Tag Archives: umberto eco

Popular Amazon Purchases, January – April 2011

As I do every so often on this site, time to run down popular purchases made on Amazon by readers of Conversational Reading. (For previous reader faves, see here.)

Here we go, in order to sales rank:

Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

No surprises that, by far, the most popular item purchased in the past few months has been the subject of the current Big Read. Thanks to everyone who is participating!

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Self-published phenom A Naked Singularity continues to be a popular book with readers of this site. And with The Quarterly Conversation previewing an excerpt from his new book, Personae, perhaps we’ll have another favorite.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Wallace fans are die-hards. Despite my reservations about this book, readers of this site are still snapping up Wallace’s final offering.

Zone by Mathias Enard

My endorsement of this massive, challenging French novel (and my interview with its translator) seems to have spurred some readers of this site. Good for them!

The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

This is one of the books I’ve featured on my Interesting New Books in 2011 page. Plus Sorokin is a pretty big deal, and this is probably his biggest and best book.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Chalk up another one to a combination of a big author and a listing on the Interesting Books page. But how ugly is this cover?

“A” by Louis Zukofsky

This one pretty clearly goes back to this post I did about “the Ulysses of poetry.”

The Preparation of the Novel by Roland Barthes

I would attribute this to my interview with the book’s translator, and this blog’s great following among Barthesians everywhere.

Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer

Some recent discussion of this book plus a listing on the Interesting New Books page probably did the trick.

For previous reader faves, see here.

New Nonfiction from Pamuk and Eco

The books are The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk and Confessions of a Young Novelist by Umberto Eco.

The review is at The Guardian.

Pamuk’s subtitle is Understanding What Happens When We Write and Read Novels. It would be closer to the effect of the book if “we” were changed to “I”: by the end, “we” understand more about Pamuk as writer and reader, less so about our own readerly habits.

Eco’s study is more challenging. He is, he claims, a professional academic and an amateur artist. As philosopher he provides endnotes, indulges in diagrams of semiotic strategies, and investigates the ontological status of fictional characters and the epistemological status of fictional “truth”. Yet, his is the more playful book – in keeping with his title, Confessions of a Young Novelist (Harvard, £14.95) by a man in his late 70s.

Like Pamuk with his naive and sentimental readers, Eco knows he speaks both to an elite minority and to a popular audience; the latter is not entirely excluded but has “lost an additional wink”. He catches the comedy of the relationship of the reader (often seen by the author as slightly crazy in his desire to find correlatives of art in known life) and the (necessarily) egotistic author. The relationship is a touch belligerent: the writer provides detailed, often very accurate descriptions, and yet he must also “bamboozle” readers; he must keep some secrets. And readers don’t have complete interpretative freedom, whatever they think. Between the mysterious creation of the novel and the uncontrollable proliferations of readings, “the text qua text still represents a comforting presence, a point to which we can hold fast”. Eco ponders the age-old questions of fiction: how real and imaginary can blend, why we cry over the plight of a made-up character, and in what sense, say, Anna Karenina and Leopold Bloom “exist”.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

First Ondaatje and Murakami and DeWitt, now Eco. Fall 2011 is shaping up to be pretty heavy. On November 8, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish Umberto Ecos latest novel, The Prague Cemetery, in Richard Dixon’s translation.

HMH’s marketing copy could use a little work:

Eco takes his readers here on an unforgettable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. This is Eco at his most exciting, a book immediately hailed as his masterpiece.  

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The novel, titled “The Prague Cemetery”, is the story of a secret agent who “weaves plots, conspiracies, intrigues and attacks, and helps determine the historical and political fate of the European Continent”. The novel begins in Paris in March 1897, and the main character, Captain Simonini – an adventurer and a forger, who works for the secret police a half of the states of Europe, as well as weaving conspiracies and preparing the assassination. According to Eco, “the characters of this novel are not imaginary. Except the main character, they all lived in reality, including his grandfather, author of the mysterious message to abbot Barruelo which gave rise to all modern anti-Semitism”. “The nineteenth century was full of monstrous and mysterious events – the mysterious death of Ippolito Nievo, the forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that inspired Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, the Dreyfus affair and endless intrigue spun by the secret police of different countries, the Masons, Jesuit plots, and other events whose accuracy can’t ever be authenticated, but that serve as fodder for feuilletons 150 years later”.[2]

Actually, you know what? I think I already read this novel. It was called Against the Day.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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