These are the books of which I have four copies:
First come Dante’s Divine Comedy and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. I first read Inferno in grade 12 English; we were supposed to do a project on world literature. I ended up building a model of Hell: I painted little pieces of cardboard to represent each of the circles (including all the Malbowges of the Eighth Circle), and spent a great deal of time and effort putting them into a funnel I believe was made out of a coat hanger and copper wire. I still have all the cardboard pieces somewhere, though I took it apart to move. One day I shall have to see about remaking it, perhaps continuing on to make a full microcosm of the three canticles.
I don’t remember when I first heard about Dante. Probably my father mentioned it, or perhaps it was one of those things that one eventually comes across. I do remember when I first read the rest of the Divine Comedy: in the second year of my undergraduate degree. That was also the year I first read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. It was one of those years where one’s life takes a turn; reading those two books led me ultimately towards doing my PhD in Medieval Studies. I flirted with other topics for a while (Old English; twelfth-century cosmology), but eventually came back to Dante and Boethius, and held out for writing my dissertation on them despite Dante being perhaps the second-most-written upon author in the Western Canon. I found something to say, admittedly by way of twelfth-century cosmology, and am graduating next week. It will be a while before I publish a book on them, though.
So, ten years of my life have been more or less devoted to Dante and Boethius. I took Italian so I could learn to read Dante; Latin for Boethius. I fully intend to spend the next decades of my life continuing to read them, learning to read them better. I want to be able to get the allusions, to have worked through the sources and arguments, to know the shape of it. I have inklings, images, threads to guide me through their complex labyrinths (which are also spheres of wonderful simplicity) — a doctoral dissertation does involve a great deal of study, of scholarship and texts — and I also learned some new things when preparing lectures on Purgatorio, as I did this week. I had never noticed a run of images before of falcons, including one incredibly beautiful passage of how the spinning heavens are the lure God throws out to call the hungry falcon home. What richness there is in this work, that years of study increase the wonder; that I can find something new to say that no one has said in seven hundred years of studying it. What a gift it is to read such a thing.
My third favourite book is Connie Willis’ fantastic time-travelling comedy of errors, To Say Nothing of the Dog.