; she wants them to come to her as finished products intended only for reading and pleasure. She wants to preserve a certain amount of innocence in her reading. This is weird, but you shrug it off.
- At the publisher's house, you speak to a tiny man named Mr. Cavedagna, who seems to think you are an author who has returned to claim his manuscript. A large group of people want to speak to him, but as soon as he discovers you're not a writer, he welcomes you with enthusiasm.
- When you question him about the books you've been reading, he pulls out a bunch of pages and explains that the whole publishing house is in disorder.
- The trouble all started with a man named Ermes Marana, who approached the publisher and claimed to be a great translator. Yet it turns out that Marana was a fraud who didn't actually translate the proper books, but simply borrowed entire books from various languages and passed them off as full translations of other books.
- You have trouble following what Mr. Cavedagna is saying, but he sums everything up by claiming that Marana's fraud created a web of deceit that spread exponentially in all directions, in which the publisher was left with dozens of stories, but did not know who their proper authors or what their proper titles were.
- You are not interested in authors or titles, but only the stories you've started to read. You try to describe the various stories you've started to Cavedagna, but he doesn't listen. He goes on to say that the book Marana actually stole from was called Looks down in the gathering shadow by a Belgian author named Bertrand Vandervelde.
- You glance at the story he hands you, and realize that it's got nothing to do with the four novels you've already started reading.
- Cavedagna leaves this newest manuscript with you and tells you not to take it out of the publishing house, since it might be used as evidence in a plagiarism case.
- You want to tell him it doesn't matter, since you've never seen this book before. But before you say anything, the words on the page catch your eye, and you can't help but start reading.
Looks down in the gathering shadow
- The book opens with a man trying to stuff the corpse of someone named Jojo into a plastic sack.
- A girl named Bernadette explains to him that he needs a second sack for the head.
- You learn that the two of them have been carting this body around for some time now, dressing it up and sitting it upright in the back seat of their car to make Jojo appear alive. (Weekend at Bernie's, anyone?)
- They drive around looking for a place to burn the body. But when the car runs out of gas, they need to fuel their car with the gasoline they'd intended for burning Jojo.
- As they regroup, the narrator mentions that he's always been known as Ruedi the Swiss. Everywhere he goes, it seems, there's someone who knows him and what he's done in his past.
- We learn that Bernadette was originally on Jojo's side, trailing Ruedi and trying to kill him. But she eventually switched sides and helped Ruedi kill Jojo by distracting Jojo with sex.
- Ruedi mentions that prior to the murder, he'd had a long history of conflict with Jojo. Jojo had always been able to find ways to cheat him out of money and ruin him. The more Ruedi tried to get back at Jojo, the more he seemed to ruin himself.
- As they are about to start back toward town, Bernadette flings her leg over the gearshift and tells Ruedi that he interrupted her with Jojo when she was on the verge of climax. (Sound familiar?) She finishes her orgasm with him while Jojo is nearly falling on top of them from the back seat, his eyes wide open.
- Eventually, they decide to throw Jojo off a roof to make his death look like a suicide. After chucking him off a tall building, they head back to the elevators.
- Before they reach the elevators, three men step out in front of them. Ruedi is certain that they bear a family resemblance to Bernadette.
- The men ask what's in the bag, and Ruedi hands it to them, confident that it's empty. One of them, however, pulls out one of Jojo's shoes.
- And once again, the narrative cuts off at the most interesting part.
- You look up from the photocopies you were just reading on Cavedagna's desk. You are suddenly overcome by the same fear that kept Ludmilla away.
- Looking around the room, you see books as a bunch of spare parts that can be put together in different ways. You can no longer entertain the fantasy that a book is a single finished object with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
- Mr. Cavedagna returns, claiming that all of the manuscripts associated with Ermes Marana have disappeared. All he has left of the man are the strange letters Marana has sent the publishing house. You demand to see these letters immediately, needing to know more about this man who has ruined so many reading experiences for you.
- You discover that the letters have been mailed from all over the world. Some letters even refer to incidents in other letters that were written after them, which seems impossible.
- Marana appears to be working for a Cimmerian publishing company in South America. In one of his last letters, he tells Cavedagna that he holds the rights to publish a novel called In a network of lines that enlace by a bestselling Irish crime writer named Silas Flannery.
