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Saturday, 20 February 2016

UMBERTO ECO AND THE POWER OF READING

It all started with seeing my mum every night going to bed with a book or a magazine (my father never read books, just lost in classical music). My mum only finished primary school, back then, in rural Italy, they needed people to work rather than study. But I was always proud that she had this passion for books and was better for it.
Then I would look at those books, turn them over and read the blurb. Taking up reading became a linear consequence of that curiosity.
Many books since then have had a lasting impact, some even changed me inside, giving me a window into the unknown and the gateway to the infinite.
My first book, “Cipì”, was a little book like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It followed a bird through its life, it was short but made me proud to have finished it. I realised that through books there was a plethora of emotions to be experienced.
Then a string of books followed, adventure, history, science, horror, anything I could get my hands on.
Another book that changed me was “Il Compagno” by Cesare Pavese. This was a first grown up book for me. Post modern, edgy and where the characters’ unremarkable existence was more important than the plot. This political romance showed me that books don't have to be sensationalists or plot heavy, things could be written about emotions and apathy with equal gusto. But the big bang for me was the first sentence of the book and it blew my mind:

“Mi dicevano Pablo perche’ suonavo la chitarra” They were telling me Pablo why I played the guitar”

Now, it might look silly but the syntax was, to me, all wrong. No punctuation and the order was seemingly jumbled. But somehow I couldn’t leave it alone. They published it, therefore they must have checked it, I thought. I ended up spending a lot of time trying to decypher it. There was a question within an affirmation. It set the tone for the whole book. And I learnt that books can be colloquial, can represent something other than literature.
But after years of reading and up until now, one book stood out above the others: “The Name of the Rose”. It sat on my mother’s bookshelf for years. She had read it and told me it was amazing but that it was complicated and gruesome. The cover of that edition was not nice, it put me off, so I never felt like picking it up, plus I thought it was some love story as it had Rose in the title. Then, curiosity took hold of me and made me pick up the book.
It is a book within a book within a book. Essentially a medieval whodunnit in Sherlock Holmes style. However, it has philosophy, theology, semantics, Aristotle, the Inquisition, science, murder, sex, psychology, mystery, books books books. It describes a hidden library full of the most amazing ancient (and forbidden at the time) books. The Italian edition had pages after pages in Latin (the author plays with the reader’s patience and pride). Even the way the author tells the reader how he got the story is a pearl of invention. I then saw the film and although it was a good movie with Sean Connery, it lacked depth and the storyline had to be changed/compromised for length/effect purposes. So when I did Media Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and had to come up with an essay, I decided to write about the transposition of novels into screenplays. I wrote to the movie producers and they kindly sent me the screenplay! I then did a spreadsheet comparing the book and the film...scene by scene. It was a mammoth task and not easy as I had to stop and start a VHS recorder, yes VHS, and find the relevant pages and dialogues in the book.

That book meant an awful lot to me. It was a bond with my mum, it was an inspiration in terms of storytelling, it opened my mind to a lot of different subjects, made me explore my limited knowledge and kickstarted the desire to expand it. It’s the one book I’d take with me anywhere.

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