The Library of Eco
January 29, 2021 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Oh my dog, that is beautiful. I,ve always wanted a house with a real library, with sliding ladders and comfy armchairs positioned under reading lamps. All the books. ALL THE BOOKS.
posted by supermedusa at 3:30 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]

The secret entrance and dead bodies in The Name of the Rose were poetic license, but the library itself was mostly accurate.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:33 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]

Trust me, I know where everything is. I have a system.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 3:36 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]

I do too - ask me where a book is, and I'll tell you what teetering stack in which room of the apartment it's buried in!
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:58 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

Love this and love Eco. His fiction starts out amazing but always seems to fall apart in the end. Let’s hope this library doesn’t follow that pattern.
posted by misterpatrick at 4:10 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

Life goals.
posted by tclark at 4:17 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

Apparently he had donated this library, too! From further down in that Twitter thread:

"The Library will be donated to the State, the ancient books will be preserved in Milan while 35.000 modern books will be available at the Bologna University library (90 years loan) in a special new wing"

That's in reference to this recent article (in Italian).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:04 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

I love this! Also love awesome library content of any flavor. Usually just see various photodumps that my dad inevitably tags me in (for example Thread of the most beautiful Libraries of the World) but this vid makes me want to see actual people moving around in the spaces too. Great post.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:00 PM on January 29

posted by lothar at 6:11 PM on January 29

Wait until you see his sock drawers.
posted by pracowity at 6:15 PM on January 29 [14 favorites]

"What does the fish remind you of?"
"Other fish"
"And what does other fish remind you of?"
"other fish"
-Joseph Heller. epigram in Foucault's Pendulum. what a vision. thanks!
posted by clavdivs at 6:58 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

Threadreader version.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:01 PM on January 29

Oh, my goodness.

Yesterday I watched The Booksellers documentary, which has an interview with Jay Walker, owner of the Library of the History of Human Imagination (tour; "the architecture of the vast room was inspired by the mind-bending designs of artist M.C. Escher"). Constructed in 2002, the 3,600 sq. ft. facility features multilevel tiers, “floating” platforms, connecting stairways, glass-paneled bridges, dynamic lighting and music, and specially commissioned artworks that celebrate major achievements in the history of human invention.

The Walker library houses some 30,000 books, as well as artistic, scientific and historical artifacts.
Walker explained that to stir the imagination, the books are arranged by size.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:30 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]

misterpatrick: Eco...

Way back in 1978, at Brown University, visiting lecture on his SEMIOTICS book tour, someone asked: "This whole semiotics thing, aren't you just riding a trendy academic wave, to make a buck?"

He answered something along the lines of: "Madame, I am a very intelligent person, I can do whatever I decide to do. If I wanted to write a best selling novel, I could do that."

Then he did. (Name of the Rose)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:10 PM on January 29 [14 favorites]

[A couple deleted. Let's skip the Marie Kondo argument this time.]
posted by taz (staff) at 2:16 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]

It was a remark of Prof. Eco that convinced me it was okay to buy more books than one could read. I don't recall the medium, but someone visits his library with him and gushes: Mr. Eco, it's just amazing that you've read all of these books. Eco: Read all of them? Of course I haven't. That's not what a library is for!

If he explained what a library is for, I don't remember that either, but this was enough for me and I set out on a life of buying books at a rate faster than I can consume them.

Perhaps I would say: Books; they shouldn't be so much trophies of one's past reading, as maps of various possibilities of future reading adventure. Charts of vague countries that if granted appropriate attention can be made more and more definite and real. (But which don't have to be granted such.)
posted by bertran at 2:34 AM on January 30 [21 favorites]

Apparently, "Eco’s deadpan response to his visitors’ question was, 'No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office.'"

I haven't read the essay in question, but apparently it's in How to Travel with a Salmon.

Also, this caused Nassim Taleb, who generally annoys the crap out of me, which unfortunately doesn't mean he never said anything smart, to come up with the concept of an antilibrary...

Also, something something L-space
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 4:20 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]

I thought that was a GIF loop.
posted by MtDewd at 4:44 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

Apparently, "Eco’s deadpan response to his visitors’ question was, 'No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office.'"

Thanks, kleinsteradikaleminderheit, for the links. But that response of Eco's is facetious, born of annoyance, right?
posted by bertran at 4:51 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

bertran - Well if he was being serious, I'd be comfortable saying that the man owned too many books :p But yes, I imagine the subtext was precisely what you said earlier.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 5:01 AM on January 30

>35,000 modern books

at ~$100 per that's $3.5M

The books and DVDs I bought from Amazon 2001-2004 (instead of investing in AAPL) cost me about that . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 5:01 AM on January 30

that's $3.5M

I always think of writers' libraries in terms of how many copies of, say, Name of the Rose sold = how many other books bought.

($100 per? You need to find a new bookseller.)
posted by BWA at 5:29 AM on January 30

Little known fact: His library uses the Borges Classification System. This book was found under the “those that from a long way off look like flies” section.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:04 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]

I once read a remark by someone who said that they would know they had been successful as a parent if their children’s idea of decorating was making sure they had enough bookshelves; I’ve always liked that notion.

