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.

Highlights from the Collection: Harper Lee and Umberto Eco

Highlights from the Collection: Harper Lee and Umberto Eco

Two authors passed at the end of last week, as I’m sure you all have heard. Both Harper Lee and Umberto Eco are represented in the College’s catalog, which I imagine comes as no surprise.

Harper Lee was an American author, born and raised in the deep South. Her work, To Kill a Mockingbird, is considered an American classic, and has been on summer reading lists and in curricula in high schools across the country for quite some time. I still have vivid memories of clutching that purple paperback at La Jolla Shores, trying desperately to focus on my summer reading instead of the ocean in front of me. Interestingly, To Kill a Mockingbird was not just Lee’s most famous work until recently, it was her only published work. Go Set a Watchman was released earlier this year to a fair bit of consternation. Having not read it myself, I can’t say whether it is good, bad, or just different. Those looking for To Kill a Mockingbird in the library should visit the Newman Room.

Eco’s works span both fiction and non fiction; his day job was as a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. He was somewhat polarizing, too highbrow for some and too lowbrow for others. Nevertheless, his works gained attention, particularly his first novel, The Name of the Rose. I must confess, The Name of the Rose is currently in my “to be read” pile, and so I cannot recommend a particular work of Eco’s. The collection contains quite a few. Eco’s nonfictional works can be found in the Ballroom (including Kant and the Platypus, shown in the image attached to this entry), his fictional works in the Newman Room. A single work of his, on Art in the Middle Ages, can be found in the Scholar’s lounge.