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We read ten novels in 2023, two each for five meetings:

As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)

& A Woman in Jerusalem (A.B. Yehoshua)

Man’s Fate , in French La Condition Humane (Andre Malraux) & The Moviegoer (Walker Percy)

Too Late the Phalarope (Alan Paton)

& Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)

To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf) & The Sea (John Banville)

Ironweed (William Kennedy)

& Lila (Marilynne Robinson)

The novelists were from five other countries: Israel, France, South Africa, U.K, Ireland


Four novelists from USA locales: Mississippi, Louisiana, New York, Iowa

Each duo of novels had multiple connections: such as a Southern mother and a Russian mother in coffins being transported “home,” two novels with existential wars occurring: one political in China, one personal in New Orleans. Two novels centered on sexual indiscretion with severe punishment for two South African men during apartheid and our modern PC times. Two novels with the sea used in literal and figurative ways; and two novels with homelessness, exile, and the unforgettable characters, Francis and Lila.

Note: The shortest novel we read was The Moviegoer at 195 pages, and the longest Man’s Fate at 366 (in the editions I read). And there was no problem finding copies to purchase on-line.

There were twelve members in this club, excluding me, the moderator. And next week we will gather for a sixth meeting to share thoughts about how this book club went and who wishes to try another year. Whether we continue or not, I met a personal goal in my eighth decade of life. Which was to be in a book club where serious literature was read, where most members had read the novels more than once and given serious thought to them. No judging of a novel, in other words, without having read it in depth. And I believe we did this.

What was our book club’s mantra? “The nature of our limited ego-consciousness stands in the way of our seeing how much stories can tell us about the limitations of our consciousness.” In other words, we attempted not to be tourists but to be open-minded wanderers in diverse literary worlds. And diverse they were with the ten novels listed above. Lastly, many thanks to RCC-Kilmarnock for use of the conference room, to RILL’s Brittany Jenkins for handling communication, and to each book club member for contributing to RCC’s Educational Fund.

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

I bemoan the small number who read my weekly blog, though I have a fair number of subscribers. And I’m pleased to say responses came from Washington State, California, Colorado, New York, and of course, Virginia. Here is a sampling.

“We moderns have pretty much decided all that “archaic old stuff” isn’t relevant. And here we are—so blind to ourselves, all over again. Appalling, depressing, even horrifying.”

“Brilliant blog on the circles of sin.”

"Decided to read The Divine Comedy.

Checked the local library’s date base. No Dante!”

Ironweed’s Francis Phelan is a saint compared to politicians I will not name.”

“I’ll sign the petition for changing the name of Congress to Malebolge. Word made me laugh out loud.”

“Relevant blog indeed. The last few months have been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I don’t know how it is going to end.”

“Wholly relevant blog and Malebolge is just the word for our political times. We can only hope (and work) for BETTER.”

“Malebolge seems a proper place for MAGAots, don’t you think? I note they also own territory in all the other Dantean circles except Limbo. None qualify for that.”

Until next week…wishing you a fine Thanksgiving with family and friends. Gail and llona

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In Ironweed, William Kennedy leads his character, Francis Phelan, through Purgatorio in a novel worth reading at least twice.

This week I would like to visit the first book in The Divine Comedy, which Dante completed early in the 14th century. By the time of his death in September of 1321, he had completed the third part, Paradiso, published posthumously.

Are you wondering how this is relevant in 2023?

Haven’t we heard ‘fraud’ lately, this word with its origin in Middle English? Hasn’t the word resonated outward from New York City? The legal F word as it were. But only D words for the deplorable, despicable, disreputable, disgraceful man on trial. A demon with a Sharpie, not the sword of Dante’s demon who perpetually circles Scandal and Schism in the ninth ring of the 8th circle. After the 8th, the 9th circle leads to the Pit (or Well) of Hell. And what a place it is, with its four rings, all named under the title, Treachery, about traitors to homeland, political party, guests, and benefactors.

Please accept I’ve skipped the first seven circles of Hell, but I will name them. They are Limbo, The Lustful, The Gluttonous, The Avaricious & Prodigal, the Wrathful & Sullen, and The Violent. The latter ring includes murderers & tyrants, and those against neighbors, themselves (suicides) and possessions (squanderers).

It is the 8th circle titled Fraud that interests me. Yet the name given to it, which takes in all its rings, is Malebolge. Word 11 does not recognize this word, though the OED does, of course. This word describes the 8th circle of hell as consisting of ten rock-bound concentric, circular trenches. As used in the past, malebolge meant a hellish place or condition. Maybe we ought to bring the word back as an apt description of Congress. Take a few minutes and study the list of those in the 8th circle of Hell. We recognize all of them, don’t we? Maybe not Simonists in Dante’s time, and the selling of ecclesiastical privileges. But think of the Big D selling presidential pardons. Look at each of the ten rings and get a visual image to match them. I see fraudulent counselors down there in George admitting their guilt. I await Rudy sweating more dark dye. Falsifiers of Metals, Persons, Coins, and Words. I think of Sam the Bit Coin Man! Please share with me some of what you saw! I enjoy getting messages from readers.

Oh, Dante Alighieri, I won’t forget being in Ravenna in the early 1980s and standing in the crypt that is said to contain your remains. Forget bones. You left us The Divine Comedy, and I mean to read it all this time, beginning with the Inferno by Allen Mandelbaum, whose translation is called, “The English Dante of choice.”

Until next week…Gail

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