The Dante Club
I decided to read The Dante Club because it was summer reading for 9th Grade English and I wanted to know what 9th graders were reading. Although I’ve read many of the books that the English Department assigns, this book wasn’t on my radar. I picked it up thinking it would be an easy pop-culture mystery along the lines of The Da Vinci Code. I was wrong. First of all, it’s kind of hard. I mean, it’s not really hard, but it’s definitely not Dan Brown easy. Second, it’s kind of gross. There are murders in the book and they’re described in graphic detail that is hard to get out of your head once you read it. Third, the characterization is really well-done. In many of these silly murder-mystery type novels, the characters are one-dimensional. You know what they look like, a few of their likes and dislikes, and a little of their personality. Matthew Pearl’s central characters, who are all based on real people (like Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell— poets), are meaty. Although the characters might not be exactly like their real-life counterparts, they feel like real people. For instance:
In coaxing Longfellow to speak of himself in any capacity, one was required to cloak interest in a neutral topic, such as cigars.
Don’t you know people like that? Some people can talk about their feelings, and with some people you’ll talk for an hour about baseball but come out sensing that you’ve had a really intimate discussion with them. Seeing these pointed vignette characterizations in a book that I assumed would be a silly little mystery novel has changed my mind about the book.
Moreover, The Dante Club has made me want to read Dante. You can read Longfellow’s translation of the Divine Comedy for free online or even download it to your Kindle!
If you’re looking for post-1970 poetry for Mr. Ray’s class or just to celebrate National Poetry Month, you can explore section 811 (the Dewey call number for poetry) or go to the display case in the side of the reading room, where there is a shelf of them. There’s a lot of great stuff, but I want to recommend the little book by Darren Wershler-Henry, the big book by Alice Notley (or her little one, Descent of Alette), and the Robert Creeley. If you need help checking things out, don’t hesitate to ask— that’s what we’re here for.