Book Club Guide

"This is the perfect book club novel." -- Ann LaFarge, Voice Ledger (NY)

Book Club news! The Atlanta Journal- Constitutional article "What We're Reading" profile of Altanta book club the QQs mentions THE DANTE CLUB as one of the unanimous favorites. (15 June 2008)

The Seattle Times article "Camaraderie, books: They make a club" profile of Seattle book clubs mentions THE DANTE CLUB as a favorite. (3/18/2006) Publishers Weekly profiles books, including THE DANTE CLUB, that are popular with reading groups and book clubs. (5/23/2005) The Baltimore Sun profiles a book club and discusses their reading of THE DANTE CLUB. (2/12/04)

Author available to be a part of your book club!

If you’re interested in arranging to have Matthew Pearl be a part of your book club meeting via speakerphone, email here. The Harrisburg Patriot-News profiled Matthew Pearl's participation over speakerphone with a Pennsylvania book club in an article from 5/8/03.

As a great outing for New England area clubs, you can tour the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, MA. Matthew Pearl's tour of the Longfellow National Historic Site for a local book club is profiled in this article in The Sun Chronicle (New England). (November 5, 07)

Why has THE DANTE CLUB been called "the perfect book club novel" (Voice Ledger, NY)? THE DANTE CLUB is a story about what could be called America’s first book club. Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell and their friends came together once a week to read and discuss Dante and Dante's relevance to their lives; in the process, their friendships evolved and strengthened in inspiring ways. In the fictional narrative of the novel, the outgrowth of their book club is the ability to uncover and stop a savage "misreading" of literature that threatens to destroy their city.

THE DANTE CLUB draws much of its energy from Dante’s masterpiece, INFERNO, and its first American translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Though readers can fully enjoy the novel without any knowledge of Dante, with the new Modern Library edition of Longfellow’s INFERNO (click here for more information) book clubs and reading groups have a perfect opportunity to discuss both THE DANTE CLUB and INFERNO.

Some discussion points for your book club about THE DANTE CLUB:
(click here for a printer-friendly version)

... Discuss how the various characters benefit intellectually and professionally from their association with the “Dante Club” reading and translation group. How is the group similar to book clubs now popular throughout the United States? How does it differ?

... (Follow-up) What’s the secret of the power of collective reading? Compare the dynamic of the Dante Club to your own book club or reading group.

... The death of Fanny Longfellow leads Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to take “refuge” in his translation of Dante. Discuss why Dante in particular seems to help him through his dark period. How is his sanctuary affected by the outbreak of violence from that same work of literature?

... (Follow-up) Are there ways in which literature has provided a refuge in your own lives at difficult or confusing times?

... In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante’s poetic idol Virgil leads him through the dangerous passages of the afterlife. In what ways do the characters of THE DANTE CLUB guide one another? Who would you say is the real leader?

... How does the backdrop of the American Civil War influence the events of the novel?

... Did you guess who the murderer was before it was revealed?

... (Follow-up) Come on, did you really?

... (Follow-up 2) What are the ways in which the author “misdirected” the reader from the murderer? Or, if you had correct suspicions, what tipped you off? In what ways were the murderer’s motives surprising? What do they reveal about the exploration of different types of “reading” that runs throughout the novel?

... Discuss some of the instances in modern culture in which an artistic work – music, film or literature – seemed to have some impact on inspiring a crime. Some examples: Mark David Chapman carrying “The Catcher in the Rye” when he shot John Lennon; the Columbine killers supposedly drawing inspiration from Marilyn Manson songs and the video game “Doom”; several instances of people imitating “Natural Born Killers” in robberies and shootings. In that last instance, John Grisham led a campaign to prove Oliver Stone held responsibility after a friend of Grisham’s was killed. Is the work of art ever to blame? Do the murders in THE DANTE CLUB stem from the brutality of INFERNO?

... (Follow-up) Should the Dante Club members have revealed the source of violence to the public? What was at stake besides their reputations?

... Discuss Patrolman Nicholas Rey's role in the challenges facing the Dante Club, with consideration for Rey's status as a type of "exile" in Boston, and how this fits into the larger story.

... Discuss the character of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Why does he emerge as the character in the novel with the heaviest burden? What elements of his personal background make the events of the story so disruptive and frightening to Holmes?

... (Follow-up) Discuss Dr. Holmes’s relationship with his son, Wendell Junior. How does it compare or differ from James Russell Lowell’s relationship with his daughter, Mabel Lowell?

... Take a look at the pictures of the characters in the “gallery” of THE DANTE CLUB website ( Do their appearances differ from how you imagined them?

... (Follow-up) Also look at the link from the “gallery” to the gallery of book covers, showing cover art of THE DANTE CLUB from around the world. Which is your favorite, and how does it best represent or encapsulate the themes or story of the novel?

Do you have any discussion points you think should be added to this page? If so, please email your suggestions here.


All original materials © Matthew Pearl.
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