The Irrepressible Lightness of Umberto Eco

Carlin Romano in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

ScreenHunter_1744 Mar. 03 19.10By the late 1980s, every humanities academic on earth talked of his or her Umberto Eco novel in the drawer.

Not a novel by Umberto, of course. No, the novel soon to be written that would equal the international acclaim of Eco’s medieval thriller, The Name of the Rose (1980), which eventually sold 30 million copies in more than 40 languages.

Did any of those books ever get done? Hardly a one. Because to produce a work comparable to that still-singular first novel — not to mention its six successors, Foucault’s Pendulum(1988), The Island of the Day Before (1994), Baudolino,(2000), The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004), The Prague Cemetery (2010), and Numero Zero (2015) — you needed to be Umberto. That is, impossibly learned. Indefatigably hardworking. Singularly modest and self-critical. Uniquely open to people and culture high, low, and middle. Quick to laugh and joke. Wise to the importance of entertaining readers — with puns, plot, playful Latin, lighthearted examples, exotic hypotheticals — while guiding them.

You had to be hungry for the latest news and gossip — about anything — and willing to plop it into a narrative composed largely of more sober elements. You had to possess a common touch, an ability to talk and write in the language of the street, which Umberto possessed to a degree I’ve never seen in any other scholar of his stature.

More here.