- In another letter, Marana explains that this book has not been entirely written by Flannery. Rather, he collected the unfinished manuscript from Flannery, assuring the man that a computer could complete the work in the same way he would have. But when Marana took the unfinished work onto a plane, he was accosted by a group of young commandos with machine guns.
- It seems that Marana has some sort of bond with these commandos. His plane was offered a place to land by a slightly humane dictator, and next thing Marana knew, he was living under some lean-to in the middle of the desert.
- It turns out the commandos were from the Organization of Apocryphal Power, which Marana actually founded. The commandos wanted to kill him, but President Butamatari, the dictator of an African nation, took Marana under his protection.
- Butamatari eventually gained possession of the Flannery manuscript and vowed to return it to Silas Flannery if the author would write a "dynastic" novel celebrating Butamatari's efforts to annex the territories surrounding his country.
- From further letters, you discover that Flannery has had some sort of spiritual crisis that keeps him from writing anything. He can only write the beginnings to novels before he becomes paralyzed. Geez, kind of like us normal folk, right?
- You go on to read about several women implicated in Marana's adventures. The more you read, the more convinced you become that all of these apparently different women sound like Ludmilla to you. But maybe you're just totally love-crazy.
- It turns out that the group Marana founded, The Organization of Apocryphal Power, has split into two sects: one a group of "enlightened followers" called "The Archangel of Light" and the other a group of nihilist followers called the "Archon of Shadow."
- The first group believes that they can track down from among the books of the world some that contain truth of a potentially extraterrestrial nature. The others believe that only counterfeit, intentional falsehood, and mystification can represent absolute value in a book.
- The "Shadow" group thinks that Silas Flannery has produced the ultimate tome of knowledge as falsity, a nihilist bible of sorts. The other group thinks that Flannery, someone who produces highly marketable novels, has had an epiphany and has decided to write a positive truth.
- After hearing all this, you want to read both Looks down in the gathering shadow and In a network of lines that enlace. But first you need to go find Ludmilla to assure yourself that she's not the woman being spoken about in Marana's letters.
- You go to a café where the two of you have arranged to meet, and as you wait, you begin to read the manuscript Marana sent along to Cavedagna.
- Who would have thought? It turns out to be pretty interesting.
In a network of lines that enlace
- The story begins with a man explaining how he hates to answer telephones.
- He seems to have a pretty crazy feeling that whenever a telephone rings somewhere in the world, it's probably for him. Yikes.
- Every morning, he goes for a run to help keep off his excess weight. He loves to run because he feels he gets to be on his own and not accountable to others.
- His run is ruined, though, when he starts to hear telephones going off in the houses that he passes. He wonders why no one answers them and eventually gets so uncomfortable that he circles one of the houses to investigate.
- When he hears a dog barking, he gets scared and continues his run.
- He is a professor at the nearby university, and soon enough, he decides to get back to campus so he won't keep his students waiting.
- On his way back, he passes the same house and hears that its telephone is still ringing.
- Unable to bear it anymore, he goes inside the house and picks up the phone.
- Without warning, a voice on the other end gives him a strange message about someone named Marjorie who is about to be blown up by a bomb.
- The mystery voice gives an address and tells the narrator to come get this woman before she dies.
- The narrator tries to explain that he's not the owner of the house, but the other has already hung up.
- Flustered, the professor decides to continue back to campus without helping this Marjorie woman, figuring that he'd get caught up in a scandal if he ran to save a woman he didn't even know.
- He recalls that there is a girl named Marjorie who attends one of his classes, and whom he has taken a shine to.
- He thinks this young woman might already know that he likes her. After all, he has always stammered around her, and she has always looked at him with an ironic smile, as have her friends in his class.
- He wonders if she is the same Marjorie who's about to be blown up, then wonders if the call really was for him. Perhaps somebody has been following his every move…
- He runs all the way to campus without going home to pick up his books.
- He stops one girl and asks her if Marjorie has come to class, but the girl tells him that Marjorie hasn't shown up for two days. Uh oh.
- The professor runs to the address that the man on the phone gave him and inside finds Marjorie tied up on a couch and gagged. He ungags her and she calls him a "bastard," which suggests that he's somehow implicated in what's going on. And of course…
- The story breaks off!
- You try to continue reading, but a waiter comes around asking for you, saying that you're wanted on the telephone. It's Ludmilla, and she says she can't make your meeting. You want to tell her about this new book you've begun, but she doesn't have time to hear you.
