I have to admit, “Book Jacket Status: Jacketed” was a major selling point. Like most of the books on my reading list, I ordered Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy during an alcohol-fueled Amazon binge, and specifically to appear smart when prompted about my reading preferences. But unlike my usual picks, such as Eat to Win: The Sports Nutrition Bible, this book didn’t fit into a cassette player—not even close. It just sat there on the nightstand, inaudibly jacketed.
The first thing I learned about my new book jacket was that it’s actually a clever disguise for three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso—a conspicuous attempt to make the soul’s journey toward God feel more robust. But we all know it’s not about the length of a book so much as the girth of the binding—and don’t get me started on the motion of the rhyming stanza. In English, the terza rima reads like The Odyssey on a seven-day Carnival Cruise: jerky and prolonged (they have a word for this in Italian; I think it’s vomitevole).
I also noticed that unlike the other classics worth owning in hard copy, such as Clifford Goes to Washington, the type is neither large nor colorful. Instead, tiny black words run from left to right, as if perpendicular to the long sides of each page. In order to make any sense of them, you’d need to invest in some type of headgear, possibly two framed convex glass circles you could tuck behind your ears. I’m not sure what kind of technological advances they had in Florence in the 14th century, but in America, we don’t run around trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends.
Now I know what you’re thinking and I wholeheartedly agree. Leave it to those elitist European pigs to slap a layout together with 14,233 lines of epic poetry and expect us to give a standing ovation while donning futuristic spelunking hats. Well, mi scusi, Signore Alighieri. I didn’t realize the “father” of the “modern Italian language” required his tiny words be read, not watched or listened to, as is customary nowadays. Evidently, he never had the pleasure of enjoying the 1987 cult classic book on tape Eat to Succeed: The Haas Maximum Performance Program (currently available on Amazon for $0.01 + shipping).
Even more infuriating is how the Cliff Notes summary casts sinners into various circles of hell, willy-nilly—i.e. blasphemists in the seventh circle alongside sodomites, hoarders and spendthrifts in the fourth. Everyone knows it’s Jesus’s job to designate hell spheres (see: The Bible). But the main problem with Inferno, while ripe with allegory and symbolic instance of poetic justice, is the general lack of hilarity one expects from a modern epic journey, e.g. The Stench of Honolulu. Not a single chortle-induced bubble (snot-based or otherwise) emerged from my nasal passages since I began reading Dante’s “pre-eminent work” (whatever that means).
I get it: Divina Commedia is not a comedy, but one of those false cognates you were supposed to learn in Italian class but slept through during a Chianti-induced coma. Still, the disappointment is inescapable. As it happens, the only thing less funny than my 2013 “Everyman’s Edition” would have to be the original-language version I purchased for Kindle. Given my intermediate proficiency with Alighieri’s mother tongue and the fact that I don’t know what a Kindle is, the humor was pretty much lost on me.
Now Shakespeare, that’s some funny-ass shit.
Sarah Kasbeer is a writer in New York City. Her work can be found in cyberspace, in real space, and pretty much any other kind of space. Follow her on twitter @sarahkasbeer.