With my last wish, I’d turn the clock back just four hours today and wait outside Union Square’s Barnes and Noble with hipsters and literary buffs. I’d wait for Umberto Eco, who I wouldn’t recognize if I had a lunch date with him. Still, I’d wait.
I’m something of a literary buff, you see. Or I at least, I play one in real life. But Eco is one Irish author whose name I turn my head to out of nostalgia, not knowledge.
When we first started talking about books, it could have been dead end conversation. It should have, maybe, been dry analysis over red-marked high school essays. She was, after all, nearly five years my junior. I had almost finished college. She hadn’t started.
But she loved Umberto Eco. We used to drink coffee as if we liked it—I think maybe she did—and browse bookstores, where I still love to get lost. Eco was sometimes stacked in hardback beneath a dark-stain ladder. Name of the Rose or On Literature, a cover I liked for its book spine after book spine, all in browns.
I went to a café and independent bookstore in Soho this evening, trying to made good on a deal to myself to get out and see the literary spots in the city. There was a nonfiction reading nearby which I walked to but couldn’t find. Lots of work this week makes my body scream for rest anyway; came home without too much disappointment. And some writing lodged up to boot. Browsing my internet bookmarks, I saw that the Eco event had transpired in Union Square. He had discussed his new bestseller, The Prague Cemetery. I’d walked up to Union Square on my way home from the café. While Eco was happening. We were so close.
I’ve still never read an Eco book. Almost bought the one with the book spine cover once, but I was feeling cheap and put it back on the wrong shelf. But I had this friend once who would have gone to this discussion had she known. Had she been here. She wouldn’t mind about the lines and the crowds and the fandom that tries to drink away the energy from literary nerds of all ages and stages. Or maybe she would, but all of that fades away for the one unique note of brilliance she might be able to hear Eco utter above the buzz.
I think I’ll buy On Literature.