Umberto Eco on unread books


Originally published at:


For me, this is how pretty much everything works. I have a vague mental picture of books I’ve read, of the education I’ve received, of conversations I’ve had, of things I’ve done. But if you asked me for exact facts or dates or quotes, I would be hard pressed to come up with them. Unless it’s something really recent, or something I do all the time, or something I got lucky and happened to remember very clearly at random, I’ll at least have to have something to jog my memory and bring back a more complete recollection (which, to be fair, usually works- it’s not like there’s no real memory, it’s just hard to access without a prompt). Is that unusual?


Sounds like a disease, frankly. How to become misinformed and listing like a beached boat at the speed of presumption.


Ditto. And, yet, the full names of fictional character from fantasy novels I read 15 years ago, sometimes in multiple fictional languages? Still got those. Lyrics to Veggie Tales’ “Belly of the Whale”? Yup, still there (shudder). I often tell people that if I had any control whatsoever over which facts I remembered, it would be life-changing.


Ditto too.

I wonder if we’re becoming more adept at knowing what we know (an imperfect overview plus an index), and at subcontracting the details to Google.

[Sorry; that’s possibly more of a reply to Hanglyman.]


It’s almost as if memory is an analogy rather than a copy!


Sometimes I feel one could replace novels in this scenario with long, tedious thread responses that we skim through - or skip over, because we have a general idea about the writer’s mindset without having to read every word.


He also said: “I can read the Bible, Homer, or Dylan Dog for several days without being bored.”
The last part, I can definitely agree with.


I’ll take you to the ball Barbara Manatee


I really need to start reading actual books more again. I too read A LOT, but its all short content. I got several non fiction and fiction books I want to read. I guess I could start with re-reading Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books, as most of them are collections of short stories.


I have to say I just love Eco, and I like his point here. I try not to talk about books I haven’t read, but not for any semiotic reason. I’m just afraid somebody will see through my pretension.


Are you afraid the people you are chatting with will all stop as one, stare and yell: “He’s a PENGUIN? HOW DID WE NOT SEE IT BEFORE?”

Make sure your disguise skill is up to the level you need it, bro.


Hey I put 4 character points into it, whaddaya want?


300 level Electricity and Magentism, Linear Algebra theory level class… nothing (and I made an A in both so I fucking knew something at one time)… Entire scenes from Monty Python And The Holy Grail not a problem.


This might help. Keep a couple of books in the bathroom. Might prompt you to start one and later finish it. I have a mini library in mine. Of course, I still love to read novels.


I do do that. I did actually get several Shadow Pulps read before my dad gave me a magazine trove and I’ve been going through that.


Heck, I took an entire course on tensor theory and got absolutely nothing out of it even at the time altho I did make a B. The text was atrocious, a serious compendium of how not to write a math textbook.


To be fair to the 300 level Linear Algebra class I dropped it 3 times cause the text sucked and all I could get out of the TA or prof for help was a reciting of the book also one of those was a prof I had learned to avoid on top of it. I found out later he flunked all the undergrads in that class.

The 4th time we got a professor who was “that book really sucked for those you taking this again and hey this new book is way better and way cheaper” and he was good at splainin’ it to the class as well. Happily I was working full time for the school so classes were cheap.


What’s really odd about that is that linear algebra is pretty easy and should be hard to screw up in a text. Abstract algebra is where it gets hard and you stop dealing with numbers and functions and go directly to weird. And then there’s topology…


It’s a common thing with fiction. This blog post suggests we might be able to use it productively. I haven’t tried.