Brigid Pasulka, Sun and Other Stars (2014)

brigid-pasulka-sun-and-other-starsIn his Sunday Book Review of Brigid Pasulka’s novel The Sun and Other Stars, Mike Peed describes the main character Etto: “. . . Etto tries to numb his pain with sarcasm and self-effacement. He is misanthropic and fatalistic, frequently funny and sometimes annoying. He explains himself by quoting Dante: ‘I found myself in a dark wilderness.’ Who will be his Virgil? Yuri Fil, a Ukrainian-born Italian soccer star ensnared in a match-fixing scandal who has absconded to San Benedetto’s supposed seclusion, inveigles Etto into playing regular pickup games and even fashions him a green-and-white jersey, ‘for hope and faith. When you do not have ability.'”    –Mike Peed, The New York Times, March 21, 2014

Richard Rhodes, Absolute Power(2014)

thermonuclear-monarchy-elaine-scarryIn Richard Rhodes’ Sunday Book Review of Thermonuclear Monarchy by Elaine Scarry, he references Dante when envisioning the world after the explosion of nuclear weaponry: “Today there are still about 17,300 nuclear weapons in the world, most of them American or Russian, with a combined destructive force equivalent to 1,500 pounds of TNT for each and every man, woman and child on earth. The detonation of even a fraction of this stockpile could produce a worldwide Chernobyl, followed by a new ice age of dark starvation. Not even Dante imagined a fate so cruel for humankind.”    –Richard Rhodes, “Absolute Power,” The New York Times, March 21, 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

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

“What the Hell: Dante in Translation and in Dan Brown’s New Novel”

what-the-hell-dante-in-translation-and-in-dan-browns-new-novel“People can’t seem to let go of the Divine Comedy. You’d think that a fourteenth-century allegorical poem on sin and redemption, written in a medieval Italian vernacular and in accord with the Scholastic theology of that period, would have been turned over, long ago, to the scholars in the back carrels. But no. By my count there have been something like a hundred English-language translations, and not just by scholars but by blue-chip poets: in the past half century, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Robert Pinsky, W. S. Merwin. Liszt and Tchaikovsky have composed music about the poem; Chaucer, Balzac, and Borges have written about it. In other words, the Divine Comedy is more than a text that professors feel has to be brushed up periodically for students. It’s one of the reasons there are professors and students.” [. . .]    –Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, May 27, 2013

Italian Commuting

italian-comuting-tim-parks   tim-parks-italian-ways

“Mr. Parks lives in Milan, where he runs a postgraduate translation program at Istituto Universitario di Lingue Moderne. Living here saves him from the hellish predawn 100-mile commute from Verona, a Dante-esque daily journey that he writes about at the outset of Italian Ways.”    –Rachel Donadio, The New York Times, June 7, 2013

See Tim Parks’ book, Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (NY: W. W. Norton, 2013)

Dan Brown, Inferno (2013)

dan-brown-inferno-2013Inferno, Dan Brown’s new book about Dante, is coming out on May 14, 2013 from Doubleday in the U.S., and Transworld Publishers in the UK (a division of Random House). Brown announced that he was writing something new in May 2012. Though Brown had been cryptic about the topic of the book, he has now revealed more information. The book will again feature The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and The Lost Symbol‘s lead character Robert Langdon. Brown also noted on The Today Show that it ‘will be set in Europe, in the most fascinating place I’ve ever seen’ (we’re guessing Florence, Italy since that’s where Dante wrote, and Florence’s Duomo church features on the cover of the book). Transworld’s press release for the book relates a bit more: the book will revolve around one of ‘history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces’ (we’re assuming Dante’s Divine Comedy, with a focus on the Inferno portion, due to the title of the book).