- She tells you to meet her at her apartment.
- When you arrive at the apartment, the story suddenly addresses you as though you were Ludmilla, and goes through the apartment as though it were "yours" and it could say something about you as a person. The Reader you've been identified with throughout the book is now "him."
- As if things weren't confusing enough already.
- After a lengthy probing of "you" as Ludmilla, the perspective shifts back to you, the male Reader.
- By looking at her books, you realize that Ludmilla tends to read several stories at once to help lessen the disappointment that any one book might give her. Does she do this with her love life too, you wonder? The thought of it makes you terribly jealous.
- Someone comes to the door, but it's not Ludmilla. It's Irnerio, that strange young man from the university hallway who taught himself how not to read.
- Seeing him enter Ludmilla's apartment so casually, you don't know what attitude to take toward him. Frosty seems to be what works best for you, though.
- Irnerio seems to have expected to meet you. He says he is looking for a book, even though he doesn't read. Rather, he likes to make things out of books, like sculptures. Hey, what did you expect by this point? A character with a normal hobby?
- Moving about the apartment, Irnerio picks up the copy of In a network of lines that enlace, and you tell him not to take that book.
- You try to offer another from the shelves, but are shocked to discover that the one you've chosen is another copy of the same book! So Ludmilla had one all along! The coincidences are just piling up.
- Irnerio says he wants nothing to do with this book you're holding, so he throws it into a little room. He tells you that this book is not Ludmilla's, but you don't understand him.
- You peek into the little room beside him and find a typewriter and scattered pages. You pick up a page and find "Translation by Ermes Marana" written on it.
- Plot twist!
- You always felt there was a trace of Ludmilla in Marana's letters. Now you need to know what the connection between them is, jealous guy that you are.
- Irnerio says that Marana has been to the apartment before, but that he may or may not come around anymore. He might come just to leave counterfeit books lying around, filling everything he touches with falseness.
- Irnerio further tells you that Marana has been abusive to Ludmilla in the past. Whenever Marana shows up, he drives Ludmilla to run away and visit Silas Flannery in Switzerland.
- You resolve to follow Ludmilla to Switzerland, but at this moment she walks into the apartment.
- All of the sudden you're having tea with her, and Irnerio has disappeared. You show your jealousy by asking her if men are always coming and going from her apartment like this. She tells you not to bother getting jealous, and you move to join her on the couch.
- The narrative flashes to a scene of you and Ludmilla in bed together, sexually exploring each other's bodies. Yeah, just in case you thought the book was saving this part for a moment that wasn't completely random…
- Already, you entertain thoughts of living together with Ludmilla. You imagine the typical domestic stuff, lying next to each other in bed and reading, shutting off each of your lamps and finding each other in the dark.
- You start to tell her about the new book you've begun reading (the one about telephones ringing), and she says not to tell her anything more about it because she wants to read it herself.
- You go to the next room to get it for her, but it turns out that Irnerio has already taken your copy. No matter. You go into the little cupboard and grab the other copy, finding that Silas Flannery has personally addressed it to Ludmilla. Just more gasoline on the flames of your jealousy.
- Ludmilla tells you that the book you're holding probably isn't even real, but one that Marana has switched with a counterfeit. It turns out that Marana has always been jealous of Ludmilla's reading, and of the pleasure that books can give her.
- You realize that this new book is indeed different, and that either it, or the one you used to have must be a fake. You decide to go to the author himself to find out.
- Looking more closely, you realize that this new book has a slightly different title than the old one. It's not called In a network of lines that enlace, but In a network of lines that intersect.
- And so you read…
In a network of lines that intersect
- The speaker introduces himself as a collector of optical instruments, especially kaleidoscopes.
- He specializes even more in "catoptric" instruments, which use a lot of little mirrors to multiply a single tree into a forest, a soldier into an army, etc.
- This man has been very successful in business by acting on the principles of mirrors reflecting off one another. How exactly, it's hard to tell.
- He begins to suspect that he might be kidnapped, so he multiplies everything in his life, including his exits from his house, his returns, even his own person. For example, he creates five Mercedes cars exactly like his own and has them leave his house at different times.
- He has various body doubles posing as him and moving about the city at all times.
- When he feels that these tactics won't be enough to keep him safe, he hires fake bandits to kidnap him, followed by the issuing of a fake ransom. Okay then.
