Watch Umberto Eco Walk Through His Immense Private Library: It Goes On, and On, and On!

When Umber­to Eco died last year at the age of 84, he left behind a siz­able body of work and a vast col­lec­tion of books. He wrote such hefty and much-read nov­els as The Name of the Rose and Fou­cault’s Pen­du­lum as well as sto­ries for chil­dren, pieces of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, aca­d­e­m­ic texts on semi­otics, stud­ies of every­thing from medieval aes­thet­ics to mod­ern media, and much else besides, but as we recent­ly not­ed, he also advised against becom­ing too pro­lif­ic. Not for him the life of “those nov­el­ists who pub­lish a book every year,” thus miss­ing out on the “plea­sure of spend­ing six, sev­en, eight years to tell a sto­ry.”

Still, the man wrote a lot. He also read a lot, as a glance at a chap­ter or two from any one of his own nov­els will attest. An avowed fan of James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges, Eco wove into his work count­less threads pulled from the lit­er­ary and intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of a host of dif­fer­ent places, cul­tures, and lan­guages — evi­dence of a well-stocked mind indeed, but a well-stocked mind requires a well-stocked library, or libraries.

We can only imag­ine how many such citadels of knowl­edge Eco vis­it­ed in his trav­els all over the world, but we don’t have to imag­ine the one he built him­self, since we can see it in the video above. Though not infi­nite like the library of all pos­si­ble books imag­ined by Borges, Eco’s pri­vate home library looks, from cer­tain angles, near­ly as big. The cam­era fol­lows Eco as he pass­es shelf after packed shelf, some lin­ing the walls and oth­ers stand­ing free, even­tu­al­ly find­ing his way to one vol­ume in par­tic­u­lar — despite the fact that he appar­ent­ly shelved very few of his books with their spines fac­ing out­ward.

Accord­ing to Nas­sim Nicholas Taleb, quot­ed by Maria Popo­va at Brain Pick­ings, Eco’s library con­tained 30,000 books and tend­ed to sep­a­rate vis­i­tors into two cat­e­gories: ‘those who react with ‘Wow! Sig­nore pro­fes­sore dot­tore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and the oth­ers — a very small minor­i­ty — who get the point that a pri­vate library is not an ego-boost­ing appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valu­able than unread ones.” By that mea­sure, Eco might have amassed an even more valu­able library than his fans would assume.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Umber­to Eco Dies at 84; Leaves Behind Advice to Aspir­ing Writ­ers

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

21 Artists Give “Advice to the Young:” Vital Lessons from Lau­rie Ander­son, David Byrne, Umber­to Eco, Pat­ti Smith & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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