Popular novelist (The Name of the Rose, 1983; Foucault's Pendulum, 1989) and notorious semiologist (at the Univ. of Bologna) Eco shows himself to be a journalist as well with this generally diverting volume of short pieces.
Eco calls these short essays diario minimo--minimal diaries--after the magazine column where he first published a series of such efforts (previously collected in Misreadings). The work presented here, much of which dates from the late '80s and early '90s, celebrates, or more often condemns, postmodern life in a style familiar to American readers. Occasional parodic fantasies in the mode of Borges or Calvino find Eco exploring the intriguing, if absurd, notion of a map in 1:1 scale, chronicling race relations in a future universe populated by humorously bizarre alien life-forms, or describing watches whose features cause one to lose track of the time. But Eco focuses on articulating his amusing complaints, analyzing our quotidian myths with light touches and lamentations that will recall Andy Rooney and Erma Bombeck--at best, an academic Mike Royko--sooner than Roland Barthes. Pieces on once-current events have been carefully excluded, but most of these essays remain essentially journalistic in their devotion to exploring contemporary life. The title piece pits Eco against an English hotel bureaucracy intent on making it difficult for him to refrigerate an expensive salmon that he has brought from Copenhagen; others mock "how-to'' essays--on fax machines and cellular telephones, for example; there are cautionary tales of encounters with Amtrak trains and Roman cabs. All have as their subtext the chaos brought in the wake of unbridled technological innovation and intercontinental travel.
While he wastes some time exposing cliches--Indians in westerns, unworthy sequels--that are cliches to expose, Eco entertains with his clever reflections and with his unique persona, the featured player in his stories.