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Dante’s Divine Comedy: New life beyond Dan Brown

Two new translations of Dante's Divine Comedy bring new life to an old classic.

(Photo: Corbis)

The week’s best arts and culture reads – including translations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the problem of female beauty and ruminations on the future of the book.

What is the future of the book?
Charlie Stross | Charlie's Diary | 9 October 2013
After the digital publishing revolution, do we have a clear idea of what we mean by a book, and the process by which such a thing is produced? “What does it mean for the function of a book, the transfer of information from an author’s mind into a reader’s, when the book becomes an easily transferable chunk of data not bound to a physical medium? … What do you think books will look like in 2033?”     

Dante: Surviving Dan Brown
Robert Pogue Harrison | New York Review Of Books | 9 October 2013
On new translations of The Divine Comedy by Mary Jo Bang and Clive James; with a sidelong glance at Dan Brown’s Inferno. Bang “aims for a resolutely contemporary translation of the Inferno; she often employs devices that will cause squeamish scholars and purists to gasp.” James’s translation “has no such élan” and “blunts the narrative impact of the original”. As for Inferno: “Astonishingly bad; vapid and cartoonish”.

How the Korean alphabet came to be
SCS | The Economist | 8 October 2013
Until 1446, Koreans had no writing system of their own. The educated elite wrote in hanja, classical Chinese characters, to record the meaning — but not the sound — of Korean speech. Then King Sejong introduced Hangul, a newly invented alphabet of 28 characters, saying, “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days”.

Andrew Wylie: Making millions off highbrow
Laura Bennett | New Republic | 7 October 2013
No-holds-barred interview with top literary agent about the evils of Amazon and the incompetence of traditional publishers. “The industry analyses its strategies as though it were Procter & Gamble. It’s Hermès. It’s selling to a bunch of effete, educated snobs who read. Not very many people read. Most of them drag their knuckles around and quarrel and make money. We’re selling books. It’s a tiny little business.”   

Stalin: Brutal Dictator, Brutal Editor
Holly Case | Chronicle Review | 7 October 2013
On Stalin’s fixation with editing. As editor of Pravda he rejected 47 articles by Lenin. “Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.”

Praising the feminine literary canon
Molly Beer | Vela | 3 October 2013
A life in reading. How books, and books by women writers in particular, can change a woman’s view of the world. “Male writers affected me, moved me, changed and inspired me. But male writers do not offer a way for a girl to be more than a receptacle for literature. The women writers, in contrast, did more than transport my mind away from my body. If I hadn’t had such models as these, I might never have become the author of my own life.”

Literature’s problem with female beauty
Adelle Waldman | New Yorker | 2 October 2013
The problem of portraying it in fiction, that is. Jonathan Franzen does it well, most other male writers do it badly, because they fail to understand the complications. “Beauty is often treated as an essentially feminine subject, something trivial and frivolous that women are excessively concerned with. Men, meanwhile, are typically seen as having a straightforward and uncomplicated relationship with it: they are drawn to it.”    

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