This is Not the End of the Book; by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere
|This is Not the End of the Book; by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Burnt books, bought, loved and never-read books, priceless and ridiculously incorrect books, the Internet and how it cannot surpass books; all and more are discussed here by two brilliantly erudite companions.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: May 2012|
In many ways, the cover of my edition of this book is perfectly appropriate. Huge, bold serif script, with nothing but the typeface; a declamatory instance of the art in the most common of fonts, and that perfect semi-colon at the end of the book's name - proving that that itself is not the be-all and end-all. Buy this book, as you can, in electronic form, and you might see this cover for ten seconds at most, but it is so much part and parcel of what's within.
Don't think though that the contents are just a doom-and-gloom prognostication on books dying out as an art-form and/or commodity. Yes, it is perfectly impossible to read them all, and an undertaking to read all the classics - even those we rate highly on this website are enough to overwhelm. Add to that the Internet and all similar communicative devices, which demand you then do more work, thinking and research to check if what you read was correct, and the reading open to a person these days is uncountable. Luckily, both authors here define culture as what is left when all the dross is swept away and forgotten, and mankind can be measured by what he maintains as empirical, canonical and somehow best-loved.
It's just that if aliens were to wipe out all knowledge of English, how long would it take them to work out what we were leaving behind us? Electronic books too have their problems - how much longer before fossil fuels die out and we lose a lot of the electrical power they rely on? (And can you really see the world's next Chairman Mao dishing out a billion Little Red Kindles?) Carriere knows the problems of cyber-storage, having worked in film, and points out that no archive yet knows best how to preserve its stock in a permanent and permanently readable (ie future-proof) format. Both he and Eco have hoards of proper books, and the knowledge of famous books, libraries and literatures lost to the world. Both can and often do cherry-pick from incredible knowledge to spin off into many other worlds, meaning so much of this book bends away from topic (see, there really is no be-all and end-all) in delightful ways. Sometimes their interrogator's questions are barely directly answered.
Which brings me back to the cover and how it is also very inappropriate in mood. These conversations between Eco and Carriere are so much more colourful. They have the classy design of a wood-panelled parlour, the ease of friends after a dinner party's meal, the leisure of one more last glass of wine in a comfortable armchair. Designed nakedly like a three-way conversation, so a play with no directions, there is nothing as hurried as one leaping to the shelf to pick and show off a delightful fact or item. Their minds and engaging words do the leaping off-page, leaving us to sit back in relaxing delight at every direction the conversation takes us.
Never before has so much been stuffed behind one semi-colon.
If you come to this because it's a conversation of French high-brows in perfect translation, you'll shelve it by type next to In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou with Nicholas Truong. If it's because it's a book about books, then you'd enjoy Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill.
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