The types of books in a bookstore, according to Italo Calvino

Recently I’ve started reading If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. In the early pages of the book, Calvino speaks of being in a bookstore, and begins to list the different kinds of books you can come across, not based on genre but on the purposes behind reading the books. If you love reading and buying books, you’ll love this:

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 manoeuvre 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 Until They’re Remaindeered, 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. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number, but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which Now It’s Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.
With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

As I read this, I found myself simply nodding in agreement with each description of a book, and smiling the whole time.

Do you relate to any of these kinds of thoughts when in a bookstore or library?

20 thoughts on “The types of books in a bookstore, according to Italo Calvino

    • Hahaha, soooorry. Well, my book budget is non-existent for the rest of this year, as I am about to move permanently overseas (to Sweden, as my recent trip might suggest (and yes, I might as well admit it, it’s for a giiiiirl…I’m going to explain it more in a blog post soon, when I get around to it)). So yeah, I already have a serious issue with finding a way to move all my books, cds, dvds, mugs, teapot, and a few other collectables over there (oh and I guess clothes too), so I can’t add to that. Also I need every last drop of money for the move, as well. I have more than enough books to last me a couple of years so I don’t need to buy anymore. I did buy all of Gaiman’s novels and short stories just before I imposed this ban on myself, luckily! I’ve also gave two John Green books to my girlfriend to read and keep for me in my few months absence (I’m moving in January), so that’s two books I don’t have to worry about transporting…only 500 left to figure out. Hrm. 😛
      Anyway, so while I can’t buy any more books for a while, I might as well convince others to buy books, right? 😉

      • I’m so tempted to tease you silly about the move, and I normally would – if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m extremely glad you’re this happy. 🙂

        Oh, you’ll figure it out. *waves hand dismissively* Gaiman! Green! I approve. 😀 I started to read American Gods, and then stopped halfway because of college. I really should pick it up again, I miss that man’s writing, it’s been ages. Did you manage to get The Ocean at the End of the Lane?
        I went on a bit of a John Green spree, as well. I love the man, though I find I’m not as enamoured by his books. Save TFioS. I love them while I’m reading them, but once I’m done – I dunno. And I hate that I feel that way. 😐

        Nononononono. No. Mister, you are not going to make me go out and buy new books for a while. Absolutely not. I cancelled my library memberships as well, which – in hindsight – was a stupid thing to do. Sometime last year, I realised I had overdue fines from two libraries, books I had borrowed but hadn’t read, and I was still going out and buying more. I should have just stopped buying books and stuck to borrowing them from libraries. But they look so pretty on my shelf!

        Such an idiot.

        Let’s just cheer each other on, eh? My buying-ban is pretty relaxed. If I find that I reeeeeally need one, or two,, a few, I might give in. But it sounds like you need to make sure you don’t? Ooo. Book Buyers Anonymous! Except..not anonymous? I’m not making much sense, am I? :\

        • Hahaha yeah, the upside of both keeping it secret for so long and the nature of it all – the cute factor will prevent teasing. At least briefly 😛 Also, she does read my blog, she’s my most loyal follower of course (not my most frequent commenter but she does comment from time to time, although she doesn’t really blog herself much anymore).
          I have heard good things about American Gods. I don’t know which one I will start next, I was actually considering some of his short stories. I didn’t get his new novel, sadly, but it can wait! 🙂
          I have only read TFIOS and Looking For Alaska, and yeah, TFIOS blew my mind but Looking For Alaska, while I loved, it wasn’t as much the masterpiece. But I did love it. It just didn’t feel very focused in comparison. Going to read Paper Towns soon. I think TFIOS is the one to recommend to people, more than the author haha.
          Okay okay, we’ll cheer each other on, and I’ll try not to make you go out and buy new books. I’m so busy I won’t be reading as much anyway and so won’t be reviewing as much. But yes, I really can’t buy any more books, or cds, or dvds. With 500, 1200 and 500 of each respectively (6 bookcases all up), I seriously have a transport issue there. I guess over the last decade, while amassing this collection, I hadn’t counted on an international move. And moving anywhere from Australia means crossing seas. Stupid country…grrrr….

          • Aw, that’s sweet. 🙂 Nah, I’m pretty sure your readers will just be happy for you – I doubt you’ll get much in the way of teasing.

            American Gods is strange. I know, I know. It’s Gaiman. But there’s something about that book that’s just so weird. And I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t even work out what it is.

