One of my best friends in the universe recently asked a great question in our social network on friendfeed. Her question:
In a Fahrenheit 451 society, which book would you memorize?
My head about exploded as i tried to find my answer. Leaves of Grass? Hmm...I love it, but I have to be in the mood for the grandiosity of that one. Something by Stephen King? I love him, and his books would be long enough to be distracting, but...no, not what I would choose to spend that many brain cells on.
I started scanning my shelves, putting in perhaps too much effort for a question asked off the cuff. Dylan Thomas's Collected works, maybe - I like how playful he is with language (and saying "dingle starry" makes me smile every time). But no, I only get one book to memorize, and likely not much else to choose from...I want something more...more substantial than a collection of poems. I love poetry, but I also want a lengthy story to keep my mind occupied. I want it to be beautiful though; I want a longish story that has beautiful language and the rhythm of poetry to it.
At this point, I am standing in front of all of my bookshelves, a little upset at myself for not building a library that makes my answer obvious. How can I not have an answer to this? Maybe there's no book like that. But I don't really believe that. There has to be something. And I don't own it?
There is a ridiculously long, beautifully written, lyric story that could engage me for my whole life if I could only memorize one. Love, politics, intrigue, horror, beauty, religion, doubt, redemption. Oh, yes.
Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Divina Commedia. Specifically, the hardcover Book of the Month Club edition put out by Bantam, with the old Italian on one side and Mandelbaum's verse translation on the opposite pages. (They're illustrated by Barry Moser, and the illustrations are also beautiful.)
This might be cheating a little bit - the Divine Comedy comes in three parts and is usually published as three separate books, but as a story, all of those are required, so I'm going to count them as one "work." And it might also be cheating since the version of the book I chose does have it in two languages, so I could learn the music of the Italian, learning those lines aside the English lines. But mostly my choice fits within the confines of the question. Mostly.
In any case, I have to admit that I was surprised, both by my casting about for what I would really want to have knocking about my head, and about my final decision. Right now, typing this long past my bedtime, I'm feeling a bit guilty that i reread The Stand yearly, but the last time I read Alighieri was my freshman year in college.
I've just taken the volumes off their prominent spot of my main shelves and placed them in easy reach - I do believe this will be my summer reading project.
What about you? In a Fahrenheit 451 society, which book would you memorize? Share your decision in the comments!