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Umberto Eco

Morry, I am glad to see that I got the right idea about your thoughts on Eco. However, I didn't mean to say that erudite stories and emotionally effective stories are mutually exclusive. I just meant that Eco's (or any author's) use of "Borges-ian tricks" (what you call "literary style exercises") does tend to eliminate things like effective characterization. (An extreme example would be, say, Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy.)
Also, you might be very interested to read Nicholas Basbanes' Patience & Fortitude (at least the first chapter) which deals specifically with many monastic libraries and the relationship between spirituality and the physical artifacts known as books.

Oh, I tried to hard to like "The Island of the Day Before," but I just couldn't get there. I even picked it for book group, and it was a big disappointment for all.
I do think that Eco's characterizations can be a bit flat at times and cold, but the stories far from make up for it...usually. 'Gasp' Did I just say that? I guess I'm far more forgiving when it comes to Eco than to most other writers. I usually cannot read more than a chapter or two if I don't see some redeeming quality, or at least the possibility of some redeeming quality. And forget it if the characters are two dimentional. I may missing the mark with your points, guys, but wanted to add my two cents.

He does take himself a little (or a lot) too seriously, but I think it works in most cases. I couldn't read The Island either, LMJenkins. I wonder if something is lost in translation?
Hi all,

Just a thought here actually.
Funes's comment made me think about my young years when I was stuck listening to boring lectures at university.
OK before reading this: I am NOT saying that Eco looks to me like the persons described here. Just saying that there is a symptom with erudite people: sometimes by displaying too much of it, they lose their audience and their professional and social identity as well...

Back to my story: Some lectures were fantastically surreal: Sitting two hours a week listening to an elder lecturer 70ish who had an affair with his assistant, 30ish, about how monks were developing sexual trauma and transferring into sensual contacts with books in the 13th century. Yet was it them of the lecturer - who I must say was exceptionally ugly -? It went too far in some and many ways, the course I was on losing people on a weekly basis or attracting others for a new game: Counting how many times the erudite lecture was getting pornographic through explicit sexual allusion to sex, **** and shag the 'university lecturer with a fat belly' would provide... Top winner session: 200 mentions pof sexual perversion of monks writing comments on the Bible in 2 hours.

Now, the thing is the theories that lecturer was speaking about are central to the most critical literary criticism I ever read and run reading now...

So this just to say that it is somewhat sad that erudition often presents itself in obscure fashions... In brief Eco does not necessarily need to begin his books by endless unreadable introductions and I would partly invite colleagues in reading to skip them generously.... Reading is not about suffering but enjoying.

A delightfully colourful conversation spawned from my question, in my opinion, and has left me more entertained than (as it seems) Eco will leave me. That is, if I ever get around to the reading. I do agree...reading is too much of a pleasure for me to turn it into a drudgery. Thank you all for your comments, opinions, and enlightenment....continue on, if it pleases you.
On Eco and the other authors mentioned here:

I have read Perez-Reverte's The Flanders Panel. I did not care for it much and, as is often the case with books I don't like, I can now barely remember it.

It has been ten years since I last read Eco. I first read Foucault's Pendulum in '90, then The Name of the Rose in '93 or '92. I will say that I think he is a better writer than Perez-Reverte from the samples I have encountered.

Yes, there is much similarity between what I can only call the intellectualism of Eco and Borges, as well as Calvino. I recently read the first quarter of Invisible Cities. I found it to have a fancy not unlike that found in Borges's stories, but with less humor and organization of thought. It sits unfinished on the shelf.

I do not think that erudition or intellectual abstraction need be mutually exclusive from emotion in a work as a whole. Naturally enough, it is difficult if not impossible to think much and be emotional at the *same precise moment*. However, there is much abstraction and emotion in the work of Poe. I will admit that his is the exceptional case. Most writers do not accomplish the trick of yoking these two tendencies together and managing them effectively.
Do not want to dismiss opinions. Yet i would think that the Flanders Panel is far from the best books by Eco - although sadly the only one praised by a prize. :confused:
Also as far as question is of comparing: best way might be to check on Reverte's Club Dumas in parallel to Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. El maestro de esgrima/fencing master also is a masterpiece on fencing and Spanish history and society in the 19th century.

It's funny that you mention Invisible Cities . I read it some years ago, but remember it having a very pronounced "wistful" quality. I mean, the "emotion" in that book, I thought, came from the overall effect of imagining the fleeting nature of empire.
Thinking about it, I probably shouldn't have said that intellectualism and emotion are mutually exclusive in fiction. It's just awfully hard to pull off.
Then again, Eco's "intellectualism" seems, to me, to play a different role in his books, or spring from a different source. It's not just that he is an "intellectual" writer, but also a bibliophile. I think it lends a certain "monochromism" to his books.
Did ANYONE like the Island of the Day Before? I think I tried to read it a couple of times, couldn't get past the first few pages. I may have even sold it, it could still be hanging out in my library, tho.

