“The Books That Changed David Bowie’s Life” (2020)

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“David Bowie was a voracious reader and made a list, three years before he died, of the 100 books that had changed his life. These had fuelled his creativity, shaped who he was, and they provide a new way of understanding him. For each book, John O’Connell provides a short, insightful essay and pairs it with a Bowie song. Perhaps surprisingly, only eight books are concerned directly with musical subjects, while 12 relate to various aspects of the visual arts. Some are about mental illness; his half-brother Terry had schizophrenia and died by suicide and Bowie battled depression. There are some interesting poetry choices such as Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s Iliad. Of the eclectic novel collection, some are predictable but many are certainly not, and black people’s and outsiders’ experiences characterise the non-fiction.” [. . .]    —Brian Maye, The Irish Times, March 7, 2020.

James Fenton on Mandelstam’s Dante

“The poet’s widow describes how, at a point when Mandelstam refers to Dante’s need to lean on authority, she refused to write his words down, thinking that he meant the authority of rulers, and that he condoned Dante’s acceptance of their favours. ‘The word had no other meaning for us,’ she says, ‘and being heartily sick of such authorities, I wanted no others of any kind.’ ‘Haven’t you had enough of such authorities?’ I yelled at him, sitting in front of a blank, grey-coloured sheet of paper, my hands defiantly on my knees. ‘Do you still want more?'”

“Mandelstam was furious with her for getting above herself. She was angry back, and told him to find another wife. But in due course she did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its survival. It wasn’t printed until three decades later, in 1967, when an edition of 25,000 copies appeared in Moscow and quickly sold out – the first of Mandelstam’s works to appear after the thaw.

“The argument about authority warns us to read Mandelstam’s essay not only for what it tells us about Dante but also as a reflection on our own times, and Mandelstam’s. [. . .]”   –James Fenton, The Guardian, 2005

See full article here.

Upcoming Animal Farm Video Game

“Today is the 75th anniversary of the first publication of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, perhaps the most distressing book for a kid to pick from their parents’ shelves when looking for a nice story about horses. In celebration, an official video game adaptation was of Animal Farm has been announced [sic]. News of a beloved work of literature becoming a video game should inspired a wariness (thanks, Dante’s Inferno) but this one does sound promising.”    –Alice O’Connor, Rock Paper Shotgun, August 17, 2020

“Alasdair Gray’s Translation of Dante’s Purgatory

“Following on from his translation of Hell (published last year), Alasdair Gray has turned his attention to the second part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Unlike Lanark, Gray’s epic debut novel from 1981, Purgatory is a short read at around 130 pages. It is divided into 33 cantos – essentially chapters – each of which are divided in turn into three-line stanzas. The plot is linear: guided by the poet Virgil, Dante must ascend Mount Purgatory in order to be reunited with his love Beatrice. Along the way, he encounters the poor souls forced to linger in heaven’s waiting room until they are cleansed of their earthly sins. As in Hell, the narrative is littered with historical figures, for instance ‘Cato, Caesar’s foe, who stabbed himself / rather than see the Roman Empire kill / the glorious Republic that he loved.’ Reading Purgatory, written in the early 14th century, it is easy to see the crucial role Dante played in the Renaissance, when Italian artists rediscovered the glories of antiquity.”    –Chris Dobson, The Herald, November 17, 2019

Check out our original post on Alasdair Gray’s Hell here.

“What Happens When a Writer Hates the Heroine of Her New Book?” Excerpt from Nisha Susan’s The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories

“In her second week at the library, she was choked. Somewhere in this building, she had been told, is an actual manuscript of the Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri had not sat around in the 1300s writing coy shit. Somewhere near here, Arun Kolatkar had written Jejuri and the Kala Ghoda poems. Somewhere near here, Kolatkar had died. Where in her writing was the blood, the grime, the puking on the streets and the deep stuff?”    –Nisha Susan, excerpt from The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, Huffington Post, August 10, 2020

Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and Books About Walking

“It’s also a book about walking. Macfarlane is nothing if not boots on ground, following one path or another as he hoofs it from orchard to cottage to inn to pub, talking to the people who know the land best, the ones who live and work on it. Of course, he is not the first person to connect walking with writing. The first writers didn’t have any choice. Before cars and trains and airplanes, they could choose economy travel (by foot) or business class (via mule or horse); only the well-off could travel in first class (coach). Not that walking is a bad thing for a writer: ‘My wit will not budge if my legs are not moving,’ writes Montaigne.

Keats often walked as many as 12 miles a day, even when his consumption was raging. Dickens trod the streets of London all night ‘to still my beating mind,’ as he said. And before the Dante of the Divine Comedy legged it through the Inferno on his way to Purgatory and Paradise, the real-life Dante Alighieri wandered for years after his exile from Florence, crossing swamps where one might sicken and die in hours and following roads that gave way to paths dense with briars and thick with trees hiding thieves.”    –David Kirby, The Smart Set, August 10, 2020

Check out Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane on Amazon here.