So You Want to Buy a Book

When I was a freshman in college, I read Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler for my Modern World Lit class. Recently, I decided I wanted to reread it because even though I don’t remember a ton from the class discussion on it (I mostly remember being frustrated that it isn’t actually a novel in the “traditional” sense), I have this feeling that I will like it much more now than I did back then. So expect a recap soon.

The point of this post is the fact that I started reading it tonight on the metro ride home, and can now recall just why I liked the first chapter: It’s all about the struggles of being a reader (the fight to get your new book without buying the entire store! which position is the best position for reading? how do you keep yourself from getting distracted?), and I connect with it now just as much as I did back in 2007, if not more so. I’m reading it on my Kindle, not the print copy I used back then (though I do have that copy somewhere…), but after I read this chapter, I distinctly recalled writing “FINALLY SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS AND PUT IT INTO WORDS” in all caps (and most likely underlined) in the margins.

So I want to share a small excerpt — just a paragraph about the journey into a book store, but it’s enough to illustrate my point. Perhaps you, too, will want to read this book (or at least the post I’ll write when I’m done reading it). In the very least, those of you who are book lovers may find yourselves nodding along at this passage — that’s certainly the goal, anyway (and to share some beautiful prose, which is an equally excellent goal, IMO):

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered*. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.

*This is the point where I remember underlining and writing in the margins back in college, and I highlighted it once more in my Kindle.


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