Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 3

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 3


  • 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…