Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. A roiling (but consistently bland) history of that secret society which is the grand conspiracy history has never proved existed. You know, the one that actually rules the world. At first the story had some pizzazz. But then the author’s obvious need to push the story, rather than find the characters in their own story, became a question & answer session which released huge tracts of history in place of story. The characters became faceless and lifeless, only used to push the author’s agenda. Another best seller which has flumoxed me as to why.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith. And here is the antithesis of Eco’s cartoon. Smith has human’s populating this story of identity, marriage, academic drive (or stasis), coming of age, and love. In so many forms, beauty is examined to see if it holds up: up to modernity; up to argument; and up to definition.
Ravelstein by Saul Bellow. Abe Ravelstein is an aging academic, but age isn’t what kills him. Nevertheless, his stature as professor of political theory to droves of students who became statesmen and leaders and thinkers, is celebration itself. And his biography is left to be written by his old friend, Chick. This story is an often hilarious, and always intellectual, view of people who live the inspected life, the unordinary existence that most can only dream of or read about.