In the News

"The Voice of Truth" and More Rarities in March 22 Auction at PBA Galleries

PBA Galleries will offer The Voice of Truth by Mormon founder Joseph Smith and... read more

The Eric Carle Museum Announces "The Art of Eric Carle: Seasons"

Amherst, MA -- In 1970, Eric Carle published The Tiny Seed, which chronicles... read more

Minnesota Center for Book Arts Announces Summer 2018 Artist-in-Residence

Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) is pleased to announce the next participant in... read more

Einstein and Family: Letters and Portraits at Christie’s Online, May 2-9

London-Christie’s will present Einstein and Family: Letters and Portraits, an online sale open for... read more

"Defence of Poesie" Reaches $149K at Swann Galleries

New York—On March 8, Swann Galleries held an auction of Early Printed, Medical, Scientific... read more

New Scholarship on Famous Black Panthers Huey Newton Poster Revealed at Swann

New York—Swann Galleries’ auction of Printed & Manuscript African Americana on Thursday, March 29... read more

16th Century, Firsts, Space, Lankes at National Book Auctions

Ithaca, NY—National Book Auctions, located in Ithaca, NY, announces the launch of their next... read more

Private Collection Launches Heritage Auctions' Rare Books Sale to $2.1+ Million

Dallas, TX - A private collection of rare, first editions offered in Heritage Auctions’... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Fine Books Review

Eco’s Confessions

An exquisite collection of essays about writing and reading
By Rebecca Rego Barry Rebecca Rego Barry is the editor of this magazine.

Confessions of a Young Novelist

By Umberto Eco;
Harvard University Press;
231 pages;
jacketed hardcover $18.95

Medieval scholar Umberto Eco published his first novel in 1980. That novel, The Name of the Rose, became an international bestseller beloved by bibliophiles. Set in a monastic library, the narrative follows Brother William of Baskerville as he investigates heresy, murder, and the missing manuscript of the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics. It was a seminal moment for the semiologist—at nearly fifty years old, he became a novelist.

In his new collection, Confessions of a Young Novelist, Eco offers glimpses of the processes and inspirations of becoming a so-called creative writer (a term he tackles). He discusses the boundary between fiction and non-fiction, asking us to contemplate what stories are real and why readers feel as strongly as they do about fictional characters. In content, this book is strikingly like one A. S. Byatt published in 2002, On Histories and Stories, and with reason: they both started out as Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, Eco’s delivered at Emory University.

After The Name of the Rose, Eco contined to write fiction. His follow-up was the cerebral Foucault’s Pendulum (1989), and after that the fantastical The Island of the Day Before (1995). It would certainly be helpful for readers to have read at least one of these in order to fully enjoy Eco’s Confessions. He refers back to them often, pondering, for example, interpretations of the name “Casaubon” in Foucault’s Pendulum. Eco writes that he was thinking of Casaubon the Renaissance philospher, while readers connected his Casaubon to the one in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Even Foucault is debated among his readers: Eco says Léon Foucault was the intended reference, but it is rather difficult for readers to ignore the more famous Michel Foucault. Intentions and interpretations are vastly intriguing topics, especially for a scholarly author and his sophisticated readers.

In the same essay, “Author, Text, and Interpretations,” he offers fellow bibliophiles the delcious detail that after the publication of The Name of the Rose, he became a rare-book collector, and one day while perusing his shelves he found a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics, printed in Padua in 1587, that he had purchased in his youth. As he examined the book, he noticed that it was unbelievably similar to the book in his novel.

I was holding in my hands, in printed form, the manuscript I had described in my novel. I had had it for years and years in my home, right on my shelf.

It was not an extraordinary coincidence, or even a miracle. I had bought the book in my youth, skimmed through it, realized it was badly soiled, put it away somewhere, and forgotten about it. But using a sort of internal camera, I had photographed theose pages, and for decades the image of those poisonous leaves had lain in the most remote part of my soul, as if in a grave, until the moment it reemerged—I do not know why—and I believed I had invented the book.

The last third of this collection focuses on a literary device of great interest to Eco: the list. In 2009 he published an entire book on the topic titled The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay. No doubt there is some overlap here, as he muses on his favorite lists in literature. A section on “Books, books, books” revels in the library catalogue as list.

Confessions appears in a delightful package—a handy size (close to duodecimo), well printed, with a lovely, somewhat irreverant jacket featuring Jacques Prévert’s collage Le Désert de Retz. Not that we should judge a book by these things, but they do suggest Eco’s accessibility and playfulness as an instructor here. To call Eco clever would be dull. The man is a genius. Readers, collectors, writers, scholars—hear his confession, you won’t be disappointed.

Rebecca Rego Barry is the editor of this magazine.
comments powered by Disqus