Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Difficulty vs. Discussion Fodder

So I now know that at least two of my reading discussion patrons hate the book I chose for this month.  We're reading Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler.  I chose it because it's one of my favorite books - probably in my top five - and I guess I wanted to share that with my group.

If on a winter's night a traveler (which I've been abbreviating to IOAWNAT and then, every time, realizing it probably would have been faster to write out the full title) is a postmodern novel that employs metafiction and irritates the hell out of the unsuspecting reader by presenting her with the first chapter of a number of different novels, but never coming around and developing the second chapter of any of them.  The actual story takes place between the novels' beginnings, where you, the reader find yourself involved in an international plot that keeps leading you to another first chapter, then another, then another...

Calvino frequently uses his position as author to cut in and make comments about reading.  As such, I'm not even halfway through, and I'm excited about so many questions:

  • How do you settle down to reading?  What are your reading habits?  Are you very particular?
  • Did you identify with Calvino's description of a bookstore as a battleground?  How big is your to-read pile?
  • How did you feel when you realized each story was not going to end?
  • More than once during the novel, Ludmilla expresses what kind of novel she would like to read.  What is your ideal novel like?
  • From page 49:  "[T]hey teach us to read as children, and for the rest of our lives we remain the slaves of all the written stuff they fling in front of us."  Discuss.
  • What do you think of the professor's statement that all books continue in the beyond?
I mean I really think this is legit; I think it was a good choice!  I find this novel delightful, engaging, and funny.  But the thing is, apparently if you're not me, this is a pretty hard book to read.  At least, that's what my patrons seem to be saying.  So in the future, where should I draw the line between difficulty level and worthiness of discussion fodder?  Should I be pushing my discussion group to expand their reading horizons and try new - perhaps difficult - things?  Or is it better to just let them relax and enjoy the kind of book they'd usually read?

Maybe I'll know the answer to that better after the discussion next week.

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