I came across Annalisa Mirelli’s post “How Umberto Eco changed my life”, as the world mourns the loss of one of the greatest novelist of our time. Unlike Mirelli, I have never met the man, was never interested in semiotics even though I studied linguistics in college. However, each time I saw his name, either on the cover of a book or on an article, my face will light up.
I was a young girl growing up with a sister and a brother who were ten years younger than me. My dad was travelling a lot, and it was just my mom and my siblings. My summers were spent at the library or at the book store, and because my mother needed my help, there were no camps to attend for me. Also due to the age difference with my siblings, I felt mostly alone, with no one to spend time with.
I first read Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” the summer before I turned fifteen. I read it because it had been hanging on the shelves in our home and also because I was attracted to the name: Umberto Eco! What a lovely name! It was summer, the library was closed for some reasons, my father was travelling, which meant there was no one to take me to the book store, and more importantly, I had nothing else left to read. I remember how long the book was, how long it took me to read it, but it was that or get bored to death, so I stuck with it until the very last page. The way I saw it, it was a detective novel that I was having a hard time comprehending. To me, Brother William of Baskerville was non other than a medieval Sherlock Holmes, which I will find years later was not very far from the truth. It wasn’t like any other book I had read so far. I never took so much time to go through a book, even more, try to understand it. Also I never spent so much time going from a book to the dictionary, until I gave up and just went along with the story. I took it everywhere with me, a way to ease my loneliness as I was waiting for my friends to come back from their vacation and the school to resume. As hard as it was for me to picture the austerity of an abbey in a country that was synonymous of sun, the quote “books always speak of other books” struck a cord with me. As William explained to Adso how you can understand one book by reading other books, so my quest for reading expanded; I wanted to be able to understand all the books that I was going to be reading for the years to come. And so I read! I knew that reading make you smarter, that it was a great way to acquire more vocabulary but I never wanted to have to spend so much time again reading something I could hardly understand. And, as my father would later explained to me, reading books was not only a way of understating other books, it was also a way of understanding the world we live in.
When I read the book again, some decade later, I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that I had no idea of how intense it was and how much I missed because I was just too young to understand. I was surprised by the sex allusions because I couldn’t recall any sex scenes; the innocence of a young mind I guess. But I vividly remember that after reading the book, my approach to reading changed completely. I started reading anything I found relevant, either a great author or a simple article in a magazine. I read about everything and anything and developed a sense of understanding and empathy that I couldn’t have developed otherwise. Umberto Eco didn’t change my life because he was the extraordinary author I didn’t realize he was at the time, he changed my life because that summer he taught me about intellectual curiosity!