But watching that clip, I was struck primarily by the sense of “imagine being able to afford enough house to contain that many bookshelves!” Maybe the corollary to the above parenting goal is about whether your children understand financial success in terms of how much space they can devote to their library.
posted by nickmark at 9:34 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]

I don't even own a sweater vest. :-(
posted by SoberHighland at 9:53 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]

IF you made the big semiotics money, you could afford many sweater vests.
posted by thelonius at 10:08 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]

From a previous thread about books, I’ve learned that there are some who are touchy about people saying how many books they have, as in number of books means better kind of person, versus number of books means person with a huge lumberous albatross they must bear. On that note, shifting albatross to the other shoulder, I like that while reading book A which mentions book B I can go to the other room, pull book B off the shelf and see what’s really there. And no, I haven’t yet read book B, but it’s there. And book A’s mention of B may get me to read it. And, yes, thanks to the tubes of internet, I could search for book B and maybe it’s there, and I could look at it, but I prefer the physical object, and while going to get it, I might see something else. Serendipity only happens under the right circumstances. Living in your own library is like living in a whole cosmos to explore.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:52 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]

Living in your own library is like living in a whole cosmos to explore.

What a beautiful sentiment.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:09 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the thread! Looking into how he's 100% savage all the time I definitely need to pick up some of these books.
posted by RichAndCreamy at 1:10 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, the antilibrary, coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb inspired by Eco. Myself, I'm getting close to an antilibary, but remain in the space of Tsundoku.
posted by curoi at 2:34 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]

I had a professor in grad school who could also unerringly find any book or journal. What was different is that she did this in her office which was the messiest, most unorganized (looking) office I've ever seen. It was genuinely uncomfortable to meet with her in her office because of the tottering stacks of books everywhere that made the office not only feel claustrophobic but also feel slightly dangerous ("What if a stack falls over? Will it set off a chain reaction that buries me, perhaps knocking me unconscious?"). It was also an uncomfortable office to visit because she only had one small chair for visitors that (a) she had to clear of books whenever someone visited and (b) was uncomfortably close to her because of the general lack of available space in the office. But she could, without fail, find every book and journal (issue) that she recommended I read by immediately reaching into the correct pile and pulling it right out. It was worth braving her weird, uncomfortable office just to see her perform that bizarre, nerdy magic trick every time.
posted by ElKevbo at 2:45 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]

From the article linked to by curoi:

For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.


Whatever its size—from a couple of books to thousands of them—an antilibrary creates a humble relationship with knowledge. It reminds us that our knowledge is finite and imperfect. Far from being negative, this awareness can drive our curiosity and encourage us to question our assumptions. In a world where nuanced thinking is needed more than ever, an antilibrary is a much needed tool for thought.
posted by bertran at 7:24 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

For perspective, 35000 books is a small college library, or relatively specific research institution's worth.
posted by wotsac at 8:09 AM on January 31

I was in bed with my Kindle last night. It has many good qualities, but for some reason organization is not one of them. It has alerted me that a new book in a series* was coming out this summer, and I was trying to find out if I owned and had read the most recently published one. That would actually have been much quicker if I were still buying paper books and could just have had a look in the proper shelf.

On the other hand there would be even more clutter in my house. But I still feel the Kindle could have done better, as it was quite a fiddly process.

* The Laundry Files
posted by Harald74 at 1:16 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

There is a really hard to find video of Borges doing practically the same in his own personal library.

Unfortunately almost every time someone tries to upload it digitally it creates recursion and out of memory errors. The November 2020 YouTube outage was caused by a scraping bot accidentally landing on an unlisted copy of the video and attempting to play it.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:19 AM on February 2

There was a good documentary on Eco from 1995 called Signs and Secrets, which was shown in Australia around the same time that The Island of the Day Before was released in bookstores. It had some excellent sequences of Eco exploring his library and showing us some of his collection. I think this clip is from that, but unfortunately I can't seem to find the doco online. It does seem to be purchasable on DVD.

I've always been fond of Eco since discovering The Name of the Rose as a young man. His other fiction never grabbed my imagination the same way, but his essays were always wonderful.

Pro-tip: if you're going to read or re-read Rose, and don't know every possible classical language, or actually even if you do, then The Key to the Name of the Rose is indispensable.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:44 PM on February 2

On the other hand there would be even more clutter in my house. But I still feel the Kindle could have done better, as it was quite a fiddly process.

Oh, yes. Say what you want about the Kindle and the anti-world behemoth that extruded it, but it is fucking terrible at organisation and making things discoverable. Also, what's with the generic cover "art" when you put the thing to sleep? How hard would it be, really, to throw up the cover of the fucking thing you are actually reading, rather than that cog graphic? (Actually right now mine is showing the rolled-up newspaper graphic.) Man I hate my Kindle that I love. Thank god for Calibre.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:54 PM on February 2

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