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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brooks Recommends - Foucault's Pendulum

It can be very easy and tempting and down right fun to spend all one's time criticizing other people and the work they do. After all when people come out with things like this, it's pretty much like they're asking for it. But as much joy as I often get from hearing or reading or doling out, take-downs (thus one of my new favorite podcasts!) I think it's important to take time and revel in what is great and grand and glorious in this universe. Granted, the ratio of great to mediocre is still pretty depressing, but there's still a tremendous amount of great stuff out there.

So today, I'd like to recommend my favorite novel, Foucault's Pendulum by Italian author and linguist Umberto Eco. Now, I don't know if it's great in the same way that Lady Chatterly's Lover is, but I also know that it's a hell of a lot better than those awkwardly written doorstops The Harry Potter books. Frankly, it's intelligentsia pulp, a genre that could claim Eco's first novel The Name of the Rose.

In many respects, Foucault's pendulum has a lot in common with the Dan Brown style genre books. The only book of his I've read is the DaVincci code (which I read on a depressing cross-country bus trip made only more depressing because I was stuck reading that tripe), in that it's about a possible global conspiracy originating with the cult of the Templars and using some pretty broad leaps of historical logic to try to substantiate that claim. But as opposed to Dan Brown's books (I'm presuming (I saw the trailer to the movie Angels and Demons and it looked like more of the same(except without Audrey Tautou and let's face it, why would you want to see anything without Audrey Tautou?))), and others of his ilk, Eco's work is primarily concerned with the validity of those leaps in logic.

 It's a conspiracy thriller which questions the fundamental assumptions of the genre. Without giving too much away, it's a book concerned with the philosophy of history. What does history mean? How does it effect us and vice versa? While there is some clunky stuff involving a computer program which is imbued with unrealistic power (it was published in the late 1980's), it's a relatively minor complaint. This is a book about ideas, and it dances through chapters on medieval history, occultism, and Italian politics with such glee and merriment that I would argue most of the book is comic in nature, despite the way it's bookended in a Kafkaesque nightmare.

What I'm saying is you should read it. I've tried to get many people over the years to read this book, and I've been pretty unsuccessful, but seriously, if you're reading this right now and have been half-heartedly looking for a good book to read, the I implore you, please go and read this. The first fifty pages might be a little rough, and his many tangential threads might seem pointless at first. But please, this master knows what he's doing.

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