January 01, 2010

Season of lists and mellow fruitfulness

The season of lists and mellow fruitfulness is once again upon us. Appropriately, I’m on the waiting list for a book about lists. It’s Umberto Eco’s just-published “The infinity of lists” (U.S. title; in the U.K. it's “The vertigo of lists”, same as the original Italian, what didn't the Americans like about 'vertigo'?), inspired by an exhibition he curated at the Louvre about lists in the history of art and literature.

I’ve always been fond of Umberto Eco although, and partly because, I have never been able to understand what his field of study, semiotics, is actually about -- and this despite having had a friend who studied with him at Bologna. But I appreciate that he genuinely believes in it and how he is never pompous, even when people call him one of the world's greatest scholars or “a modern-day Diderot”, as his publisher Rizzoli is doing now in the blurb for his book:

Eco is a modern-day Diderot, and here he examines the Western mind’s predilection for list-making and the encyclopedic. His central thesis is that in Western culture a passion for accumulation is recurring: lists of saints, catalogues of plants, collections of art. This impulse has recurred through the ages from music to literature to art. Eco refers to this obsession itself as a "giddiness of lists" but shows how in the right hands it can be a "poetics of catalogues".

What Umberto Eco himself says is “We like lists because we don’t want to die.” You can read the interview where he says this on Der Spiegel online and see also what he has to say about Homer’s lists of ships in the Iliad, Da Ponte counting Don Giovanni’s lovers (2,063) and how to describe a platypus. Is it true he has 30,000 books? He thinks it's around 50,000, but he has never made a list of them.

I like lists myself, but I have a hard time with top tens, especially with something as subjective as literary taste. Here are a couple of top 100’s instead:

100 notable books of the year from The NY Times

The 100 best books of the decade from The Times

And for something a bit more unusual:

“Unknown books of decade”  -- a list of overlooked titles from The Guardian

“Best forgotten books" –  'Writers pick their favorites” from the LA Times

and if you only look at one of the links on this page, it has to be this one.

Joseph Sullivan’s stupendous My Favorite Book Covers of 2009 on his website Book Design Review.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 05:30


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