Jim Coughenour's Reviews > Confessions of a Young Novelist

Confessions of a Young Novelist by Umberto Eco
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May 17, 11

bookshelves: european-fiction, literary-criticism
Read from May 15 to 17, 2011

This small handsome volume of Eco's Richard Ellmann lectures turned out to be something of a disappointment. In Eco's novels, imagination is at the service of erudition – which isn't a fatal flaw – but I often have the feeling he's more interested in impressing than in entertaining his readers. In these "confessions" (which aren't confessions at all) he runs the risk of boring them, particularly in the last and longest chapter entitled "My Lists," which lists the types of list. Like a celebrated guest who doesn't know when to stop showing off, Eco illustrates his arcane typology by long listless passages of lists from his own books. Although myself a fan of lists (like the Guardian's Top 10s), I soon wearied of his distinctions among enumeration, accumulation, incrementum, gradatio, panegyric, encomiastic, asyndeton and polysyndeton. (These from just the first few pages.)

However, every once in a while something wonderful would pop up, such as the lyrics from a Cole Porter song or the poem "Possibilities" by Wisława Szymborska –

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people to myself loving humanity.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.


– which is an example of anaphora, the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of each item. Which in turn reminded me (and this is your reward if you've read this far) of the unique, delightful book I Remember by Joe Brainard, any page of which has more ordinary enchantment than the whole of Eco's numbing enumeratio.
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