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?

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction, Reading

2 responses to “How do I read Cortazar’s Hopscotch?

  1. Chema

    This blog is over a year old; I found it in a google search. I’m posting a response in the hopes that you will help me out. Could you provide me with a fragment of Ch. 73. I’m reading it in Spanish and am extremely curious about the English translation. The fragment I’m hoping for is at the top of the chapter and should start something like, “Our possible truth has to be…,” and should end two sentences later.

    Could you respond to el_mata_pichones@yahoo.com so I’m sure to get it.

    Thank you so much if you can help me out. I would go to a book store or library and take a look, but there isn’t an English version of the book in a 50 mile radius.

    To answer your question, though, I’m reading the novel right now. I’m a long time Cortázar fanatic that finally got around to reading the copy of Rayuela that has been taunting him from his book shelf.

    I’m pretty much reading it the second way he suggests. I say “pretty much” because I stray in the back sometimes. Still, I re-read anything I stray to when Cortázar sends me there. I chose this way because I would rather be led by the hand by Cortázar than convention. Like I said before, I tend to stray; I’m not much of a follower I guess.

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  2. Richard Taylor

    Re Hopscotch (I see a reply above, later I can give parts of chapters). I have this book and have read also ‘Famas and Cronopias’. Cortazar was translated by the innovative poet writer diarist Paul Blackburn and others I suppose. There is a mathematician who has a strong interest in literature. He points out this book and some others where mathematical aspects have importance. Here the permutations of the way one can read the book are very large. They point potentially to an infinity of interpretations. I also only read some chapters of it. But I am interested in this sort of writing (as well as the more conventional). The mathematician, who seems to love words and writing, also makes a point about the use of index cards by Nabokov in writing Lolita. These could have been arranged in a near infinite way. We assume certain conventions but Cortazar as you say, interrupts or challenges that. Hopscotch can be read in any order. Roland Barthes points to this possibility in his ‘Writing Degree Zero’. He wants or wanted a constant shifting of the ground so to speak.

    One can follow the numbering system he suggests or read in any other order. In this way you the reader take some more control and also it challenges conventional ideas of writing and reading. Georges Perec does similar things with his own books. All the best.

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