Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 1

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 1


  • 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.