Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How do I read Cortazar's Hopscotch?

I just got a copy of Julio Cortazar's novel Hopscotch through Bookmooch, and although the truth of the matter is that I won't read it for quite a while (not because I don't want to, but because of all my other reading obligations and desires), I was intrigued by its form -- and also set a bit on edge by it.

The novel comes with a "Table of Instructions" (which will make more sense if you know the novel has 155 chapters):

In its own way, this book consists of many books, but two books above all.

The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56, at the close of which there are three garish little stars which stand for the words The End. Consequently, the reader may ignore what follows with a clean conscience.

The second should be read by beginning with Chapter 73 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter. In case of confusion or forgetfulness, one need only consult the following list:

73-1-2-116-3-84-4-71-5 [I won't give you all the numbers, but they continue on for 10 lines or so of text].

Each chapter has its number at the top of every right-hand page to facilitate the search.

I'm not sure what to make of this, and I don't know how I'll read the book when I do get to it. The notion of reading the first 56 out of 155 chapters and then quitting with "a clean conscience" seems highly unrealistic, given my intense desire to finish books -- finish them all the way to the end. There's no way I'd quit after 56 out of 155 chapters with a clean conscience.

But following the jumbled-up sequence of chapters doesn't seem quite the thing to do either. It upsets my notions of how to read a book.

The other option, of course, is to disregard the Table of Instructions and read the thing from cover to cover in the normal way. But ... would that work? Would it make any sense at all?

I'm curious about what the different ways of reading would be like. I suppose there's another option, which is to read the novel in the two ways the author describes: once through the end of chapter 56, and then once following the jumbled sequence of chapters. That way I'd know what the two experiences are like, and I'd be following instructions like the obedient reader I tend to be. But that would take a lot of time and would require re-reading large chunks of the novel. Maybe even I am not prepared to be that obedient.

I realize that my uneasy feelings must be part of Cortazar's point; he's making me aware of my conventionality in reading, my obedience, my feeling that I must complete books, my need to have the experience I think the author wants me to have. He's making me question the traditional arc of a story, the convention of reading from cover to cover, and my assumptions of what must be included to make a story complete (at least I think he's doing these things -- can't really say until I read the thing I suppose).

Has anybody read this novel before, and, if so, how did you do it? If not, which reading method would you choose?