It doesn't seem that long that I was congratulating Ms Lee on the release of her second novel, and now she's gone.
Harper Lee 1926 -2016
It is always a shame when someone dies but it is inevitable for all of us. To Kill A Mocking Bird is a lovely story and a prime example of the power of the writer and a suitably lasting epitaph to the memory of Harper Lee.
Umberto Eco 1932 - 2016
Umberto Eco also died but apart from the fact that he was famous for The Name of the Rose I wasn't familiar with his work.
He was an Italian a novelist, an intellectual and a semiotician. It is true to say that you never stop learning and for me today is one of those days.
He is best known for his groundbreaking 1980 historical mystery novel Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. He later wrote other novels, including Il pendolo di Foucault (Foucault's Pendulum) and L'isola del giorno prima (The Island of the Day Before). His novel Il cimitero di Praga (The Prague Cemetery), released in 2010, was a best-seller.
So I have learned something about a novelist without having read his books, but what also intrigued me was that he was a semiotician. A word that I was as unfamiliar with as the person it described.
It is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviour. I am no intellectual and so the meaning and use seems somewhat of an academic exercise to me. There are elements of culture in there somewhere as well. An example of semiotics would be the use of the to represent a well known fast food outlet. In one respect it is a symbol made from the 12th letter of the alphabet but it also communicates other meanings also. It symbolises a type of food which is of a particularly style and which elicits certain behaviours in mostly younger people. People who have eaten in the place know what to expect when they walk through the door or at least they do in America and the UK! It may not be so in other countries.
I recall a holiday in France around thirty years ago, with a party of friends that included some children. We had ordered burger meals but we had to ask the staff to cook the burger right through as it was rather rare in the centre. A cultural influence on the McDonald's burger and therefore the big yellow 'M' meant something different in France. I believe that is something of what semiotics is about.