- He claims that he has made much of his money by starting a company that insures people against kidnapping. The problem, though, is that his associates are tight with the kidnapping underworld, and he knows they were hatching a plan to kidnap him and demand as ransom all the capital of his insurance business.
- He is even aware of the exact plot against him, in which three Yamaha motorcycles are supposed to get between him and his bodyguards, so he arranges to have three Suzuki motorcycles fake-kidnap him 500 meters before the other kidnapping is supposed to go down.
- Just when it looks as though his plan will work, though, three Kawasakis come at him even earlier, and he realizes that his counterplan has been foiled by a counter-counterplan!
Why do you make our heads hurt so much, Calvino?!
- These third-party kidnappers take him to his own house and lock him inside a hall of mirrors.
- He finds his mistress Lorna tied up on the floor.
- Elfrida, his wife, enters the room with a gun, saying she staged the kidnapping for his own protection.
- Everything runs together in the hall of mirrors, and the narrator becomes disoriented, sensing that he might be physically absorbing everything in his surroundings.
- And the story breaks off.
- Now you find yourself reading directly from the diary of Silas Flannery.
- Flannery opens by speaking about peering through his spyglass and watching a woman who is reading a book on a terrace below his cottage lookout. A little creepy there, Flannery?
- Like Mr. Cavedagna, Flannery suffers from an inability to read simply for pleasure. He can't read at all without thinking about his own job as a writer. He has a strong sense of envy toward the woman in the deck chair. He becomes gripped by a desire to watch the woman react to her book, and to try to write the exact sentence she must be reading.
- He becomes convinced that the book the woman is reading is his true book, the one he should have written at some point in his life.
- He then speaks of the difficulty of writing, and entertains the fantasy of being a passive conduit through whom someone else's thinking can flow.
- He wants to write the "unwritten world" and explore the void of silence that he thinks lurks behind all writing. Whatever that means.
- He entertains the idea of writing a novel about two writers who watch each other through spyglasses. One is a productive writer, the other a tormented one. Each envies the other. Then they both aim their spyglasses at a woman who's reading.
- He offers a series of other possible endings, all of which are pretty interesting.
- He wonders if writing can be an impersonal thing. To say "it writes" the same way you say "it rains." He then writes, "The romantic fascination produced in the pure state by the first sentences of the first chapter of many novels is soon lost in the continuation of the story" (15.39). Sound familiar? Kind of like the book you're reading, right?
- He recounts that a translator (Marana) has been in touch with him about counterfeits of his books being translated in other languages.
- Marana gave him one in Japanese, and said it was one Flannery himself had never written. Rather, a firm in Osaka has figured out the formula for Flannery's novels and is able to churn out new ones that are really good, flooding the market with them.
- Flannery says he'll sue, even though he's not sure how he feels about all of this.
- Marana is interested in Flannery because he thinks Flannery can be a perfect faker. After all, Marana believes that truth arises only by making people confused. This story is followed by more meditations on writing and a story about the writing of the Koran.
- On one of his walks, Flannery comes across a group of kids who look like boy scouts, and who are laying out fabrics to make signals for flying saucers. They've heard that a writer living nearby has been chosen by the aliens as an unknowing conduit for their extraterrestrial messages.
- Next, Flannery mentions that Lotaria (Ludmilla's sister) has visited him because she is writing a thesis on his novels. She is not an innocent reader, but someone with an agenda. He asks her to read more passively and to simply enjoy herself, but she rejects this quite angrily.
- It appears that Ludmilla has come to see him as well, despite her rule of not wanting to meet authors in person.
- He makes a pass at her and chases her around his desk like a wolf from an old 1940s cartoon, but eventually relents when she tells him she only wants to know him as an author and not as a man. She warns him about the worldwide plot to inject falseness into manuscripts.
- He asks her about Marana and about whether he's in Japan. Ludmilla, however, claims that Marana has moved to the Andes Mountains in South America. Think of the Air Miles he must have saved up.
- Flannery then recounts being visited by you, the Reader, in regards to the two novels, In a network of lines that enlace and In a network of lines that intersect.
- You have told him that you want to finish the stories you were reading. Flannery tells you that the original you're looking for is a Japanese novel entitled On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon by Takakumi Ikoka, and provides you an English translation.
- The scene ends, and Flannery entertains the idea of writing a novel that is only the beginnings of novels, basically laying out the plot for Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler.
