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Confessions of a Young Novelist (The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature) [Hardcover]

Umberto Eco
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Book Description

5 April 2011 The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature
Umberto Eco published his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in 1980, when he was nearly fifty. In these "confessions," the author, now in his late seventies, looks back on his long career as a theorist and his more recent work as a novelist, and explores their fruitful conjunction. He begins by exploring the boundary between fiction and nonfiction--playfully, seriously, brilliantly roaming across this frontier. Good nonfiction, he believes, is crafted like a whodunnit, and a skilled novelist builds precisely detailed worlds through observation and research. Taking us on a tour of his own creative method, Eco recalls how he designed his fictional realms. He began with specific images, made choices of period, location, and voice, composed stories that would appeal to both sophisticated and popular readers. The blending of the real and the fictive extends to the inhabitants of such invented worlds. Why are we moved to tears by a character's plight? In what sense do Anna Karenina, Gregor Samsa, and Leopold Bloom "exist"? At once a medievalist, philosopher, and scholar of modern literature, Eco astonishes above all when he considers the pleasures of enumeration. He shows that the humble list, the potentially endless series, enables us to glimpse the infinite and approach the ineffable. This "young novelist" is a master who has wise things to impart about the art of fiction and the power of words.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (5 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674058690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674058699
  • Product Dimensions: 18.7 x 11.7 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 576,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Always clever and thoughtful, these musings will delight devotees and enlighten newcomers alike. Publishers Weekly 20110110 Eco addresses interesting questions: what is the boundary between fiction and nonfiction? How do novelists put together books? Why do we care about wholly fictional characters like Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary?...As always, Eco is diverting to read. Recommended as a valuable introduction to how an important writer produces his fiction. -- David Keymer Library Journal 20110201 Refined by a lifetime of reading, studying, and creating texts across languages, genres, and centuries, the wisdom of this "young" novelist abounds. -- Brendan Driscoll Booklist 20110315 Confessions of a Young Novelist offers a brief glimpse into the mind and process of one of the most important writers of the last 30 years...Eco is a jocular and insightful writer (and speaker), and his ability to present the complex as if it were comprehensible makes Confessions of a Young Novelist a pleasant, albeit brief, read...It's rare to be invited into a great writer's intimate space, an opportunity that shouldn't be taken for granted. -- Michael Patrick Brady PopMatters 20110415 Is there anything Umberto Eco cannot do? It has been said before and certainly will be said again--Umberto Eco is a true Renaissance man...Now, with the publication of Confessions of a Young Novelist, he offers readers an effective primer on both his oeuvre and the contemporary field of semiotics...Akin to a Paris Review interview turned essay, Confessions is both polemic and intensely personal, infused with Eco's trademark fastidiousness and also bursting with bombasticity. No matter the subject, Eco appears both grandiose and also dedicated to the minutiae. For a public figure and academic, he is delightfully unguarded and frank...The fruits of Eco's semiotic detective work...are presented so clearly as to become Confessions's most fascinating revelations...He posits in his very first paragraph that he is indeed a young novelist. We know this to be untrue, Eco is currently nearing eighty. But this, his first confession, that despite all his fame and honorifics he feels like an amateur, is what imbues all the pages beyond with such vibrancy and hunger--Eco is just another reader, trying to understand. -- Hillary Kelly The Millions 20110504 Engaging, brilliant...[A] playful book. -- Janet Todd The Guardian 20110312 [Eco] offers a charming glimpse into the demiurge's private workshop. -- Adam Kirsch Barnes and Noble Review 20110531 Umberto Eco wrote his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in 1980. It was the first of only five novels, and it was a runaway bestseller. The Name of the Rose was so popular that critics accused Eco, a semiotics professor, of programming a computer with a secret formula for a successful novel. Eco was, of course, offended and fired back a series of sarcastic modest proposals that pretty much flattened his critics. There may not be a formula, or a recipe, but there are ingredients for a successful novel, and now, decades later, Eco has decided to tell us what he believes they are. -- Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times 20110602 For good book chat it's hard to beat Umberto Eco. The mega-selling Italian novelist, essayist, semiologist, scholar and critic has long been one of our best informed and entertaining commentators on literary matters, and in [this] new book he proves he's still near the top of his game. -- Alex Good Toronto Star 20110730 After a lapse of 30 years since his venture into fiction, [Eco] has come up with a meandering little book that offers his readers an effective primer on both his oeuvre and the contemporary field of semiotics...Laced with Eco's fastidiousness but delightfully unguarded and frank, Confessions is divided into four parts with the idea of providing a peek into the elusive process of a writer or what could be described as literary theory. Business Standard 20110924

