Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On Literature” as Want to Read:
On Literature
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

On Literature

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,939 ratings  ·  91 reviews
In this collection of essays and addresses delivered over the course of his illustrious career, Umberto Eco seeks "to understand the chemistry of [his] passion" for the word. From musings on Ptolemy and "the force of the false" to reflections on the experimental writing of Borges and Joyce, Eco's luminous intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge are on dazzling display thro ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,939 ratings  ·  91 reviews

More filters
Sort order
There is a lot more here than the title suggests: 'On Literature' includes a history of Italian anti-Americanism, and a piece on the power of lies and deceit throughout history, moving from the Donation of Constantine to the Hollow Earth theory.

Still, it is no surprise that Eco's interests are wide and deep. He writes about the imaginary worlds within worlds of Borges, Joyce's literary influences, Aristotle's Poetics and Dante's Paradiso. He plays around with aphorisms and picks apart etymology
Scribble Orca
Nov 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers, fans of Eco, literature reviewers
Shelves: literary
Seen this film by Luc Besson?

A 21 hour plane trip is usually the only chance I have to watch a few films. The last long journey I made offered such a dismal selection that for this trip I was already packed with every single one of those books on my 'currently reading' list and determined to finish each (and write a review) whilst on the first and longest leg of my two sector flight.

The best laid plans of ants and a person.

I decided to start with Umberto Eco, and following my fickle habit, I ope
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
There's an essay in this collection titled "On Camporesi: Blood, Body, Life." In it, Eco writes about Piero Camporesi, who in his writing apparently "invites us to look inside ourselves" -- not just emotionally, but viscerally, in terms of blood and body. Eco finds this very strange, unique, and suggests -- perhaps sarcastically, but I doubt it -- that you read it in small doses. It's too real, this guy's writing, you see: you probably can't handle it all at once.

And that, in a nutshell, is why
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These speeches on Literature that make up this book were perhaps the most difficult thing I've ever read. Many things I didn't understand, but many others left me in awe. 4 stars therefore, plus 1 for the Greek translator. I can't even begin to comprehend what knowledge is needed to perform this task!
Arun Divakar
Apr 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Umberto Eco has been an author whose works I have been trying to finish albeit unsuccessfully for quite some time now. I have tried twice to finish 'Name of the rose' but gave up half way in the process for want of a better reason. Foucault's Pendulum was no better either. The books seemed to mock me ' you need to read much better than this to get to us, boyo !!' was what they seemed to tell me. Every time at the library I pause at the rack on Eco's books and think "Should I ? or Should I not ? ...more
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
The book is a collection of rewritten essays on literature from the past 20 to 30 years. The range of topics in the book is vast and for someone who (me) is neither an expert nor a student of the field, some of them are beyond difficult to follow. However, the essays that deal with Eco's own novels and other familiar books are very enjoyable. What I appreciate the most is the chance to learn how someone with actual knowledge of the history and literary references understands the mentioned books. ...more
Jean Tessier
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leisure
The book is a collection of essays written by Umberto Eco for various conferences.

On Some Functions of Literature (2000)

Literature keeps language alive. It creates a shared body of stories and characters. Different authors each given them their own spin, but their core is part of the collective consciousness.

A Reading of the Paradiso (2000)

Paradiso is about light, which was an important concept to medieval readers and thinkers. Cathedrals are all about different kinds of light. We don't pay
Oct 22, 2017 marked it as to-read
Shelves: incomplete
Quote I hated: "the wretches who roam around aimlessly in gangs and kill people by throwing stones from a highway bridge or setting fire to a child—whoever these people are—turn out this way ... because they are excluded from the universe of literature and from those places where, through education and discussion, they might be reached by a glimmer from the world of values that stems from and sends us back again to books."
Oct 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: out-on-loan
"On Literature" opened my eyes to the horizons of literary criticism. (Caveat: I knew nothing about lit-crit then, and still know next to nothing about it now.)

Eco combines several essays - each focused on one book (most of which I still haven't read) and on a particularly striking aspect of this book.

Reading "On Literature", you are led into the dark and imposing forest of literature and suddenly realize that it's not as tangled and incomprehensible as you imagined.

