The Day Umberto Died

It was 1998, I think, when I bought my very first grown up book. Feeling like I read just about everything categorized under “young adult”, I was feeling frisky and adventurous — the kind that wasn’t easily appeased by hardbound Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books.

Umberto Eco

And so there I was at the bookstore with my mother in tow, judging books more by its synopses and covers rather than a Goodreads or Amazon review. It was then that Umberto Eco’s “The Island Of The Day Before” caught my eye, not only for its title, but more so for its author’s name. Umberto Eco.

The Island Of The Day Before

As far as reading milestones go, The Island Of The Day Before was my christening into a new breed of books — books that were far removed from the libraries and book fairs that all-girls schools had.

It was and it still is a difficult read. The book followed its own tone, own language, own pace. One that I wasn’t quite prepared for or mature enough to understand. Still, I labored, sometimes begrudging the book choice I had made.

But it was then that I realized, books are not always easily read. That the speed reading of ideas and of stories isn’t always called for (is it ever?). That some books are simply meant to be put off, resurrected only when the “time is right” both for the reader and the story.

I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it. I was always defined as too erudite and philosophical, too difficult. Then I wrote a novel that is not erudite at all, that is written in plain language, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and among my novels it is the one that has sold the least. So probably I am writing for masochists. It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged. — Umberto Eco, 2011 interview with the Guardian

Umberto Eco is dead. It’s easy to romanticize his works and to make grand statements of how his writing changed lives now that he has passed, but in his case it actually is warranted.

While it feels like several lifetimes have passed and my reading tastes have evolved, there is still that one book that I will never forget, whose tone, pace and language will forever be difficult but worth it in the long run. So salute Umberto, and as you once wrote, this is not the end of the book.


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