- Did you know that a story commenting on itself is often called a "metanarrative?" And so we declare: that's so meta.
On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon
- The narrator of this new book introduces himself as a young man living with a family named the Okedas, presumably in Japan.
- He's also begun to notice the youngest Okeda daughter, Makiko. Because you know, what's a story without a guy going after a girl?
- According to Calvino, it seems, not all that much. In addition, the narrator remarks on the icy relationship between Makiko's mother, Madame Miyagi, and the patriarch of the family, Mr. Okeda.
- A scene unfolds in which the narrator reaches for a flower in a pond while walking with the Okedas.
- Both Makiko and her mother bend down beside him to reach out and graze him with their breasts, sending him into sensual frenzy.
- The moment ends as quickly as it began.The narrator is a student of Mr. Okeda, but he knows he needs to start working with other teachers if he wants to assure his prospects for the future.
- He meets Makiko one day and arranges to meet her under the moon, but his obvious arousal frightens her and she runs into the house.
- While running after her, the narrator bumps into Madame Miyagi, who is on her knees tending to plants.
- She takes hold of his erection. Yowza.Makiko comes back looking for him, changed into a dress that suggests her sexual interest.
- But the mother grabs the narrator and pulls him into a sexual position, locking her legs around him.
- The narrator sees Mr. Okeda standing behind Makiko, and screams out Makiko's name…
- You're back to being the Reader, sitting on a plane that's landing in South America.
- You are still reading On a carpet of leaves when you go inside the airport, but a cop takes the book from you and you look up to find yourself surrounded. It turns out your novel is a banned book in Ataguitania, the country you are now in.
- A woman who calls herself Corinna tells you to follow her into a car. She eventually draws out another book and gives it to you, although it's not the one you've been reading. This one is called Around an empty grave by Calixto Bandera.
- Just as you are about to take a look at it, some goons stop your car and grab you, calling themselves police. Corinna, however, assures you that they're actually fake police, and she greets them as a friend, calling herself Gertrude.
- The exact same scene happens once more, with more people calling themselves police. Corinna-Gertrude refers to herself as Ingrid with this second group.
- You are becoming very, very confused. This second group seems to be taking you hostage, although Corinna-Gertrude-Ingrid tells you this isn't the case. She explains the she holds an important position among the country's revolutionaries, who protect themselves by employing false revolutionaries, real and fake cops, and real and fake prisons.
- Basically, it's impossible to know if anything in the world is real anymore, never mind the books you're trying to read.
- The more you look at Corinna-Gertrude-Ingrid, the more convinced you become that she is Ludmilla's sister Lotaria in disguise.
- She takes you into a room housing a giant machine that can read and analyze books.
- You become fed up with all the real and fake stuff, and accuse this woman of being Lotaria. She offers to let you tear off her disguise, and you do so, layer after layer, until she's naked.
- At this point, she throws herself on you and tears off your clothes, too.
- Did we mention that the sex gets pretty out of control toward the end of this book? Well the narrator of the novel seems to anticipate this, since he steps in at this moment and asks what is wrong with you, dear Reader. Why can't you be satisfied with just having sex with one woman in this book. Why so much sex?
- Suddenly, someone pokes his head in the door and snaps a photo of you having sex, probably for the purpose of blackmailing Corinna-Gertrude-Ingrid.
- Once the two of you have gotten up from the floor and dusted yourselves off, the computer spits out a copy of a book called Around an empty grave.
- And so you begin to read.
Around an empty grave
- The narrator is a young man named Nacho, whose father tells him to go to a place called Oquedal when he (the father) dies, saying that this is where the young man's long lost mother lives.
- Nacho demands to know his mother's name, but his father never comes to it in the conversation, and dies without saying.
- Frustrated, Nacho sets off for Oquedal. During his journey, he sees another young man riding in the same direction and asks him the way. The young man, however, remains silent.
- Insulted, Nacho rides past the guy. When he's farther along the road, he glances over his shoulder and sees that the young man has taken out his rifle and is aiming it at him.
- When Nacho goes for his own gun, though, the other guy backs down. They each decide to ride on opposite banks of the river, keeping a close eye on each other.
- When he reaches Oquedal, Nacho tells an old man his name, and the man directs him toward the palace of a family named Alvarado.
- Arriving there, he meets a woman servant named Anacleta Higueras who makes him a dish of spiced meatballs. She calls him "son," but he can't be sure if it's just an expression. Anacleta admits that she knew his father, but wishes she hadn't. She says that Nacho's father brought bad tidings to Oquedal.