About the Author

Umberto Eco Professor Emeritus at the University of Bologna and is the author of many books, including Foucault's Pendulum and Six Walks in the Fictional Woods.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An idiosyncratic little gem 3 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to acknowledge that Umberto Eco's books are fascinating and this slim and small format volume of two hundred pages is no exception. I think I have identified elements that give rise to this fascination:the phenomenal erudition of the author, his very powerful intellect, and his amazing ability to weave the myriad elements and concepts comprising the complex text into a compelling narrative.

In the ensuing I shall comment briefly on the author, and the nature and merit of the book.

Umberto Eco is professor-now emeritus-of Semiotics at the University of Bologna, medievalist, and theorist but also novelist;his first novel 'The Name of the Rose' published around 1980 catapulted him into fame.

The book under review was the result of a series of lectures delivered by the author at Emory University in the context of 'The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature' relating to his experiences as a novelist.

The book is witty and entertaining but importantly insightful and conceptually rich. I wish to clarify that the witty remarks in the book are not an aim in themselves but serve a twofold objective:they lighten the narrative and render it lively and entertaining but also serve to bring the points raised by the author in the text into a sharp focus.

The author identifies two defining elements in his novels:the first is that his starting point is a seminal idea or image and the second is the construction of the narrative which determines the novel's style.

In the case of 'The Name of the Rose' the seminal idea was 'the poisoning of a monk.'

In narrative, it is the universe the author has built, and the events that occur in it, that dictate rhythm, style and even word choice.
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By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
How difficult to give a score out of five for a book which satisfied so deeply for the first 78 pages and then became, for me at least, pretty tedious!

The first two chapters are fab: they focus on Eco's own writing, and he discusses in entertaining detail how he came to tell stories (lots of practice telling bedtime tales to his children), how he began to write properly (a detective story for a dare) and how his novels came about (lots of walking the Parisian streets at night, as it turns out). I found all this material very gripping and delightful. I found particularly interesting the stories of the books in his own library, his research for his very detailed novels and his discussion of the use by authors of true-life circumstances in their books. If you love the Name of the Rose, there's a special treat in store in terms of sources which I won't spoil.

Eco is SUCH a clever man and yet so capable of explaining things simply that all this section is done with great charm.

However, the third and fourth chapters of this book are much more theoretical, concerning the nature of fictional characters and why we care for them ( he starts by saying he doesn't care about the answer to this question at all, then devotes about 80 pages to answering it; and a final digression on the subject of literary lists which had huge chunks (really excerpts) from his own books, which I didn't enjoy.

Such a shame (for my money anyway) that he didn't stick to the interesting philosophical questions raised in the first half - the relationship, for example, between the rights of a reader to invest in interpreting a text, and the rights of the author to say what a text is intended to mean, is discussed with just delightful skill and lightness of touch.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Novel Writing and Interpretation 26 Jun 2011
By Hubert Shea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Confessions - with some padding. 16 Dec 2011
By R. Denes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Eco-philes Will Love 15 Feb 2012
By Printzessdea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gift 19 Jan 2012
By Valerie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 24 Aug 2014
By John J. Costello Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fine vintage Eco.
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