This Is Not the End of the Book

Umberto Eco, Jean-Claude Carrière, This Is Not the End of the Book (Ne pensez pas vous débarrasser des livres) – Vintage Books, London 2012 A conversation curated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac. Translated from the French by Polly McLean

Read from April 25th to May 12th 2014

My rating: 3/5 stars


U.E. …do you know why the Presocratics only wrote fragments? (…) Because they lived in ruins.

I honestly thought (obviously misled by the authors’ names), that This Is Not the End of the Book would refer to types and meanings of different endings. Classic case not only of contrariness of the reader’s horizon of expectation ☺ but also of ambiguity of translation (by the way, I can’t remember why I didn’t buy it in French. Even though the original title is less beautiful, since more precise – Ne pensez pas vous débarrasser de livres, I would have wanted to read it).

So instead of a book of literary criticism I got one regarding the history and the future of the book as an object. Nevertheless, the reading was interesting, full of chaotic and often amusing information, for it never focused only on the destiny of the book, which was rather a pretext than a major theme.

Therefore, after an opening about the resilience of the book in time as opposed to some modern media formats, the dialogue between Eco and Carrière takes a more general turn, arguing about lost libraries, first editions, incunabula and post-incunabula, bookbinders, book enemies, book collectors and/or thieves and so on, to the delight of any book lover, whether collector or reader.

And so I learned a lot of new things, some strange, some funny, others simply informative, as follows:

  • St Ambrose was the first not to read aloud.
  • Paul Éluard wrote this (no comment): “The universe of Stalin is forever reborn…”
  • people who cut up ancient books to sell the plates are called scrap dealers,
  • a vanity press is a publishing house where the author pays to be published,
  • in the Bibliothèque nationale there is a collection created after the French Revolution named "Enfer" (the name was given during Restauration) that contains pornographic-type books that went against contemporary standards of decency;
  • in 1968 some Student-Writer Action Committee protested against traditional education and asked for the overthrow of the books, which were accused of holding knowledge prisoner. Their slogan: ‘No more books! No more books ever!’

All this and many other snippets delivered in a relaxed, disinhibited way that saves the book from didacticism or cold erudition and gives the reader the guiltily pleased feeling of having eavesdropped a private dialogue between two sacred monsters.

Overall, a sparkling book (the chapter about stupidity was hilarious) you can never regret reading, even if it lengthened my to-read list by four more titles: Gustave Brunet, Les fous littéraires, Guy Bechtel, Dictionnaire de la bêtise, Fernando Baez, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, and Pierre Bayard, How To Talk about Books You Haven’t Read.

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