            I think you’ve got it, TFioS seems the most focused. The previous ones are an experiment in foothold-finding, and with TFioS, he got it just right. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about Paper Towns – I have conflicting issues with that book. :\

            I don’t think you should worry too much about your blog – there are plenty of things to write about besides reviews! And you shouldn’t have to read/review books because you feel obliged to, that just takes the fun out of it. Right? So just write about whatever you feel like at the time. 🙂

            • Yeah, I think it’s a very different side of Gaiman, American Gods. Interestingly, for one of my friends it was their introduction to Gaiman, so I’ve had to warn him the opposite – that most of his stuff isn’t quite like that.
              That is very much how I described Looking For Alaska – it was clearly a first novel (well, first published anyway), and he was still playing with what works and what doesn’t work. On its own, it’s a great a story. In comparison with TFIOS, it’s very average. But you can see how he built up from one to the other (even if I haven’t read the other two novels that acted as stepping stones yet). I’m curious to read both Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines, but I only have the former so that’ll have to do for now. But first I must finish High Fidelity, The Happiest Refugee and Hallucinations – I’m partway through each of those and I need to finish them. I did buy one book while in Sweden actually – Michael Palin released a new novel, only his second ever and his first in nearly 20 years, called The Truth. I can’t say no to a former member of Monty Python, even if I think of MP more from his travel shows these days…
              That’s my plan with my blog. I have been reviewing less lately anyway, or rather I was alternating reviewing between music and books, and squeezing it in around other things. I did a series of posts on comedians for a while, which was fun, I think I got up to about 7 or 8 before I became tired of that too hahaha. I just go through my phases I guess.

              • Yep, I agree. I think we’d probably feel differently if we hadn’t started with TFioS. That was my introduction to the world of John Green and then I went out and watched pretty much all the vlogbrothers’ videos, and that’s just set the standard really high. I couldn’t read past the first ten pages of Abundance, and that makes me sad. 😦
                Yes! Finish High Fidelity! I haven’t heard of the others, and I really don’t want to check them out because I have a feeling I’ll want to go out and get them, but what the heck. I’ll just add them to my shelves and dream of the day I can go book-hunting again!

                Sometimes, even though I feel strongly about a book, I just don’t feel like putting in the effort it takes to draft out a whole blog post. That’s when Goodreads comes in handy, I find. I just type out a short paragraph, and I’m done. And I’ve been on Goodreads a lot more than my blog, recently, which is pretty strange considering it used to be completely dormant at one point.

                • Ah yes, I need to watch those vlogbrothers videos, I’ve heard about those! I am curious as to why you couldn’t get very far into An Abundance of Katherines…I will try that one down the track, after my book ban has been lifted.
                  I finished High Fidelity today. It’s good, definitely the best Nick Hornby I’ve read so far (the third one I’ve read was called How To Be Good). I liked the ending, it wasn’t complete closure, but it was enough closure, and the characters felt redeemed enough. There is definitely something a lot more likeable about it, and I found myself pitying Rob a lot more than characters in Juliet, Naked – I know that annoying feeling when you’re acting like an idiot, and in your head you’re thinking “what the hell am I even doing this for?” I was like that a lot when I was younger (oddly, I feel I’ve grown out of that, and now I feel a little snooty saying it when I’m only 27, but I guess that was kind of the point of the book). Definitely an enjoyable read, and it definitely grabbed the music lover in me.
                  I guess because I’m only aiming to read 30 books this year, writing a book review every couple of weeks isn’t too demanding. I have written a couple of reviews on Goodreads, but I can’t be bothered to write reviews on there – I just do the star ratings and that’s it! My Goodreads is not updated in a lot of ways, I got halfway through adding my book collection before I couldn’t be bothered anymore. 😛

                  • Ack, watch them! They’re mental. And brilliant. And I love their side projects – Crash Course and SciShow and all that? I’ve become addicted to science-y stuff on YouTube because of them. It makes me happy. 🙂

                    Nick Hornby definitely has that whole relatable thing going for him. I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but every time I read something he’s written, I catch myself thinking, “What? But that’s exactly how I feel! How did he find the words to describe that?!”

                    Rating books on Goodreads is turning into an addiction for me. 😐

                    • Ahhh hahaha okay, I will have to watch them! My girlfriend has told me about them too (she didn’t connect them at first that it was the same guy, she thought it was awesome when she realise it was).
                      Yeah, Nick Hornby is very good at capturing a sort of inner voice that we all have, like a general inner voice that I suppose a large number of people experience at one time or other. He definitely understands people on quite a deep level.
                      Hey, being addicted to rating books on Goodreads isn’t all that bad…I could think of a lot of worse things to be addicted to! 😛

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