What’s a Mysterious Flame? (or, where I got the name)

I’ve been “running” this site (despite several long lapses in activity) for three-and-a-half years now, and I have never mentioned where I got the name for the site.

It comes from a book I read back in the fall of 2007 or so, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco. I was brainstorming all sorts of names for a “site for artists” and everything I thought of was taken or didn’t really work.

Then I remembered La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina LoanaThe Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.

When I first encountered the book at Borders, the grunged Gotham Bold and Trade Gothic Bold No 20 type caught my eye, as did the vintage comic book and advertising art. Being cheap (and poor) I reserved a copy at the library. I was immediately drawn into the story as soon as I began reading it.

A 59-year old Milanese bookseller nicknamed Yambo has lost his memory after a stroke. He can’t even remember his own name, though he is able to write Giambattista with a flourish. But he can remember absolutely everything he’s read. In order to try to remember his life before his stroke, he goes to the house where he grew up in the 1940s, and uncovers a lot of documents from his childhood.

Memories come to him in little sparks, mysterious flames, but nothing truly emerges until a dramatic turn. It’s very dense and layered, but not so much that it is difficult to read. It’s a lot of fun, and the colorful illustrations of 1930s and 40s Italian and American comic books, advertisements, and sheet music sprinkled throughout make for a unique literary experience. The three parts are constructed in a unique way that I think establish this book as both a love letter to both highbrow and lowbrow literature as well as making it a piece of great literature in its own right.