One of the essays explores th
Feb 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
A mixed bag; ceremonial talks at awards ceremonies probably aren't where a scholar produces his best work. He's at his dullest talking about the authors he admires, like Joyce or Borges (and outright useless talking about ones he doesn't, like Oscar Wilde), and at his best talking about things like the persistent influence of Aristotle's Poetics in modern ideas about narrative, or the rhetorical structures in The Communist Manifesto. I just like the fact that he's one of those rare figures (his ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
loved this. always love books about books. he mentions maybe around 75 books here the majority i hadnt read or heard of but had read a good dozen that hes spoken about so it was interesting hearing his perspectives on them. the chapter where he talks about the name of the rose is really interesting and how he writes and how he prepares for sometimes 2 years researching, and drawing and taking pictures and notes was incredible. its inspired me to do the same with my book. very scientific approach ...more
Imran Kazi
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As always, Eco is brilliant, clear and factual on all things he has to say. Some of the articles requires understanding of Italian literature or classical literature which I skipped because my lack of knowledge. But those on symbolism, perception of American culture in Italy, and particularly 'How I write?' and the 'The power of falsehood' were superb. The last two are actually pretty necessary to understand Eco's novels and the ideas from which they germinated.
Sep 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Eco cites Borges as a major influence, and it's clear fun to read his linking of Borges, the possible world of the possible library, incontrovertible facts in fiction, hypertext, Dante, Wilde, and on. A fine mind, if far more 'academic' than Borges. Good criticism here; if you are averse to semiotics, you may not like it so much, but Eco draws creative threads and reminds us that a society without literature is a poor one indeed.
William Schram
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting. Umberto Eco is a very well-read man. I enjoyed reading this because of his multiple references to his own works and other works. Eco especially likes The Divine Comedy and mentions it every chance he gets. He also talks about James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges a lot, which explains his influences and other things.

I would read this again.
Saška Stojakov
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sulla letteratura is not an easy read, it is a collection of Eco's essays about literature. As a former student of English language and literature and an avid reader who is familiar with approximately 80% of the works mentioned in the book, I thought it would be great to read it. Although I was familiar with the metalanguage used in the book, sometimes it was so difficult to follow the narrative, because there are numerous digressions, which can sometimes distract the attention of the reader. So ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book is worth reading, however, it seems that it heavily gravitates towards repetitions of my favorite "Six walks in fictional woods" and very much of "Confessions of a Young Novelist". Mr. Eco discusses the main pillars of his approach to creative writing, on developing ideas, and meticulous technique of developing the story in time and space. To me, it does not seem necessary to set the action, let's say, on 15th of October 1895 in Paris in the 5th district, and then to check the exact tim ...more
Carole B
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I will have to reread this when I am smarter, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I understood. As most collections of Eco's work, this is an assortment of essays and speeches, but this one particularly has a more studied style. As for the individual pieces, three stood out as addressing the process of writing in a broad context: "On Some Functions of Literature," which addresses the eternal problems of what literature does and how it exists independent of its author; "Borges and My Anxiety of Influen ...more
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Umberto Eco's ON LITERATURE is another literary treat. These are three hundred pages of sublime thoughts from the superstar academic-novelist. What I loved about this book is how Eco really goes in to the technical aspects of storytelling.

There are useful chapters on the 'functions of literature', style, symbolism and irony.

My favourite chapter is called 'How I Write' where Umberto Eco writes about how he ended up writing most of his successful novels, especially THE NAME OF THE ROSE.

And the
Robert Day
4.79% "One of the functions of literature is to create true fictions. If we change those truths, which we can through hypertextuality, then... well, then what? Then fictional truth becomes untruth and Eco gets the lip on? Well, boo-hoo."

6.89% "Eco likes Dante's Paradiso a lot and seems to imagine that others don't."

8.38% "Eco thinks the Communist Manifesto is a fine piece of rhetoric and should be studied as such. Not sure whether that makes him a communist, though."

