Thursday, 26 April 2012

Eco Echo

Recently, I have been dipping and re-dipping into New Essays on Umberto Eco (ed. Peter Bondanella, Cambridge University Press 2009), in anticipation of eventually picking up and starting to read The Prague Cemetery (the first book, and first work of fiction, I bought in 2012); who's lurid, bright orange spine keeps standing out like a beacon from my other books, almost as it to say "Read me! Read me!" but somehow I hesitate, put it off for another day, tell myself I am too tired, or I simply don't feel the inspiration to read it.  Which seems to be bordering on absurdity to me, for the simple fact that I have read so much Eco previously; his fiction and his essays, as well as his work on semiotics, yet I somehow seem to put up a mental block when it comes to his latest work.

New Essays on Umberto Eco: ed. Peter Bondanella
The collection of essays mentioned above, edited by Eco-scholar Bondanella, is an excellent expansion upon understanding a number of the various themes running through Eco's works.  Ten essays are found in this accessible work. The only (obvious) regrets that any potential purchaser might have are that it was released before The Prague Cemetery, and the hefty price that Cambridge University Press have placed upon it.  Cambridge University Press really should re-release the work, perhaps in paperback, and with a more acceptable price tag, as the work could be appreciated by a greater public than the limited number who will have bought the book in the first place for nearly £60 (!)  Eco is probably one of the most well known and popular, yet mostly unread, authors of our time.  Most everyone has heard of him, not least due to frequent screenings of the cinematic adaptation of The Name of the Rose on television  - not necessarily watched by those interested in Eco's work, nor the excellent cast and direction but probably by a spate of teenage girls and gay men hoping to see a young Christian Slater's posterior on screen.  I first picked up and read The Name of the Rose when I was about 15 years old, before seeing the film, and read the Picador paperback/English translation that my mother had recently read and enjoyed.  It was one of those works of fiction that I especially remember enjoying reading when I was a teenager; others included Perfume by Patrick Suskind, I Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; what a strange teenager I was, not least judging by what I chose to read, and enjoyed reading then.

The Name of the Rose has stayed with me over the years and it is one of those works I enjoy to revisit and read again every five or so years, as I am always able to discover something new within its pages. Each re-reading is rather like revisiting a richly decorated Orthodox church, but each revisit one is able to appreciate (more) the artwork, or the rich smell of incense, or knowing the hagiography of the saints in the murals, etc even though one feels as if one knows the place already, inside and out.  Re-reading The Name of the Rose mirrors this experience for me; as although I know the storyline, I know the murderer and their motivation, I find myself able to discover something new or my understanding is greater, and I feel that though the track is familiar, the pathway has changed.

The cover of the first edition that I read of The Name of the Rose.
So maybe, after finishing The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke, I will eventually pick up and read the latest work by Umberto Eco.  I tend to leave gaps of time in between the authors I read, unlike my parents who tend to discover an author they like and then devour as many of their works they can.  Moreso my mother than my father, though my father reads so quickly I wonder how he can appreciate the books he reads.  My parents' bookshelves are crammed full of numerous works of fiction but generally by selected authors.  My mother is the main culprit behind this mild (hereditary) form of bibliophilic Asbergers, with numerous copies of books by Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coban and Jo Nesbø to name but a few.  My mother has even tried, unsuccessfully I add, to hook me on this passion she has for American crime fiction. And so, amongst the various works of fiction I have, thanks to my mother, in my collection on e will find (in both English and French) a good smattering of paperbacks by Connolly et alia.  Not to devalue nor show a lack of appreciation for the books she has chosen and although they are entertaining reading, they are not necessarily top of my list in terms of reading matter.  I guess the main problem lies in a lack of identification with the subject matter, not that my parents live in a scary suburban ghetto as described in the works of Lehane, but they did watch TV shows like The Wire, which I believe was what sparked off this interest in my mother.

I consider myself to be sufficiently open minded to, at the very least read and appreciate books that other people enjoy and suggest to me, some of which work, others don't.  Ten years ago I was recommended the Harry Potter cycle of books.  However, I gave up midway through the first book, as I felt it was badly written, aimed at children and devoid of charm.  For a long time I didn't understand the need for adults to read what might be seen as children's books; a case in point being the Twilight franchise.  Hence my initial skepticism when approaching Philip Pullman and his Dark Materials works.  How wrong I was...  So once again, if close friends and family - people I trust, recommend something to me I am more likely to give it a go, whether mainstream or not.  As a result of this illumination I have discovered the likes of Walter Moers,  Donna Tartt, Alison Weir, Margaret Barker, Mika Waltari, Marcus Zusak, Paolo Coelho, Karen Maitland, George R. R. Martin, to name but a few...

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