“The title was announced this morning on The Today Show. Readers were invited to participate in the unveiling of the title by posting on Facebook or tweeting, using the hashtag #DanBrownToday that they were helping unveil the title of Dan Brown’s newest book. These readers’ profile pictures then claimed a tile in a mosaic. After enough readers contributed their title suggestions, the new title was revealed. Even if you’ve never read a Dan Brown book, you can guess that the man really enjoys his puzzles.”    –Zoe Triska, The Huffington Post, January 15, 2013

dan-brown-inferno-2013

See also: Janet Maslin, “On a Scavenger Hunt to Save Most Humans,” The New York Times, May 12, 2013

What It Means to be Human and “A Working Theory of Love”

working-theory-of-love-scott-hutchins“You could argue that the fundamental question behind all literature is: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ Some people have even argued that storytelling itself is what makes us more than just monkeys with iPhones — that Homer created the modern consciousness, or that Shakespeare (as Harold Bloom has it) invented the human identity. In recent years, however, literature has lost a lot of ground on that score to evolutionary psychology, neurobiology and computer science, and particularly to the efforts of artificial intelligence researchers. So as we wait for the Singularity, when our iPhones will become sentient and Siri will start telling us what we can do for her, many of the savvier fiction writers have begun to come to grips with the fact that the tutelary spirit of the quest for the human may not be Dante or Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, but Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped start the revolution in computing.
Turing may be best known for his version of the Victorian-era Imitation Game, in which a judge receives written responses to his questions from a man and a woman behind a screen and tries to guess from the answers which is the man and which the woman. In Turing’s version, the messages are from a human and a computer; it was his contention that when a judge couldn’t tell the difference any longer, then a machine could be said to think like a human being. The Turing test has since become, at least in the popular imagination, the holy grail of artificial intelligence developers, as well as a conceit in contemporary fiction, and that conceit is at the heart of Scott Hutchins’s clever, funny and very entertaining first novel, ‘A Working Theory of Love.'” [. . .]    –James Hynes, The New York Times, November 21, 2012

Willie Sutton

willie-sutton “There are two ways to read Sutton, by J. R. Moehringer: as a third-rate novel with a deep and crippling cornball streak, or as a loose and journalistic speculative biography of a famous bank robber. Either way, you lose. But you lose less if you decide to read it as semi-true biography. You can at least enjoy the ragtime shuffle of the author’s better sentences.
“The bank robber is Willie Sutton, the man famous for supposedly saying, when asked why he held up banks, “That’s where the money is.” Sutton robbed dozens of them during his four-decade-long career. He also escaped from three maximum-security prisons, prompting frantic manhunts, and became a folk hero in the process. His dapper Irish good looks didn’t hurt. When young, he somewhat resembled Jack Kerouac.” […]
“Sutton’s famous quotation has always made him seem like a lovable dunce, Yogi Berra with a gun moll and a getaway car. In Sutton Mr. Moehringer reminds us that he was a shrewd fellow and a committed reader, with copies of Dante and Tennyson tucked into his prison cell. Sutton wrote two memoirs (they contradicted each other) and an unpublished novel.” […]    –Dwight Garner, New York Times, October 9, 2012

Clive James to Translate Dante’s Commedia

clive-james-commedia-translation“‘In a way, I’ve spent my whole life training for it,’ Mr. James said. He first fell in love with ‘The Divine Comedy’ in Florence in the 1960s, when the scholar Prue Shaw, who was then his girlfriend and is now his wife, read romantic passages aloud to him from Canto 5 of the ‘Inferno’ in the original Italian. . . ‘Dante is very compact, and there’s so much going on in a tight space that you’d swear you were reading a modern poet,’ Mr. James continued. ‘The temptation for any Italian poet is just outright lyricism, because the language is so beautiful. But Dante is never beautiful for its own sake, and every sentence, every line, is loaded with incident and meaning and wordplay.'” [. . .]    –Sarah Lyall, The New York Times, October 7, 2012

See also:
– “Clive James: By the Book,” The New York Times, April 11, 2013
– “This Could Be ‘Heaven,’ or This Could Be ‘Hell'” by Joseph Luzzi, The New York Times, April 19, 2013
– “The Divine Comedy” by Allen Barra, Truth Dig, April 26, 2013

Contributed by Pamela Montanaro