I felt like poisoning a monk…

I first fell in love with Umberto Eco when I read The Name of the Rose sometime in the early 80s. It’s been a thirty year love affair.

Maybe this doesn’t happen for you and it certainly doesn’t happen for me very often – but I didn’t just fall in love with the book, I fell in love with Umberto Eco (I always use his full name, it somehow feels more intimate). And my love for him grew deeper with each book. There was just something about the way he wrote, the sweep of each story, the mysteries, the many things I learned from reading them.

And the books caused me to do something I rarely do. I started to read about Umberto Eco. In general, I read only about dead writers. But with Umberto Eco? The more I read about him, the more I loved him. One of the snippets of informaiton about him that served to deepen my love was this: his library contains 40,000 books.

I’m disclosing this fact because I don’t want you to be misled. This post is personal, as personal as it can get. After all, it’s above love.

This morning, as I often do on Sundays, I spent a few moments listening to CBC Radio’s (the Canadian equivalent of NPR) Sunday Edition. It began with the host, Michael Enright, introducing Umberto Eco. He mentioned that when Umberto Eco was asked about what got him started writing The Name of the Rose, he said I felt like poisoning a monk. How could I resist that? A brilliant, wide-ranging 536 page novel grew out of that simple thought.

Then Mr. Enright quoted from the postscript to The Name of the Rose:

Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: you have to learn the rhythm of respiration, acquire the pace; otherwise you stop right away.

This is something I try to tell friends, students, acquaintances who are discouraged by what they initially see as a long or complicated or boring book. I say, “When you start reading Dickens or Virginia Woolf or Shakespeare (and I should add, Umberto Eco), you need to give yourself time to get used to the writing. It’s different than what we normally read and it takes time to settle into the rhythm of it. Once you get into the rhythm of it, you’re going to enjoy it. Don’t stop, though, after the first book. Keep reading because pretty soon you’re going to love it.”

But how could I not fall even more deeply in love with a man who takes my boring and straightforward idea and turns it into music? How could I not feel as if I understood at least a little bit about him, about how he thought, and then – even more importantly and delightfully – that he somehow understood me?

How could I ask for more than that? How could anyone want more? That the object of my love, an object I will never meet, who will never know I exist, understands me? That I understand him? That must be enough.

My love for Umberto Eco can’t die because I’ll always be able to find him in his books. I don’t have to hear — as I did this morning — his lovely voice, I just have to pick up The Name of the Rose. Or Foucault’s Pendulum. Or any of his other books, his essays, or the book that came out just this month called The Prague Cemetery.

I’m looking forward to spending many hours in the cemetery of Prague with my love. A little bit gruesome, I admit, but it will be amazing. It always is.

I’m going to leave with you with the words (and the face) of Umberto Eco:

Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.



10 responses to “I felt like poisoning a monk…

  1. You always point me towards an author I have yet to read. Just put him at the head of my TBR list. Thank you for that!

  2. I love affairs with writers too, and you’ve certainly chosen a great one, Kate!

  3. *laughs* Great post Kate! I’ve never read the book, but I remember watching the Sean Connery film adaptation when I was younger. I’m sure it probably doesn’t do the book justice, but I recall it was entertaining.


    • Katy – I liked the movie as well. Different than the book, but definitely entertaining. The book, though? The book is miraculous, mesmerizing, astonishing.


      • I liked the movie and, at one point, picked the book up at a used book store. I never did get around to reading it though…it seemed so long and daunting.

        I’ll have to think about it now. 🙂

  4. I saw the movie and loved it. Now, thanks to you, I’ll have to read your “lover boy’s” book, too.

    And yes, I’m a little jealous.

    Wally 😉

    • Wally, if it weren’t for Belva… :=)

      But the book’s worth it – if I were you, and Lisa, I’d put that final quote on paper and use it as my bookmark when I started to read The Name of the Rose. That way, you’d remember that you have to learn to climb the mountain before it’s entertaining!


  5. Ooh… I’ve had several people tell me I need to start reading his works. After reading this post, I think I may have to do just that! 😀

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