The Librarian’s Shelf: A work in translation

July around these parts has a tendency to be hot and humid and thoroughly uninviting. Its opposite from the winter but just as inhospitable if you aren’t used to it (spoiler: I am not). Fortunately, this afforded me enough time to get through my next book, a work in translation/over 500 pages. Yes, I know I wrote about a 500 page book earlier, but the truth of the matter is I’ll be getting through one part of Kristin Lavransdatter, not all 3, so there’s a bit of a category swap needed.

So what else is there that’s a work in translation and over 500? I mean aside from Tolstoy, which I did not read. I picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And yes, I am late to the Eco party but this happens in a world where there are so many books to read and so little time.

Now, if you pick up The Name of the Rose, don’t make the mistake I did and think this is a mystery. Yes, there is a mystery inside but I can’t really call it a full fledged member of the genre. I read mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny. Father Brown would make the list too, and I just finished every Phryne Fisher mystery I could get at the local public library. And if you’ve read any of those authors you’ll detect a theme: enjoyable mystery, solvable, but the characters make the piece. They stand out, they’re funny or witty or just good people, or more importantly, *interesting* people.

Eco was, first and foremost, a semiotician and a philosopher. And it shows. This book is long; it clocks in at 512 pages and they are dense pages. There are explorations of symbols, meaning, and a rather intricate look at the life of a medieval monastery. The chapters are even arranged around the liturgy of the hours, which was a nice touch. I did enjoy the book, but I enjoyed it a lot more once I decided it wasn’t a mystery. Think of it as historical fiction that will give you a window into a very rich medieval world and, oh yes, there are a few murders and mysteries and a labyrinth.

In terms of other works in translation, your best friend on campus is the Ballroom. This houses the collection of works in original languages, heavy on the Latin and Greek. This is also where you’ll find all literature that’s not American, with a smattering of English works that predate Shakespeare. The good Bard is our dividing line between the Ballroom and the Newman room, and you could safely argue that a number of those old English works are in translation.

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