15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2011
Professor Eco is a well-known scholar in semiotics and novelist. He has written several best-selling novels, including "The Name of the Rose", "Foucault's Pendulum", "The Island of the Day Before", and "Baudolino". In this book, Professor Eco demystifies skills in merging semantic knowledge with novel writing and interpretation.
This book consists of 4 key chapters in which Professor Eco offers the following insights to readers on his unique knowledge and experience in novel writing and interpretation:-
1. Novel writing requires more perspiration than inspiration (P.9). It took 2 years for Professor Eco to write "The Name of the Rose" because he had undertaken intensive research on medieval aesthetics and piled up huge medieval files for decades. However, it was relatively time consuming for him to write "Foucault's Pendulum" (8 years) and "Baudolino" (6 years) (P.11) because he had to collect information and visited different sites before starting the first chapter. Coming up with a title fully formed with puckish inspiration does not suffice to start writing.
2. Novelists should have seminal ideas and images and impose some constraints (P.25) to construct the narrative world which determines the novel's style (P.23). Novel is different with poetry because it is the narrative world the novelist has built that dictates rhythm, style, and word choice ("Remtene, verba sequentur") (P.14) whereas in poetry words can determine the subject. Taking the writing of "Foucault's Pendulum" as an example, the design of passageway between two publishing houses and the precise layout of the publishing house offices can affect how the story went.
3. Novel is creative writing and its key purpose is to elicit conjectures and interpretations so that novelists should never provide interpretations of their own work or eliminate the ambiguity to readers. According to Professor Eco, interpretations can include the intention of the novelist, the intention of the reader, and the intention of the text (P.35). Empirical readers may not understand unfathomable private life of empirical authors (P.68) and their every creative process that have grown out of unconscious mechanisms (P.64).
4. A lot of readers have emotional illusions and are used not to able to distinguish between fiction and reality (P.71) and take fictional characters as "physical existing objects" (PhEO). Every object can endow with certain properties but according to Professor Eco, existence is not an indispensable property (P.100) because from semiotic perspective, it concerns more the plane of expression (signified) instead of plane of content (signifier). In novel, assertions of fictional characters are due to "internal empirical legitimacy" (fictional truth) instead of "external empirical legitimacy" (encyclopedia truth).
5. It takes time for novelists to draw up a complete list of their lists for enumeration rhetoric purpose. What distinguishes a practical (i.e. guest list for a party and library catalogue) from a poetic list is that the former is necessarily (P.157) finite and the latter is open, "topo of ineffability" (P.141) or "etcetera" (P.122).
This book is highly recommended to readers who are interested in having full understanding of novel writing and interpretation. Moreover, students and scholars from modern literature are immensely benefited from this book which contains Eco's views on semiotics.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2011
Umberto Eco's nice little volume [5" by 7"] offers his 1988 Richard Ellmann Lectures [a group of four lectures] at Emory University. The attractively produced 200 page book contains 100 pages of witty writings by Prof. Eco combined with an other 100 pages of padded text, perhaps to make the book longer. Prof. Eco's witticism starts out with the book's title which refers to a Young Novelist as he approaches 80. Incidentally, his best known novels, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum were written when he was about fifty, establishing him as a very successfull novelist.
The relatively brief first three chapters of the book provide good insights into Prof. Eco's methods of conceiving and building up a story line and of selecting key characters. His specialty at the University of Bologna were semiotics [study of signs and symbols] and medieval history; thus his novels usually play out in medieval times and they use many symbols and heavy symbolism. Those three chapters expound the importance of the novelist being very familiar with the venues of the story down to the minute details and the point is made by him how critical it is for the writer to thoroughly understand the characters and their thinking. Of course, this is something what normally discussed in any course on writing. Prof. Eco's contribution here to the general knowledge is that he cites many examples from his own three earlier novels, giving a very good appreciation of his technique.
The fourth chapter of the book, My Lists, however is a tedious recitation of several lists from Prof. Eco and from other, equally good writers: Homer, Rabelais, Shekespeare, James Joyce, etc [!]. Prof. Eco quotes a multitude of long lists, pages after pages, which contain random listings from many sources, enumerating objects, nouns, names, fragments, mostly quite out of context. After a few pages of this one feels like reading the telephone book. I wonder how the audience of the lecture managed to stay awake, since this chapter is as long, as the other three chapters together. Perhaps this lecture was originally no longer than any one of the other three, but for the printed version the book had to be at least 200 pages long, so this last chapter had to be expanded. Well, authors are usually paid by the word-count.
This book I bought for my budding novelist granddaughter in New York. She will learn a lot from the first three chapters, I am sure. The last 100 pages however may never be read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2012
For readers, both mesmerized and perplexed by the Grand Semiotician's oeuvre, this small tome clears the mist somewhat and adds lists to the list of lists, sometimes humorously, sometimes perplexingly, but it's a must-have for those aiming to understand. Like the Yellowstone bear covered with tire tracks, moaning, "All I wanted was a cooky," I expected something more autobiographical, but considering it is Eco, it was probably just right. I recommend most heartily.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2012
This book was a Christmas gift. The person that received it enjoyed it very much !!
I have not read it yet, so am not able to give any input except that I know several people that have read this book and recommended it.