The author of four best-selling novels, as well as numerous essays, Umberto Eco reigns as Italy’s master storyteller by combining complex philosophical themes and page-turning plots. With his latest book, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, out this month, the author pauses to reflect on Spinoza, grandchildren, and Mickey Mouse.
A state of satisfaction that lasts a little more than five minutes. What is your greatest fear?
To lose my sense of humor at the moment of my death. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Baruch Spinoza. Which living person do you most admire?
Let me wait until they die, so to be sure of my feelings. What is your greatest extravagance?
I quit smoking. What is your favorite journey?
The years during which I am writing a new novel. I am wandering through a private and secret territory, nobody knows what I am doing, and I feel happy. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
No real virtue, if such, can be overrated. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
Everything—I do not like my image in the mirror. However, I do not feel disturbed, because several times I discovered that a lot of nice people had a different opinion. Which living person do you most despise?
Once again, let me wait until their death. (They must have time to change.) What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Since four years and a half, my grandchild. When and where were you happiest?
When I had time enough for my hobby: work. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
To have another grandchild. What is your most treasured possession?
My collection of old rare books. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Intolerance (but because I have enough money to live well; otherwise it would be starvation). What is your favorite occupation?
I said it above: work. But do not forget that I am one of those happy persons who identify their work with their hobby and vice versa. What do you most value in your friends?
The capacity to keep a secret. Who are your favorite writers?
Dante, Nerval, Joyce, Borges. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Julien Sorel. No, perhaps Mickey Mouse. Who are your heroes in real life?
As Brecht said, “Unhappy the land where heroes are needed.” What are your favorite names?
Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus, and Jim. What is your motto?
As James Joyce once said to his brother, “The music hall, not poetry, [is] a criticism of life.”