I have also read some of Eco's essays. Some are too pretentious for words, but some were very funny. I'm sure they were even more funny in the original language.
I read one of Eco's essays, "How to eat ice-creams." I think it's great! Do you know this one, Ashlea?
This discussion makes for interesting reading. Thanks to the contributors. In the end I concluded there are far more other books I would rather read before giving Eco a try.
Originally posted by Idun
I read one of Eco's essays, "How to eat ice-creams." I think it's great! Do you know this one, Ashlea?

Yes, I think it was in the collection I read. Did it involve his parent's letting him have a 1-cent ice cream or a 2-cent one but not 2 1-cent ones?
Yes, this one! My fav part is when he says that a modern car is no match for an old one, because you can always fix an old vehicle simply by kicking it!

To be more serious, the essay shrewdly observes we are surrounded by commercials and discounts, which promise a lot, but in fact give us nothing. Maybe just an opportunity to fell better than the other people because we HAVE more. I think that Erich Fromm would like to comment on this essay!
During the summer of 1985 I listened to a programme on Radio 4 (BBC). I was living in England at that time, and I was really enjoying all the (relatively cheap) books you could buy there. The programme on Radio 4 was about Eco's "The name of the Rose". It intrigued me so much, that I bought the book.

I was going on vacation to Scotland, and I read the whole book in the coach from London to Inverness. I was completely captivated. I was "transmogriffed" into the convent life of the middle ages, and loving it. I remember we had a small accident on the M1. I "woke up" at that time, completely confused.

Since then, I have read The Name of the Rose several times, as well as Foucault's Pendulum. I really loved that. It is a bit of a slow start, but once you get going you are caught...

Back in the late '80's Eco was given a honorary doctorate at the University of Odense in Denmark (my university). He gave a lecture, which I attended. I can't remember what it was about, but it was very humorous - I remember that. I think I was about the revival of the medieval times in history. I remember he told us the story of how he was inspired to write the book, by finding a old book in a antiquarian book shop in Paris. Unfortunately I can't remember the details.

Anyway, just to say that I enjoy Umberto Eco.

Has anyone read Baudolino?

Hobitten :)
Originally posted by Ashlea
Did ANYONE like the Island of the Day Before? I think I tried to read it a couple of times, couldn't get past the first few pages.

I started reading it 2 days ago and I'm almost 300 pages deep. I've read a lot of people say that it wasn't good but I've found that the writing is certainly more rich - metaphors - so lively - feed off each other; I guess that's because the book is about nature and most lively things do feed off each other.

The reason I think that people may find The Island of the Day Before inferior to his previous novels may be the change to the narrative. While The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before are told via the same means (a written document: Adso's manuscript and Roberto's letters to his Lady respectively) the former is told by Adso while the latter is told by Eco as narrator as he tries to put a structure to the life of Roberto. Thus the first person of The Name of the Rose is more familiar ground for most people; believe me though: The Island of the Day Before so far has been a delight. Maybe, however, it's the denouement that disheartens readers; or maybe its just the lack of hermeticism. :rolleyes:

I just started reading Eco last month. I read Foucault's Pendulum first, followed by The Name of the Rose. I've also read How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays and have got Faith In Fakes and Baudolino waiting in the wings.

The best thing about his books is that they carry an excellent property that I can't say a lot of books inspire: rereadability. Picking up one of his books can be construed as the reader saying "let's play your game again, Eco" as you come back to his work, seduce it again and peel another layer off as knowledge gained since your previous read allows you further into his Borgesian labyrinth of words. The more you read his works the more you begin to recognise the in-jokes and gain Veteran Eco Status. :cool:
I forgot, until now, to come back and say what I thought of The Island of the Day Before.

Well, it was certainly different - being more about nature than secrets. While it's not, to me, his best it's certainly just as challenging. It's the first novel I can remember reading where, for its whole 500+ pages, nothing happens. The book has no plot - just interpretations of his letters and his past -and only concerns itself with an island that he can't reach because he can't swim and the island he sees is actually in yesterday (he's trapped on a ship [at least the narrative assumes] just over the International Date Line looking back.).

It contains long philosophical accounts (arguments at that time involved the beliefs of the Church and the thoughts of [then] heresiarchs whose beliefs that we come to accept today (Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo Galilei) and is set at a time when the world was rife with discovery (17th Century, 1642) with numerous intertextual allusions and introduces historical figures (Richelieu, Pascal) as bit players.

Obviously it's not for everyone but I recommend it. Makes a change from his other novels which all have a medieval slant (indeed, two were set then).

hmm this thread makes interesting reading.

I've read island of the day before, Foucaults pendulum and Baudolino, of the three i'd say Foucaults was the best (very similar to Dumas club i thought), Baudolino was great but petered out (i hate that), i didn't take to Island much - i liked the description of the boat.

i would have put "invisible cities" up there with calvino's best (mr Palomar is a favourite), similarly i enjoyed flanders panel much more than other reverte's texts (much better than the Seville communion not quite as good as the DumbAss club).

I've only read Foucault's Pendulum and Baudolino of Eco's fictional work. I thought FP was great. I had never really read anything quite so referential until then. Baudolino was OK, but not a patch on FP IMO.

I read Kant and the Platypus a while back. Fascinating. That Platopus was some thinker!