Sunday, January 08, 2006

I, Bookworm

Over the course of 2005, I read more than a book a week for a grand total of 57 books. Take that, Youngna Park!

While I have been recommended a number of books throughout the year here, I wanted to write on my favorite effort from this past year: Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders' translation of Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" (Chronicle Books)-- with each of the canticas ("Inferno", "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso") in Dante's epic poem a separate book.

For the uninitiated, "The Divine Comedy" describes Dante's journey through Hell, purgatory and paradise, and has been called "the greatest literary statement produced in Europe in the medieval period". While I could easily have picked something from one my favorite contemporary authors (such as George Pelecanos, James Ellroy, Alan Furst or Richard Price), this collection is the most enjoyable, coming up automatically when I'm posed with the "High Fidelity" 'top five' question.

I've always loved "The Divine Comedy" and this collection stands out from the rest of what I read this past year due solely to Birk's artwork (pictures rock!). Here, Birk has created a wonderfully rendered vision of Dante's work, setting his paintings in contemporary urban America. The above print comes from the first chapter of "Inferno," accompanying the following words:

"About halfway through the course of my pathetic life
I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark place.
I'm not sure how I ended up there,
I guess I had taken a few wrong turns."

Note the detail in the painting (see the McDonald's logo in the back?). He is certainly the heir to Gustave Doré, of which Birk's works are based upon here.
Be sure to check these books out if you haven't yet.

Others I absolutely loved -- but did not write about here -- were Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City" (Vintage), Eddie Muller's "The Distance" (Uglytown), Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's "Freakonomics" (William Morrow) and Nick Hornby's "The Polysyllabic Spree" (Believer Books). And I should probably also mention how much I enjoyed B.R. Myers' "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose" (Melville House), a quick little gem.

Here's to hoping I'm able to polish off even more books in 2006-- especially since I have 30 books on the shelf waiting to be read.


Chris said...

Addendum, before someone asks: No, the number of books above doesn't include Su Doku puzzle books.

legree said...

i thought the identification of Los Angeles as Hell was a little easy. Even if eveyone in the east does, the "everyone hates LA" cliche is a little trite to apply to a medieval pastiche that uses religious locations as scene. Plus there might be more creative associations. I mean, Pittsburgh has been clamoring for press...