Umberto Eco: I have read The Name of the Rose (yes, I probably read it about the same time as everyone else) and thought it very fine. In fact, there's a passage in the novel that I reference in my thesis:
Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves . . the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialog between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.Unfortunately, I've never been able to get into any of Eco's other books although I did read half of Foucault's Pendulum and tried one or two of his others. In all fairness, I don't typically read the kind of stuff Eco writes.
George Eliot: I read Middlemarch in college and was impressed to the nth degree. I still consider it one of the best novels in the English language. The thing I remember liking then and that I still admire now is how much of the book is about relationships and the small, everyday moments in life. Up till that point, it seemed like every English class I took began and ended with depressing books about DEATH, DEATH, DEATH, accidents, DEATH. Here, for the first time, I was being assigned a book that talked about the human condition, not just about human tragedy.
The BBC series doesn't really measure up--despite the appearance of Rufus Sewell.
David Eddings: I usually avoid world fantasy/science-fiction. There's a few exceptions: Tolkien (naturally) and C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, which is as much character-oriented as world-oriented, but hey, that's C.J. Cherryh for you!
However, I have read--and own--David Eddings' Belgariad series. In some ways, it is exactly what you would expect: every single fantasy motif that has been tested by Tolkien, Walt Disney, and generations of Medieval and 19th century English writers packed into a single group of novels.
However, the writing is easy, crisp, exciting, and tells an interesting story with decent characters. Frankly, many world-fantasy writers have done much, much worse.
Richard Paul Evans: I have to mention Richard Paul Evans, not because I enjoy his books but because I read one for my thesis. My brother Eugene's hilarious review of the same book pretty much says it all.