Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno

Okay, Dan Brown is going to publish a novel about Dante. I suppose it's the duty of The Wrong Monkey to do something, to not merely take this lying down. And so I'm going to suggest some authors you might want to consider reading instead of Brown. (Search for posts labelled "dan brown" to see reasons not to read Brown.)

First of all, Dante comes to mind. Preferably untranslated. Part of the reason such a fuss is made about him to begin with is that his writing really sings. It's beautiful in ways which can't be translated. And I'm talking about the Latin works as well as the Italian ones. I was lucky enough to find a volume in a second hand book store years ago, containing Dante's complete works ("Tutti le opere"), edited by a certain Dr Moore, published by Oxford in 1897, pre-acidic paper, for seven freaking bucks. Or maybe that was just normal, not freakishly lucky. I'll probably never understand book pricing. Anyway, "tutti le opere" is what yr lookin for, happy hunting.

Another thing I stumbled a cross in a used-book store is Guido Da Pisa's Commentary on Dante's Inferno. Written in the 14th century, published for the first time in its entirety in 1974, and according to its editor, Vincenzo Cioffari, it was in 1974 "by common agreement among Dante scholars" the most important commentary on the Inferno which hadn't yet been published. I'm not a Dante scholar, I'm just telling you what Cioffari said. For myself I can only say that I found Guido's commentary (written in Latin) to be quite fascinating. Lots of detail about the political and social background of the Inferno, many edifying references to ancient and Medieval Latin authors who were always in the air which bookish lads like Dante and Guido breathed. Good stuff. Really helps you enjoy the Inferno more.

Unfortunately, as I said, I'm not a Dante scholar and I only stumbled upon that volume of his works and upon Guido's commentary. So I don't have much more to tell you about Dante. I can't even tell you who would be some of the best people to tell you all about Dante. So instead I'm just going to leave the subject of Dante now, and instead just list a bunch of authors who have nothing in common except that I think they're all miles better than Dan Brown, and beg you -- beg! -- if you are planning to read a novel by Brown, to just consider looking at at least one book by at least one of these other people instead, and who knows, you might just be glad you did. I'll list them by genres of writing and by their native languages and by other categories. And if you haven't already discovered the joys of multiligualism I'll just mention that it's great, and urge you to try to learn new languages. (It's a really great thing to do in so many ways. Very difficult, for most of us -- but so worth it!)

Writers of fiction, either contemporary or recently-deceased, writing in English: William H Gass, Walter Abish, Thomas Pynchon, Margaret Atwood (also a poet), Richard Powers, Barry Unsworth, Evan Dara, Salman Rushdie, William T Vollmann, Steven Bollinger, William Gaddis, Padgett Powell, Barry Hannah, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Cormac McCarthy

Writers of fiction in English further back in the past: Henry Fielding, Herbert Melville (also wrote poetry), Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Flannery O'Conner

Poets writing in Engliah: Alexander Pope, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, W H Auden, Wallace Stevens, Allan Ginsburg

Historians, English: Edward Gibbon, Steven Runciman, Samuel Eliot Morison

Historians writing in German: Leopold von Ranke, Theodor Mommsen

Wrote in German, partly an historian, partly an essayist, partly a philosopher, partly an art critic, entirely awesome: Jacob Burckhardt

Wrote in English, even harder to classify than Burckhardt: Edmund Wilson

Philosophers writing in German: Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W Adorno, Elias Canetti (Canetti also wrote novels and several volumes' worth of autobiography and published fascinating diaries), Herbert Marcuse

More novelists and/or playwrights writing in German: Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Lessing, Goethe (also a philosopher, geologist, biologist, discredited writer on optics and publisher of slightly-fictionalized memoirs), Doeblin, Brecht, Heinrich Mann, Ingeborg Bachmann

An Italian novelist: Italo Svevo

Philosophers writing in French: Leibniz (also wrote in Latin. Underrated mathamatician and possibly not a liar as is often claimed by fans of Newton), Voltaire, Sartre, Derrida, Barthes, Gorz

And, well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Just let me point out: I'm vouching for each one of these guys and gals personally. I've read their stuff and liked it, I'm not just copying names from lists of famous authors. Okay, that reminds me: I've read a few famous authors whom I recommend you don't read. Overrated, and not sorted by language: Plato, Cicero, Seneca, Augustine of Hippo, Aquinas, Robert Grosseteste -- okay: every theologian I've ever had the misfortune to read, with the exception of Kierkegaard, who wrote brilliantly in genres besides theology but who also became unspeakably dull whenever his theological tendency emerged -- Hegel, Thomas Carlyle, John Updike, Ernest Hemingway, Christa Wolf, Lord Byron

There's no need to read Dan Brown. Honestly, you'd be much better off even reading any of those overrated schmucks in the preceding paragraph.


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