Umberto Eco, 1932-2016

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Picture by Università Reggio Calabria (GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons.

In the book Vertigine della Lista (S950.c.200.947 and S950.c.200.802 for the English version) published on the occasion of the exhibition he curated in 2009 at the Louvre in Paris, Umberto Eco (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016) discusses the value and meaning of lists throughout history. The Italian author and philosopher argued in an interview with Der Spiegel that “through lists, through catalogues, through collections in museums and through encyclopaedias and dictionaries” human beings attempt to make infinity comprehensible. People describe the sky and try to list stars; poets and lovers endlessly search for words to describe their feelings, often making a list of things they love as a way of starting their pursuit. Continue reading

Günter Grass

A month ago today, on April 13th, Günter Grass died aged 87. He was one of the dominant figures of German contemporary literature, who rose to international fame and earned a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. His writing mainly dealt with the German Nazi past and is considered to be part of the genre of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past). He was socially engaged throughout his life and a firm supporter of left-wing politics, something he had in common with the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, who coincidentally died on the same day as Grass. The University Library has an extensive collection of Grass’s literary works and our holdings can be easily browsed by searching the catalogue for Grass as author, or doing a subject heading search for books about him.

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A selection of bookcovers desigend by Grass (S746.bb.200.1)

Grass originally wanted to be a painter and enjoyed and tried to incorporate painting into his life as much as possible. He reportedly said that it was something that he had always taken a keen interest in. He illustrated several of his works and usually also the covers of his books, but he also worked on his art as a painter and sculptor on works not connected to his literary output. He published some of his paintings later himself and several exhibitions were held. The UL also has a substantial collection of these works and catalogues that may not come directly to mind when thinking about Grass. Continue reading

The fall of the Berlin Wall : what’s in a title

25 years ago, on 9 November 1989, following weeks of images on the world’s television screens of candle-lit demonstrations in Leipzig, overcrowded embassies and trains, the Berlin Wall opened and residents of East and West Germany flooded across the former border. Some of these images are recorded in 9. November 1989, der Tag der Deutschen (9000.d.4068). The period between October 1989 and reunification a year later was one of tremendous upheaval and rapid change. The turmoil was reflected in the publishing industry, as editions licensed between East and West (Lizenzausgaben) became a thing of the past, replaced initially by joint East/West publications, only for such joint enterprises rapidly to disappear. Old GDR publishing houses were merged or closed, and new publishing houses sprang up, many of them very short-lived.

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Selected books of the Berlin Wall in the UL

It has been estimated that from November 1989 onwards a new book on contemporary events was being published every working day. Cambridge University Library did its very best to keep abreast of all these titles and collected extensively in the field. It could be a strange experience. In writing to ask a new publisher about titles and prices, sometimes the actual books were sent by return without charge. We were one of six British libraries who contributed to a union list of titles, along with the Bodleian, the university libraries of Nottingham, Portsmouth and Warwick, and the Institute of Germanic Studies of the University of London (now part of Senate House Library). This was published in 1993 under the title Two into one : Germany 1989-1992 : a bibliography of the ‘Wende’ (Cam.d.993.5, R560.G69). The introduction pays testimony to the range of Cambridge’s collecting activity: “Of those libraries contributing, only Cambridge University can be said to cover every aspect of the subject”.

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The little-known Nobel laureate

A selection of older Modiano novels in the UL

A selection of Modiano novels in the UL

Since the announcement on October 9th of the 2014 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, much has been written in the media both here and across the Atlantic attempting to answer the question “Who on earth is Patrick Modiano?”. He is a well-known author in his native France, having won both the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française in 1972 and the Prix Goncourt in 1978, but is much less renowned in the English-speaking world, perhaps because only a few of his works have been translated into English. Continue reading

RIP Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez passed away on April 17th 2014 at the age of 87. He was unquestionably Colombia’s greatest writer – his country’s president even described him after his death as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” – and one of the most important of all Spanish language (and indeed world) authors. His influence and importance on the Latin American and world stage cannot be overstated, nor the full scope of his work easily summarised. Continue reading