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.

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)

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“[ . . . ] 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

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

“Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader’s Journey Through the Christian Classics” (2002)

dante-to-dead-man-walking-one-readers-journey-through-the-christian-classics-2002“What do the book of Genesis, the Second Inaugural Address, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X all have in common? According to author Raymond Schroth, they are all works worthy of being called classics of Christian literature. In Dante to Dead Man Walking, Schroth discusses fifty works–from books of the Old Testament to contemporary works of fiction and nonfiction–that challenge the social conscience and raise moral or religious issues in a provocative way.”    —Amazon, May 13, 2012

“Young Idols With Cleavers Rule the Stage”

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“. . .The roots of the butcher as an icon of cool might be found in the writings of Bill Buford, who fashioned an operatic meat hero out of Dario Cecchini, a towering, Dante-spouting butcher from the Chianti countryside. Mr. Buford immortalized him in an article for The New Yorker and in his book ‘Heat.'” [. . .]    –Kim Severson, The New York Times, July 7, 2009.
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See also: Buford’s book, “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” and his 2006 article “Carnal Knowledge: How I Became a Tuscan Butcher” in The New Yorker.

Primo Levi, “If This is a Man” (1947)

primo-levi-if-this-is-a-man-1947Primo Levi’s harrowing account of life in Auschwitz includes many references to Dante’s Commedia, most noticeably in the chapter called “Canto of Ulysses.” In the chapter, Levi recounts a scene where he and a French prisoner discuss books from their respective homes. The canto of Ulysses (Inferno XXVI) comes to his mind and he recites several lines from it.

Nick Reding, “Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town” (2009)

nick-reding-methland-the-death-and-life-of-an-american-small-town-2009“Think globally, suffer locally. This could be the moral of Methland, Nick Reding’s unnerving investigative account of two gruesome years in the life of Oelwein, Iowa, a railroad and meatpacking town of several thousand whipped by a methamphetamine-laced panic whose origins lie outside the place itself, in forces almost too great to comprehend. . .
In the grisliest passage of Methland, which deserves to be quoted at some length so as to convey its hellish momentum, he invites us to share in the torments of Roland Jarvis, a paranoid small-time meth cook, in the Dante-like interlude after the combustion of his improvised home lab (just one of hundreds in the area).
‘Jarvis looked down and saw what he thought was egg white on his bare arms. It was not egg white; it was the viscous state of his skin now that the water had boiled out of it. Jarvis flung it off himself, and then he saw that where the egg white had been he could now see roasting muscle. His skin was dripping off his body in sheets. . . . He’d have pulled the melting skeins of skin from himself in bigger, more efficient sections but for the fact that his fingers had burned off of his hands. His nose was all but gone now, too, and he ran back and forth among the gathered neighbors, unable to scream, for his esophagus and his voice box had cooked inside his throat.'” [. . .]    –Walter Kirn, The New York Times, July 1, 2009