You study meta-fiction in the third year of your Creative Writing degree. You learn that meta-fiction, put in simplest terms, is writing about writing that forms narratives. You study two pages of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. You find the concept funny, a writer interrupting themselves and dictating that the reader or The Reader is the protagonist. It is farcical and tells you that on page 32, you are reading a duplication of page 17 and when you turn back, there is in fact no page 17 and when you turn back to page 32, it’s a different page. You deem the book clever, but don’t take it out of the library because Paul Auster and William Burroughs scare you more right now.
You pick up If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller four years later in a charity shop. You don’t read it for another year or so. When you do read it, you find 256 pages of the above scenario something not worth the time. You contemplate, out loud to friends and a lover who is a better reader than you, that the book is clever to the point of missing the point. The point. The point is never something clear in writing, but you say, I can’t believe this book has carried on like this for this many pages and I’ve got so little from. You address, aloud, that you like the concept of having a book that encompasses extracts and passages from novels that don’t exist but have blended into the narrative because of the author diversions and The Reader’s lust for other books. You say, quietly, that you like the idea of trying to write new genre per chapter and the threading of an array of them into one book is no easy challenge. But the fundamental thing you realise is the pompousness of the book. How it is so aware of itself and forever expanding on what it thinks writing is. You claim, in exclamation marks, that it’s the equivalent of a book-long blow job that the writer is giving to himself. You think it’s kind of sexist too. Experimentation and being unlike any other narrative made the writer sacrifice any connection to character, you say. Insta-forgetable bar cleverness, you say.
You decide the review should end with another short review of a different book, because that’s what Calvino would have done. If you have not read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, you could find yourself in a narrative that interrogates the world with a blend of poetry, prose, art and essay forms that divert and explode concepts in breath-sized passages. The book navigates the narrative of race and body in America, simultaneously speaks to its narrative in the world. You pace through it and retain all of it. There is an essay about Serena Williams and the media coverage of her tennis matches that you are certain should be studied by everyone, forever. It makes you a wreck on trains in front of half-sleep tourists and business folk who are screen glazed. It is dangerous, it is crafted beautifully, it takes you into lives and their accounts that expose the struggles of individuals in this world, individuals you will never know or meet, but you glimpse and are thankful for Rankine’s writing. You reaffirm, books like this are what need to be read and written now, should have been always. You are conscious you have not given Citizen: An American Lyric the amount of review space you should have. You are aware you may be part of the problem. You will continue to work to resolve this. You place Calvino in a charity bag that will remain under your bed until you remember to donate it, or there is no bed or book anymore, eaten away by the forget-me ants hidden in the dust.
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
Read: if you want to explore alternative narrative devices, farce, writing about writing.
Don’t Read: if you want actual meaning, genre defying, plot, characters.
Citizen: An American Lyric
Read: if you want writing that explores race narratives in America, poetry, prose, modern lyric, alternative narrative structure, cross art books, writing about writing, balanced journalism.
Don’t Read: if you still want to be blind.