18.56% "Eco talks about a boo
Bryan Szabo
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it

Eco reminds me of many things, but this most of all: that which I have read is but a drop in the bucket. There are moments in these essays that make this point more obvious (especially since Eco addresses his readers as though they are familiar, even intimately so, with the works--even the arcane ones--under discussion. Still, his erudition and clear delight vis-a-vis the written word is inspiring.
Apr 18, 2010 rated it liked it
If you only I have time to read a few of the essays in this book, read the following:

1) On the Style of the Communist Manifesto
2) On Symbolism
3) On Style
4) Intertextual Irony and Levels of Reading
5) The American Myth in Three Anti-American Generations

These are, in my opinion, the best of an excellent set of essays.
Aug 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, non-fiction
I like reading Eco on his writing and on language in general. He takes an infectuous delight in language, as a reader and as an author. Other than the Name of the Rose I have not managed to finish any of his novels, but am fascinated by the processes he lays out in this book, and in Mouse or Rat, another non-fiction book by him about translation.
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldnotfinish
I understand Mr. Eco is one complex dude, but when you're writing about literature please keep the sentences to less than four dependent clauses. Sheesh...
Mar 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Eco is a genius, a pleb like me would've titled this "How to Write Wicked Awesome Stories"
Irina Gavrish
Many ideas and thoughts in the book were interesting and quite fresh, at least for me.
However, the way they are presented is not appealing to a reader at all. To tell the truth, I have no idea for whom the book is written. Definitely, not for a totally unprepared reader, who wants to learn more about literature. The author thinks that you ALREADY know a lot about it, he never explains basics.
So I thought that maybe the book is for people somehow connected to the discipline of literature, for e
Hmm, my first foray into the mind of Umberto Eco and I didn't love this like I thought I would. He's unbelievably intelligent and cultured (I swear my brain grew new synapses with every page) but also hard to follow. I found a glaring lack of references to women in history and women in literature. Every single author or figure of importance to Eco is a man, which is disappointing and narrow-minded, despite the man's genius. I interpreted his lack of reference as a dismissive attitude toward the ...more
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: italian
required reading for anyone planning to write abt Il Paradiso
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
As ever with Eco's nonfiction, some excellent insight, some smug self-indulgence, and some impenetrable obscurity. But plenty here to engage (with some judicious skimming and skipping).
Read with Eco's Six Walks in the Fictional Woods for a pretty good idea of Eco's poetics. Both books examine the limits of what can be done by the author through examining the experience of the reader. This collection doesn't really get going until about 100 pages in, with its pair of essays on Borges, but after those first 100 pages, it is a delight (and he explains a bit about why one can have 100 pages that might not interest the reader, because his ideas about the "model reader" and writing ...more
Stephen Wong
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I hadn't read again Umberto Eco since Foucault's Pendulum about twenty years ago. And I think now that I was a naive reader back then. This summer was spent in some widening horizons in literature this time. (I remember last summer I was in the middle of reading Proust's reading of John Ruskin.) This anthology of Eco's other writings serves to bring the journey home from the expanse of the travels of an interested writer, that is, interested in his craft, but also fully didactic unto the reader ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Uses of Literature
  • A Reader on Reading
  • The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life
  • Lectures on Literature
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
  • For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction
  • Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics
  • Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments
  • The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel
  • The Art of the Novel
  • The Pleasure of the Text
  • After Theory
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
  • Fiction and the Figures of Life
  • Anatomy of Criticism
  • Theory of Prose
  • Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
See similar books…
Umberto Eco was an Italian writer of fiction, essays, academic texts, and children's books. A professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Eco’s brilliant fiction is known for its playful use of language and symbols, its astonishing array of allusions and references, and clever use of puzzles and narrative inventions. His perceptive essays on modern culture are filled with a delightful sen ...more
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“There is only one thing that you write for yourself, and that is a shopping list.” 19 likes
“La seule chose qu'on écrit pour soi, c'est la liste des courses. Elle sert à vous rappeler ce que vous devez acheter, et une fois vos achats accomplis, vous pouvez la jeter car elle ne sert plus à personne. Tout ce que vous écrivez d'autre, vous l'écrivez pour dire quelque chose à quelqu'un.” 2 likes
More quotes…