– Hello … I’m Harper.
– How are you? I’m Umberto. I can’t believe we’ve never met!
– Well, I never meet anybody but my sister and some close friends.
– Let’s see … We should talk about something interesting. Many people would expect us to be exhilarated and …
– Do I look exhilarated?
– Okay then.
The authors, who both died February 19, 2016, stand in silence for a while. Harper bites her nails – not because she is nervous but because they’re nice to bite. Umberto tries to talk about something else but the weather.
– Hey, Harper. Have you read Dan Brown’s books?
– Of course. I read everything. In an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work at learning something, I remember it. Can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.
– Wow. I agree. My generation knew pretty well what happened 50 years before our birth. Now I follow all the quiz programs because they are a paramount example of the span of the memory of the young generation – they are able to remember everything that happened in their life but not before.
– But Umberto … You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view.
– Listen, Harper. I’ve got it all figured out. All the blogs, Facebook, Twitter … They’re are made by people who want to show their own private affairs at the price of making fakes, to try to appear such as they are not, to construct another personality, which is a veritable loss of identity.
– That’s the general idea, yes. People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. But what about Dan Brown, what’s he got to do with this?
– The silliest thing … I made him up! Dan Brown is mine, he’s a character from ‘Foucault’s Pendulum!’ I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations – the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect the writer Dan Brown might not even exist!
– Umberto! Are you proud of yourself now that you’ve insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about? People in their right minds never take pride in their talents. I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.
– I’m sorry, Harper. But … Since I became a novelist I have discovered that I am biased. Either I think a new novel is worse than mine and I don’t like it, or I suspect it is better than my novels and I don’t like it.
– Er … When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go. Feel like a drink?
– Yes, please. I thought you’d never ask.
Harper Lee pours herself a glass of whiskey and Umberto Eco opens a bottle of red wine. Harper holds her glass as if she’s going to make a toast, but instead she says:
– Sometimes the Bible in the hands of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hands of another.
– Aaah. Religion. I believe that when men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.
– Yup. It’s better to be silent than to be a fool.
– But books in general – I’m not speaking about the Bible … Books are like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved. You cannot make a spoon that is better than a spoon… The book has been thoroughly tested, and it’s very hard to see how it could be improved on for its current purposes.
– Now hush, Umberto. It’s not necessary to tell all you know. You know we’re dead, don’t you?
– We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die. When did you last make a list of something, Harper?
– Right now! Here’s my list: Natalie Cole, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmister … Let’s introduce ourselves, they’re sitting at the table over there!
– Okay, Harper! Lead the way!
Harper Lee in 1961.
Umberto Eco some years ago.
I made all of this up, using Lee’s and Eco’s quotes. They really never met until now, when they’re dead. Ah well.