- The woman has a daughter named Amaranta, and Nacho begins to watch her for family resemblances. When he thinks he sees some, Anacleta tells him that this is because everyone who comes from Oquedal looks the same.
- Later on, Nacho tries to compare his face to Amaranta's by pressing it against hers. And of course, he starts to get pretty amorous and shoves her back against a pile of sacks, kissing her.
- But Anacleta shows up, whomps him on the head, and accuses him of being just like his father.
- Nacho demands to know why he can't be with Amaranta, unless she's his sister?
- But Anacleta denies the blood relationship, merely repeating that he should get away from her daughter. She tells him that if he wants to know the truth, he should go to the owner of the palace, Dona Jazmina.
- Nacho says that if his name is the same as the master of the house, he can do whatever he wants with Amaranta, who is a servant in the household. Anacleta shoos him off, and he leaves.
- In the following scene, Nacho meets with Dona Jazmina and her daughter Jacinta, of the Alvarado family. Dona Jazmina tells Nacho that his father used to go hunting for women down in the servants' quarters at night. She also tells him that an old relative of the family, Faustino Higueras, was caught up in some conflict regarding the servants and ended up losing his life for it.
- Of course, Nacho goes to bed with Jacinta, even though he's unsure of whether she's actually consenting to what's happening. But Dona Jazmina shows up before anything can happen and shouts at him. She tells him that the servant Anacleta is his mother, even if she'll never admit to it.
- Nacho also learns that his father had a duel with Faustino Higueras, and that this is how Faustino lost his life. As the story goes, the two men agreed to duel, then dug a grave together. The winner would bury the loser. At that time, Nacho's father also went by the name Nacho, and he killed Faustino.
- When the servants came back later to check the grave, though, they found that it was empty.
- Legends began to spread about Faustino riding around the area on his horse. Nacho becomes convinced that Faustino is in fact the young man he met on his way to Oquedal, but he is too overwhelmed to speak.
- Before he knows it, he looks down and realizes that he is standing over an open grave. The servants have gathered around him with their torches.
- Out of the crowd appears the same young man he met on his way to Oquedal. The young man brandishes a knife and challenges Nacho for making a move on his sister. It's allegedly the exact same pose that Faustino assumed when he fought Nacho's dad.
- Nacho takes his stance and prepares to fight…
- Do we even need to say it anymore?
- You are taking tea with a high official named Arkadian Porphyrich of Ircania, Director General of Police State Archives. Apparently, you've been sent to meet him by the High Command of Ataguitania. What in the world have you gotten yourself into?
- Apparently, Ircania and Ataguitania are actually exchanging banned books because their repressive state governments need something to repress.
- You mention the whole Apocryphal Power conspiracy to Porphyrich. He knows about it, and says that he was once able to capture the leader of this movement (Ermes Marana). In describing Marana, Porphyrich suggests that all of this man's actions have been motivated by his desire to win back a woman, or perhaps to win a bet with her.
- Porphyrich describes to you how Ludmilla has always wished to hear a voice that exists beyond the words that she finds in books.
- Marana, though, always believed that there was only a void, an absence behind the meaning of words.
- It turns out that the woman (Ludmilla) eventually won their bet, for she could always find something that wasn't completely false in the books she read. Marana eventually accepted his limitations and admitted that when he read, there was something happening that was not in his power to control. This same something, Porphyrich admits, that no police force can ever stop.
- When Marana knew that he was finished, the police allowed him to escape their country.
- You're happy to hear that Marana is shrinking out of Ludmilla's life. But your satisfaction won't be complete until the spell of your unfinished readings is broken.
- You question Porphyrich about whether he has a copy of Around an empty grave. He gets up and says he doesn't seem to have a copy of it. He does say, however, that a celebrated Ircanian author named Anatoly Anatolin has written a book just like Bandera's, which is set in Ircania. It's called What story down there awaits its end?
- Porphyrich plans to intercept this prized book and promises to give you a copy when he does. You, however, have had just about enough of trusting all the crazy people you keep meeting, so you hatch a plan to intercept the book even before Porphyrich and his goons can.
- That night, you dream that you're in a train. People are reading books and you're convinced that several of the books are the ones you've started to read.
