I read “The Name of the Rose” during the summer between high school and college, because my high school drama coach (who had been my freshman English teacher) recommended it. I’m sure I’d get a lot more out of it if I read it again now. I assigned “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” in a class on the history and future of the book, back at the dawn of the Kindle era. Again, I’d probably profit from revisiting it.
At the very end of his playful Postscript to The Name of the Rose (1980), Umberto Eco made a casually sibylline gesture toward the future of interactive fiction. “It seems,” Eco wrote, “that the Parisian Oulipo group has recently constructed a matrix of all possible murder-story situations and has found that there is still to be written a book in which the murderer is the reader.” And a few lines later, with a wink: “Any true detection should reveal that we are the guilty party.” The text either ends or begins here, depending on your interpretation. | The author was notorious for stuffing his novels with an endless series of digressions, side quests, ephemera, arcane debates, and insane lists of every variety. (Eco once wrote that “we like lists because we don’t want to die.”) But in offering so many points of potential diversion and avenues of further learning for the curious reader, Eco, who grew up under the shadow of Mussolini, was waging as fierce a battle for artistic and intellectual liberty as the most radical of the French avant-gardists. Without sacrificing his natural gift for telling a great story, he ensured that his own text remained an open work, thereby preserving a space of possibility for an open world.