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I have an Uncle who lives in a little cabin in the woods. He makes Rusty Shackleford from King of the Hill seem normal. For all I know he could quite literally be wearing a tin foil hat right now. I think the world of him and all his craziness. I could listen to his crazy rants for hours. I grew up listening to radio shows like Coast to Coast AM. I always had insomnia and my Dad would get home early in the morning from working at night and we ‘d get out the radio (yes, a radio) and tune on the AM channel and listen to people like Art Bell talk about aliens and bigfoot. My Dad hated it, he’s a very serious man, but he knew I loved it. When I was in high school my Uncle introduced me to the world of David Icke with the book The Biggest Secret. I’ve always been interested in the weird worlds of conspiracy theories but that one did me in. I know when to stop, I know when it’s gone too far and these are just crazies yelling crazy things at the top of their lungs, but I have a hard time looking away. My love of such things led me to the book Focault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

Goodreads Description

fp“Foucault’s Pendulum is divided into ten segments represented by the ten Sefiroth. The novel is full of esoteric references to the Kabbalah. The title of the book refers to an actual pendulum designed by the French physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the earth, which has symbolic significance within the novel.

Bored with their work, and after reading too many manuscripts about occult conspiracy theories, three vanity publisher employees (Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon) invent their own conspiracy for fun. They call this satirical intellectual game “The Plan,” a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real.

The three become increasingly obsessed with The Plan, and sometimes forget that it’s just a game. Worse still, other conspiracy theorists learn about The Plan, and take it seriously. Belbo finds himself the target of a real secret society that believes he possesses the key to the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.

Orchestrating these and other diverse characters into his multilayered semiotic adventure, Eco has created a superb cerebral entertainment.”

***

I first read this book on a Greyhound going from Denver to Austin Texas. This one is a drug. Every now and then I find a student who is ready for it. It’s linguistically advanced, so it’s not one I get to share with my students often, but in the past I’ve found two students who were prepared.

***

“Jacopo, while I could still read, during these past months, I read dictionaries, I studied histories of words, to understand what was happening in my body. I studied like a rabbi. Have you ever reflected that the linguistic term `metathesis’ is similar to the oncological term `metastasis’? What is the metathesis? Instead of `clasp’ one says `claps.’ Instead of `beloved’ one says `bevoled.’ It’s the temurah. The dictionary says that metathesis means the transposition or interchange, while metastasis indicates the change and shifting. How stupid dictionaries are! The root is the same. Either it’s the verb metatithemi or the verb methistemi. Metatithemi means I interpose, I shift, I transfer, I substitute, I abrogate a law, I change a meaning. And methistemi? It’s the same thing: I move, I transform, I transpose, I switch cliches, I take leave of my senses. And as we sought secret meanings beyond the letter, we all took leave of our senses. And so did my cells, obediently, dutifully. That’s why I’m dying, Jacopo, and you know it.”

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***

I get to know my students really well. This one is for the freaks. The ones who might be spending a little too much time at some weird corners of the internet. The one who asks me about 9/11 being an inside job to which I can only reply;’everything is an inside job because everything is connected, you’re spending too much time on reddit, here is Focaults Pendulum, and if we ever run into each other in the weird parts of the internet we are going to pretend we don’t know each other.’ It’s my favorite book to push on them when I can because I know it’ll turn the right kid into a reader for life. If you find the right kid for this book, they’ll keep reading. Also the type of kid who could appreciate this book is someone who is going to need books in their lives.

Others to check out in this category

Gravity’s Rainbow

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Goodreads Description: “A screaming comes across the sky…” A few months after the Germans’ secret V-2 rocket bombs begin falling on London, British Intelligence discovers that a map of the city pinpointing the sexual conquests of one Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, U.S. Army, corresponds identically to a map showing the V-2 impact sites. The implications of this discovery will launch Slothrop on an amazing journey across war-torn Europe, fleeing an international cabal of military-industrial superpowers, in search of the mysterious Rocket 00000, through a wildly comic extravaganza that has been hailed in The New Republic as “the most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II.”

The Crying of Lot 49

tp3Goodreads Description:”The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge.”

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