The first time I saw Umberto Eco’s picture was his author photo on The Name of The Rose. He was wearing a fedora. My first thought was, “I wonder if I could pull off a hat like that.” The answer was no.
My second thought was that he looked like a happy person. I have no idea if that’s true, but his essays make him seem pretty good-natured.
My third thought was: “This man looks very smart.” This was before I read the bio and saw that he was a renowned scholar, semiotics wizard, etc. Name of The Rose turned out to be a wonderful, if occasionally challenging read, and over the next few years I read as many of his books as I could. He reminded me of Borges more than anyone.
Some, the more academic works, proved too much effort for me. Others I simply can’t find for a reasonable price. And there are some that I just don’t have that much interest in, but I’ll include them below for you completists.
The novels were easier, but still challenging. Below, for anyone wanting an Umberto Eco bibliography, I’ll list his novels, books for children, and works of non-fiction.
Based on what I have read so far, I still recommend that most people start with Name Of The Rose for his fiction, and my personal favorite of his non-fiction is On Ugliness.
I will also provide brief reviews for the books I have read so far.
Novels by Umberto Eco
The Name Of The Rose
When asked his motivation for writing this book, Eco said, “I wanted to poison a monk.” This is a medieval detective story featuring a bunch of monks, a library, a labyrinth, and more. The first 100 or so pages are challenging. Stick it out. The story moves fast once it picks up.
Those crazy Rosicrucians with their secret lists and signs and secret societies! This novel, which is quite funny to me, will teach you a bit about the Kabbalah, codebreaking, and more. This is one I need to read again. I originally picked it up because I heard that it was “hard,” and I suspect that parts were way over my head.
The Island Of The Day Before
A man in the 17th century becomes marooned on a ship for, uh…forever? Maybe? While he’s there, he reminisces about the past, which includes a twin brother he might not even have. This book can’t really be summed up, but I loved it. I did laugh at one Amazon reviewer’s statement that Island is the only thing you need to study for the vocabulary portion of the GRE.
If you enjoy Eco’s other novels, I think you’ll trust this book enough to see it through. If I had started here, I think it would have kicked my butt and just confused me.
Meet Baudolino, a peasant who just might be the most charming (and erudite) liar of all time. Eco knows his history, and so does his main character, who is able to weasel his way into many situations above his station. A fun, playful read. Yes, it’s really long.
The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana
An old bookseller suffers a stroke and loses his memories, except for the books, comics, and ephemera he has read. This gives Eco a wonderful reason to play spot-the-reference with just about every piece of pop culture ever. I was especially pleased with the Flash Gordon bits. I loved Flash.
The Cemetery Of Prague
Released later in 2011.
Non-fiction book by Umberto Eco
The Aesthetics Of Thomas Aquinas
Art And Beauty In The Middle Ages
The Open Work
The Middle Ages Of James Joyce, The Aesthetics Of Chaosmos
Travels In Hyperreality
A Theory Of Semiotics
Semiotics And The Philosophy Of Language
The Limits Of Interpretation
Interpretation And Overinterpretation
The Search For The Perfect Language
Six Walks In The Fictional Woods
Belief Or Nonbelief? A Dialogue
Five Moral Pieces
Kant And The Platypus: Essays On Language And Cognition
I’ve only made it through a few of these essays. Recommended for fans of Noam Chomsky, people who never need dictionaries when discussing semiotics, and people more intellectually robust than yours truly. I find linguistics fascinating, but this book assumed more knowledge than I was able to bring to it.
Serendipities: Language And Lunacy
How To Travel With A Salmon And Other Essays
A charming, funny little book. It reminded me of Sedaris without the edge or the bitterness, but wasn’t as folksy as Dave Barry’s or Bombeck’s humor.
Experiences In Translation
Think you know literature? Why it is (or isn’t important)? Well step right up and match wits with professor Eco. I think I would have been able to get more out of this book if I had been assigned it in an English class. Come to think of it, I never read anything by Eco during my English degree.
Mouse Or Rat? Translation As Negotiation
History Of Beauty
Turning Back The Clock: Hot Wars And Media Populism
The Infinity Of Lists
Confessions Of A Young Novelist
Children’s Books by Umberto Eco
The Bomb And The General
The Three Astronauts
The Gnomes Of Gnu