The Art and Joy of Reading
All about books, including a #bookgiveaway
One of my favorite authors is also one of Italy’s most beloved, Italo Calvino (1923-1985). His books are a true joy to read, whether one of his many essay collections, his collection of Italian Folktales, or one of his beautifully strange novels such as my all-time favorite, Invisible Cities, or The Complete Cosmicomics.
Perhaps his most well-known novel is the avant-garde If, On a Winter’s Night, a Traveler, a story told in ten entwining narratives by two frustrated readers. Calvino says a lot about books and reading in this erudite and clever novel, including this gem
“Reading,” he says, “is always this: there is a thing that is there, a thing made of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be changed, and through this thing we measure ourselves against something else that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible world, because it can only be thought, imagined, or because it was once and is no longer, past, lost, unattainable, in the land of the dead...”
“Or that is not present because it does not yet exist, something desired, feared, possible or impossible,” Ludmilla says. “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be....”
I find this description equally apt for writing as well, and quite apropos after a conversation I had with a fellow writer this weekend. We were talking about why we write, and of course, the conversation was very nuanced, for there are so many reasons why a writer writes. Calvino’s character, Ludmilla, gets very close to the core of it in the paragraph above: “going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be…”
This is true of writers. Even if they think they know where a story is going, I would dare say that they don’t, not until the ink has dried on the page, be that metaphorically digital or real pen and paper ink. Stories have a life of their own, and part of the reason we write is to discover where the story is taking us. We’re adventurers of a sort, just like a reader is. Or perhaps it might be better to say we’re the leader of a band of adventurers, the one with the machete cutting the path for the rest to follow.
Calvino is an author with whom I love to adventure. His somewhat surreal, avant-garde style may be offputting to some, but I find his prose to be poetic and sparkling. I want to drink up every word he writes. If you want to try your reading glasses out on a Calvino book, I highly recommend Invisible Cities, a story about Marco Polo visiting an aging and infirm Kublai Kahn. Polo tells Kahn stories of all the cities he has ever traveled to, and it’s not long before both the reader and Kahn realize that none of these cities can possibly be real, but neither care because every city is a wonder, a magical, impossible gem. And every city, wild and weird in the description, is really just another tale of Venice, the home Polo loved.
I love that Calvino wrote a book about readers and about books. And I bet if you are an author or an avid reader, you also love books about books. Or about libraries, or bookstores, or books about writers, or readers. I find it to be a fascinating subgenre of many genres, be it fantasy, literary, horror, historical, or somewhere in between. That’s the beauty of writing a story about books—they can be anything. They are a key, a door, a window, a portal, a symbol, a firestarter, and so much more.
If you want to find more books about books, you are in luck. Goodreads has a huge list. And here’s a great curated list of 100 books about books.
What’s your favorite book about books? Drop me a link in the comments so I can gush about our shared love for the book, or I can make my already long TBR list that much longer!
Did I Say Book Giveaway?
The world of book publishing is a—well, let me find the “best” word—a complicated one. But it’s a better world when authors stick together and help each other out. Two women who have both been very helpful to me on my publishing path are Kris Waldherr and Henriette Lazaridis. And guess what? They both have AMAZING books out in the world right now. It’s not just me saying that, either. Reader’s Digest, Crime Reads, Historical Novel Society, Boston Globe, New York Times. Lots of other people are throwing out kudos for these novels.
Unnatural Creatures is the story of the three women closest to Victor Frankenstein. I can't begin to tell you how much I loved this novel. Frankenstein is iconic, and it's hard to improve upon Mary Shelley's masterpiece, but Kris Waldherr does so with aplomb. This is gothic storytelling at its finest--haunting, creepy, darkly romantic, atmospheric, and, best of all, lingering.
Terra Nova is a vivid account of seemingly disparate worlds—Antarctic exploration and the British feminist movement—artfully entwined in a page-turning tale of love, art, and adventure. An absolutely stunning read that will sit with you long after you turn the last page. And guess what? The mountain scene in Frankenstein was one of Henriette’s early inspirations for her book!
Do you want to win one of these books? Simply respond to this post via email or in the comments and tell me something about Frankenstein, whether it was your earliest memory of reading Shelley’s novel, a Halloween costume, watching Kenneth Branagh’s movie in the theater, or simply hating the book in high school (please please don’t say it’s so!). Tell me what Frankenstein means to you. Your name will be thrown into the hat for a shot at a paperback copy.
A couple of things: you must be 18+ and a United States resident (pesky International laws make it tricky to do giveaways across the world). If you are someone who loves rules, you can find the obligatory rules info here.
What’s bringing me joy this week:
If you are a weather nerd, or simply love a good radar map, this one (best on desktop) is amazing for watching that storm roll in. Ventusky.
If you need another fun word game to play for free online, check out Waffle.
This French bulldog is absolutely obsessed with actor Henry Cavill (Superman, The Witcher, and a lot more).
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