“Empty Nester In ‘The Woods’: A Modern Dantean Journey”

“Allowing for translation, those are the immortal opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Here, some seven centuries later, are some of Lynn Darling’s opening lines from her new memoir, Out of the Woods: ‘The summer my only child left home for college, I moved from an apartment in New York City, to live alone in a small house at the end of a dirt road in the woods of central Vermont.'”    —

Learn more about Lynn Darling’s 2014 book Out of the Woods here.

Out of the Woods can be found on Amazon.

Jayson Greene, Once More We Saw Stars (2019)

Once-More-We-Saw-Stars-2019Once More We Saw Stars (Knopf, 2019) is a memoir by Jayson Greene, about the tragic loss of his 2-year-old daughter Greta and his path through grief to healing.

A review in the Washington Post notes, “The book’s title, from Dante’s Inferno, tips us off that Greta’s bereft parents will, in the poet’s words, ‘get back up to the shining world.’ But Once More We Saw Stars, an outgrowth of a journal Greene began shortly after the accident, is a chronological account, which means there’s unthinkable pain before the arduous ‘path toward healing.’

“Like Virgil, Greene makes for a good guide on this journey to hell and back. He’s a Brooklyn-based journalist and editor who met his wife, Stacy, a cellist by training, at the classical-music nonprofit where they both worked. After Greta’s birth, Stacy switched tracks to become a lactation consultant and nutritionist. Their story is not just of loss, but of their remarkable love, which helps them through this tragedy.” [. . .] — Review by Heller McAlpin in the Washington Post (May 8, 2019)

Inferno: A Poet’s Novel by Eileen Myles (2010)

Eileen-Myles-Reading-Inferno“I was completely stupefied by Inferno in the best of ways. In fact, I think I must feel kind of like Dante felt after seeing the face of God. My descriptive capacity just fails, gives way completely. But I can tell you that Eileen Myles made me understand something I didn’t before. And really, what more can you ask of a novel, or a poet’s novel, or a poem, or a memoir, or whatever the hell this shimmering document is? Just read it.” — Alison Bechdel

“From its beginning — ‘My English professor’s ass was so beautiful.’ — to its end — ‘You can actually learn to have grace. And that’s heaven.’ — poet, essayist and performer Eileen Myles’ chronicle transmits an energy and vividness that will not soon leave its readers. Her story of a young female writer, discovering both her sexuality and her own creative drive in the meditative and raucous environment that was New York City in its punk and indie heyday, is engrossing, poignant, and funny. This is a voice from the underground that redefines the meaning of the word.” — OR Books

Read an excerpt here, or listen to Myles read an excerpt here.

Gregory Bellow, “Crises of the Spirit: Dante and Bellow”

Greg-Bellow-Crises-of-the-Spirit-Dante-Saul-Bellow

In an essay entitled “Crises of the Spirit: Dante and Bellow,” Gregory Bellow, oldest son of Saul Bellow and author of Saul Bellow’s Heart: A Son’s Memoir, compares three of his father’s novels to Dante’s three canticles. “Crises of the Spirit” parallels the pilgrim’s psycho-spiritual crisis and recovery with those of Bellow’s characters, and with the novelist’s own biography. Using private anecdotes and personal recollections, Gregory Bellow traces his father’s mid-life “crisis of spirit” through the Dantean themes of evil, spiritual cleansing, and love.

A PDF copy of the essay is available here, with permission of the author.

Danton Walker, Danton’s Inferno (1955)

Danton's Inferno

Danton Walker’s 1955 novel, Danton’s Inferno: The Story of a Columnist and How He Grew is a memoir by Walker (1899-1960) about his time as a columnist for The New York Times. The book is similar to the Inferno in that it lists people with whom Walker worked throughout his career, sometimes condemning them.

Access Walker’s work for The New York Times here.

