Disobeying the Author’s Wishes

Melissa Clark

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler” (Calvino, 3).

As I climbed up onto the stool in my kitchen after an exhausting first day of classes, my brain, still on summer vacation, attempted to sort through the words I read off of the photocopied pages of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. It didn’t take long for me to take note of the distinct and unique tone of the text, and my sleepy mind became more attentive to the string of sentences I was beginning to navigate my way through.


“Find the most comfortable position: seated,  stretched out, curled up, or lying flat” (Calvino, 3).

There was something different about this reading; it was intimate. It was unlike most readings, where I stay comfortably distant from the characters and the plot. Here, I was the character. It was me whom Calvino was referring to. Although my motivation was not strong, I pushed myself to keep reading. It was proving to be slightly intriguing, and it was only the first day of school so I had no excuse to abandon the short, four-page handout.

Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade” (Calvino, 3).

As I began the second paragraph I became increasingly more anxious and slightly annoyed by the tone of Calvino’s words. Demanding. Urgent. Fragmented. The last thing I needed was for an author to make me even more painfully aware of my inability to focus and invest my time into a piece of literature. Before I reached the end of the first page, my stubborn mind had been made up. Calvino was depicting an unattainable ideal for me. I couldn’t relax now that he had insisted on it. I couldn’t concentrate on the words on the page, but instead my focus shifted to questioning the intentions of this author and why he needed me to give all of my attention to this reading. What was so special about it?

“Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you” (Calvino, 4).

Not too long ago, reading was an enjoyment. A leisure activity acting as a mental stress reliever. Immersing myself into the weathered pages of an old paperback novel served as a relaxing experience, where nothing could drag me away from a captivating story line. Now, as I enter my third year of university, I am overwhelmed by a collection of dense, expensive, and commercially manufactured text books. The enjoyment of reading has dissipated, and I spend numerous hours skimming (perhaps half-assed) through the pages of assigned readings, in hopes of magically acquiring the concepts necessary to participate in lectures and generate “scholarly” discussions. I like to believe that learning through osmosis is possible, and perhaps by simply making the effort to open the book some kind of knowledge is being transferred from the horrid, chemical scented pages. I genuinely know that if I devoted half the time, surrounded by fewer disruptions, I would be able complete the simple task of reading quite successfully.

deck chair

“In an easy chair, on the sofa, in the rocker, the deck chair, on the hassock” (Calvino, 3).

I had to drag my mind back to the text, bringing my focus back to the piece of paper that lay in front of me.

Calvino was demanding my attention, and even worse, assuming that if I gave him my attention, I would somehow become attached to my uncomfortable kitchen stool, and unable to tear my eyes from the page. How could he just assume something like that? Maybe I wouldn’t even enjoy his novel. Once again, my stubbornness kicked in.

“Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading” (Calvino, 4).

I decided to forge on, and I felt as though I was trying to prove something to myself. I wouldn’t allow my eyes drift from the page and give up. I would finish this reading. As I made my way through Calvino’s text, my inner millennial nudged my interpretation towards technology. How could I possibly foresee everything that might interrupt my reading? How could I predict the dozens of external sources demanding my attention, tempting my eyes to fall off the page? Calvino surely couldn’t have predicted the extent of technology in the twenty-first century. He wrote the text specifically to be a physical object, in the hands of the reader. How could Calvino have anticipated the distractions his readers would face? He wouldn’t be able to understand just how difficult it is to “let the world around us fade” (Calvino, 3).


“You can even stand on your hands, head down, in the yoga position. With the book upside down, naturally” (Calvino, 3).

Was I even capable of letting the world around me fade? Perhaps I could shut down  everything that could distract me. Close  my laptop playing music in the background, shut off my cell phone completely so that not even the distant hum of a vibration could take my focus away from the reading. I’d have to ask my roommates to turn off the television and go to their rooms or be completely silent so they wouldn’t disturb me. Of course I’d need to put my rambunctious puppy George outside, because I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything if he was around demanding my attention. If I did all of this successfully, I think would be ready. Ready to relax. Ready to concentrate. Ready to dispel every other thought, letting the world around me fade.

“So here you are now, ready to attack the first lines of the first page” (Calvino, 9).

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