- One person leaves a book to save his seat, and you rush over to snag it, certain that it's one of the ones that you're looking for. You glance up and realize that everyone is looking at you with disapproval.
- You stand up and lean out the window, still holding the book. The train has stopped in the middle of a fog patch. Another train has stopped on the opposite track, heading in the opposite direction.
- Through the window of this other train, you see Ludmilla and call to her. You try to hand her the book you have, saying it's the one she's been looking for. But she denies you, and says that the book she's looking for contains the end of the whole world.
- You say this can't be true and look for some argument to contradict her. But the two trains move off before you can think of something.
- Now you're awake, waiting on a park bench for the author of What story down there awaits its end? to show up. A man with a long blond beard sits next to you, and says these gardens are always under surveillance. He secretly passes you some bundled pages into your pocket.
- He has to hand you pages from different pockets to avoid suspicion. He only manages to hand you some, however; the wind blows many of the others away, and the man is promptly taken away by police.
- You are concerned for his wellbeing, but are more interested in in the pages he's handed you…
What story down there awaits its end?
A nameless, seemingly omnipotent person is strolling along a stretch of space he calls "The Prospect," choosing to erase anything around him (including people) that doesn't suit his mood.
- He wants to meet a woman named Franziska, but wants it to seem spontaneous.
- So he begins to erase all of the women who can't be her, hoping that this will increase his chances of bumping into her. He gets caught up in his erasing, and decides to get rid of all office workers, bureaucrats, and official figures of authority.
- Then he starts abolishing non-human things, like fire, garbage, and mail. Then doctors, professors, and universities…
- Eventually, he eliminates all of nature entirely, and is left walking along the surface of an empty world. (It's kind of like those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where the artist steps in and takes out everything until Bugs Bunny is just left against a white background.)
- The narrator bends down and grabs a piece of blowing paper, which seems to be a page from the Calixto Bandera book, Around an empty grave.
- When he looks back up, he sees Franziska and waves to her.
- She doesn't seem to hear him, though.
- He runs for her and finds that she's surrounded by men in coats.
- He tries to erase them, but finds that he can't.
- Now he tries to bring the world back into existence, but realizes that he can't do that either. A giant crack opens up in the ground between him and Franziska.
- Beyond the crack, Franziska smiles at him and says she knows a café nearby, asking him if he'll meet her there.
- The void around them continues to open.
- Exhausted from all your travels, you are elated to visit a single library (in the same city where you started!) whose catalogue claims to hold all of the books you've been searching for.
- Did you really think you were going to get those books, though? We didn't think so. It turns out that for one reason or another, the library is unable to locate any of the books that you request through its catalogue.
- As you wallow in despair, you feel someone's eyes on you and turn around to see a number of readers sitting at the library tables. Two of them start waxing philosophical with each other on the nature of reading. This is the last thing you want to hear right now.
- Then a third person chimes in, then a fourth, and it keeps going until eight of them have spoken.
- You say to these people that you don't like all their weird theories about how books go off in different directions and never have clear endings.
- You tell them that you like your stories to be normal, with a clear and understandable beginning, middle, and end. This is all you want, but it keeps going wrong for you.
- One of them describes a story to you, and you write another title at the bottom of your list: He asks, anxious to hear the story.
- One of the eight readers takes your list from you and reads out the titles aloud. It turns out that when you read them all in order, they form a beautiful sentence which would make a really interesting beginning to a novel:
- "If on a winter's night a traveler, outside the town of Malbork, leaning from the steep slope without fear of wind or vertigo, looks down in the gathering shadow in a network of lines that enlace, in a network of lines that intersect, on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon around an empty grave— What story down there awaits its end? he asks, anxious to hear the story" (21.20)
- Despite your limp protests, the reader swears he's read a novel that begins like this.
- The reader then tells you that not all stories need to have a clear ending. In ancient times, he says, there were only two types of endings: marriage and death. The first is about the continuation of life; the second is about the inevitability of death.
- After briefly reflecting on these words, you just up and decide that you want to marry Ludmilla.
- Now you and Ludmilla are man and wife. Just like that! The scene resembles your fantasy from earlier in the book, where you are reading alongside one another in bed.
- She stops reading, turns off her light, and asks you to turn yours off, too.
- You tell her to hold on for one more second, because you're just about to finish If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino.
- Holy crap. That's so meta.
- Okay, you now have permission to wipe your sweaty brow, have a snack, and take a long shower.