Umberto Eco: How to Travel with a Salmon (& other essays)

September 29, 2015

41cDaA0Pp0L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Umberto Eco contributed a regular column to an Italian news magazine, and this is a collection of pieces from it. He writes humorously, satirically, mockingly about a wide range of aspects of our world: the title piece is about his attempts to store a salmon in his hotel minibar fridge. He is wonderful on Italian bureaucracy, too, with the saga of trying to replace his stolen driving licence. It is like something out of Kafka, and while sometimes I did suspect him of exaggerating for effect, somehow this tale rang true.

Eco does write very entertainingly, putting many of today’s no doubt overpaid columnists who knit words to earn their weekly fee to shame. I’m astonished at his scope and versatility – a series of best-selling novels, humorous columns, serious art history and criticism, learned tomes on language, linguistics and translation – I wonder what else I haven’t discovered. His is a mind I can admire.

Some of the columns are doubly amusing because of the way that they have dated, as, for instance, when he writes of wrestling with modern technology like the mobile phone – he takes us back to the problems of the pre-smartphone days, the days of primitive computer programs and the limitations of dial-up internet…those dark ages of a couple of decades ago.

There are also some great intellectual games: how various historical characters might have responded to the question ‘how are you?’, and how his friends attempted to construct an anti-university and an anti-encyclopaedia. And he does also indulge his love of lists, this time in a true Rabelaisian fashion.

It’s not great literature, but it is a good time-filler; like everything I’ve read of his, there’s quality there…

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