 

Contributed by Scott Reid

Alberto Manguel, “Thoughts That Can’t Be Spoken” (2014)

Alberto-Manguel-Thoughts-Spoken-2014

“[ . . . ] A blood clot in one of the arteries that feeds my brain had blocked for a few minutes the passage of oxygen. As a consequence, some of my brain’s neural passages were cut off and died, presumably ones dedicated to transmitting electric impulses that turn words conceived into words spoken. Unable to go from the act of thinking to its expression, I felt as if I were groping in the dark for something that crumbled at the touch, preventing my thought from forming itself in a sentence, as if its shape (to carry on with my image) had been demagnetized and was no longer capable of attracting the words supposed to define it.

“This left me with a question: What is this thought that has not yet achieved its verbal state of maturity? This, I suppose, is what Dante meant when he wrote that ‘my mind was struck / by lightning bringing me what it wished’ — the desired thought not yet expressed in words.”  –Alberto Manguel, “Thoughts That Can’t Be Spoken,” The New York Times, March 7, 2014

Edmund White, Inside a Pearl (2014)

inside-a-pearl-edmund-white-2014Jay Parini describes Marie-Claude de Brunhoff, a main character in Edmund White’s memoir Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, as “a kind of fragile Virgil to White’s dewy-eyed Dante, leading him with gusto into the labyrinth of Parisian life.”    –Jay Parini, The New York Times, February 7, 2014

“I Found Myself in a Dark Wood”

i-found-myself-in-a-dark-wood“ ‘In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.’ So begins one of the most celebrated and difficult poems ever written, Dante’s Divine Comedy, a more than 14,000-line epic on the soul’s journey through the afterlife. The tension between the pronouns says it all: Although the ‘I’ belongs to Dante, who died in 1321, his journey is also part of ‘our life.’ We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, the lines suggest. That day came six years ago for me, when my pregnant wife, Katherine, died suddenly in a car accident. Forty-five minutes before her death, she delivered our daughter, Isabel, a miracle of health rescued by emergency cesarean. I had left the house that morning at 8:30 to teach a class; by noon, I was a father and a widower.”    –Joseph Luzzi, The New York Times, December 18, 2013

Contributed by Janet E. Gomez

See also the New York Times review of Luzzi’s 2014 memoir, In a Dark Wood.

Contributed by Stephanie HotzUniversity of Texas at Austin

Review of Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, Promise Land (2014)

promise-land-jessica-lamb-shapiro-2014“It’s ingrained in human nature to look at ourselves with a weary awareness of all that’s wrong within, and the optimism that someone, somewhere can tell us how to fix it. As Jessica Lamb-Shapiro points out in her ambitious if unfulfilling new memoir-cum-odyssey, Promise Land, we’ve been gobbling up self-help advice for nearly as long as the written word has existed, devouring it in the ancient Egyptian Sebayt writings and the Book of Proverbs. But our contemporary mania for the wisdom of Dr. Phil is different from what generations past gleaned from Epictetus or even Dale Carnegie, and Lamb-Shapiro aims to explain how. Along the way, she’s on a quest to fix herself. Lamb-Shapiro, who has written for The Believer and McSweeney’s, is a witty and enjoyably self-aware writer. She’s certainly a far more entertaining guide through hellish terrain — like a preshow interrogation by a ‘Dr. Oz’ producer — than Dante was given.” [. . .]    –Mary Elizabeth Williams, The New York Times, January 3, 2014

NY Times Review of Lanzmann’s “The Patagonian Hare”

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“The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached Claude Lanzmann in 1973 and suggested that, with Israel’s backing, he make a documentary film about the murder of the European Jews. Lanzmann was and is a French journalist, and his qualifications for undertaking such a project were obvious at a glance. He had spent many years producing copy for the glossy French magazine Elle and, then again, for mass-readership newspapers. He sat on the editorial committee of Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps Modernes. He was handy with a film camera. Also, he had displayed an acute sympathy for the plight of the Israelis — a less-than-­universal trait even in those days. . .Even now Lanzmann remains the editor of Les Temps Modernes, which makes him Sartre’s heir, institutionally speaking. Here is the torment of the assimilated Jewish left — a giant theme, which cries out for its Virgil or its Dante.” [. . .]    –Paul Berman, The New York Times, August 10, 2012