Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who Wrote Dante’s Inferno? Booksellers Really Wish You Knew.

Dante wants to know: Who wrote my Inferno?
Anyone who works in a bookstore or library is used to the mangled titles. In between giving directions to the bathroom (the number one bookstore request of all time), we keep a poker face while fielding inquiries about The Count of Monte Crisco and How to Kill a Mockingbird. It’s easy not to crack, mostly because of how often the same twisted titles get repeated.

What never ceases to boggle the mind, though, is the number one non-bathroom question customers ask over and over again.

Who wrote Dante’s Inferno?

No joke, it’s something bookstore customers really want to know, and with alarming frequency. It’s tricky to keep from sounding curt when answering  “Dante,” but it’s the correct and only response, despite the temptation to wickedly answer “Nostradamus” or even “Jackie Collins.”

I’m not sure why it’s poor Dante alone who falls prey to this phenomenon (though The Diary of Anne Frank gets occasional questions about its authorship, presumably by people who think it’s a work of fiction.)

No one ever walks in the door and asks, say, “Who wrote Shakespeare’s Hamlet?” or “Do you happen to know the author of Judy Blume’s Superfudge?” No, it’s Dante and The Inferno alone that befuddle students and mature adults alike.

Friends from other bookstores confirm that they hear it too, and so do librarians. And, to add to my astonishment, not only do people take to the Internet to ask who wrote Dante’s most famous work, but the Internet sometimes gets it shockingly wrong.  (Screenshot below.)

So, just to be clear to anyone who pulls this article up in a search because they --like thousands of other bookstore customers across the country-- need to know who wrote Dante’s Inferno-- the answer you’re looking for is Dante.

But of course you knew that.


Book shop employees and other folks: What are some of the most bizarre questions you've heard? And who wrote Dante's Inferno?


  1. D'oh!

    You know, it's so rarely called by its actual name and is, instead, called Dante's Inferno, I guess maybe I can understand why the question gets asked. As sad as that may be. Do they ask that about Homer's The Odyssey?

    1. I've never heard that one. "Who wrote the Diary of Anne Frank" is almost as common, though.

  2. I can kind of see how people might be confused with the authorship of The Inferno just as much as they might look for The Divine Comedy in the humor section. Since the character in the story is Dante one might think that someone else wrote the book about a fictional character with that name. Then there was the 1935 movie with Spencer Tracy called Dante's Inferno. I recall seeing this film when I was a little kid and that was my first exposure to this title. One might be confused by this film story and relate the title to other misconceived relations based on things they've heard about the story. Since it is a translation, there are various versions and maybe the questioners are confusing the terminology of translator with writer. I'm just thinking of a few possibilities.

    And if you're in a bookstore for a long time, sometimes you just have to go to the bathroom.

    Are you going to do the A to Z Challenge? You really ought to try it out. I think you might like it.

    Wrote By Rote

    1. There are plenty of possibilities, but it still mystifies me that I hear it so many times! There are plenty of other books with similar aspects, yet no one asks me 'Who wrote Bram Stoker's Dracula?"

      And, of course, people are perfectly welcome to ask where the bathroom is --I just think it would surprise some people to know that it's the #1 bookstore question. I also give a lot of directions to restaurants and answer questions like "Where can I pay my electric bill?" or "Do you know a place that sells hiking equipment?"

      A to Z Challenge has my full support, but I don't think it fits in with my blog plans this year. I might do a one-time A to Z post in support of it, though. Good luck to your bazillion entrants!

  3. I think I understand where people are coming from when they ask questions like this, especially when the author's name is in the book title. It's easy to assume, you know?

    That said, there's really no excuse for someone's being that big a blockhead. Were they raised by wolves? :p

    I don't work at a bookstore, but with I do work with websites and related technology -- so I understand questions that make your soul cry just a little: "And how do I refresh the page?" or "What do you mean I can't put this 3,000 pixel-wide image on this website that's 900 pixels wide?"

    Thank goodness for blogging -- we can all commiserate!

    (This is Bookzilla, btw. Neither Blogger nor Blogspot are letting me comment while logged in. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and happy reading!)

    1. But the author's name ISN'T in the book title! The book is called The Inferno. People refer to it as Dante's Inferno in the same way as they might say Bram Stoker's Dracula or Tokien's Lord of the Rings or any number of titles!

      Thank you for stopping by, too.

  4. I admit I had a frozen moment of "Wait, I'm being stupid, who did write Dante's Inferno?" when I saw your post. Then my brain said, "You're kidding, right?" And I felt dumb. But at least I didn't ask you. :)

  5. OMG, I had this moment of panic when I saw your title, and wondered - what if it isn't Dante? Kind of a trick question, like who's buried in Grant's tomb (I think the wife is in there, too).

    Thanks for the giggle.

    1. Ha! Sorry I caused you panic, K.C. and Beverley! Why, it's Marcus Sanders and Doug Harvey, of course.

  6. The stupidest question I've ever been asked was...."Where are the books written by authors"? ......DEAD BLANK STARE

  7. Now, who is the idiot who claims that 'Dante's Inferno' was written by Dante? Dante was the character in the book who traversed the nine circles of hell to rescue his Love Beatrice!
    The author's actual name was *Durante Degli Alighieri*, but he is commonly known as Dante Alighieri.
    So for all you people who work in a bookstores, and think you know something get your facts straight... Dante was NOT his REAL name, his given name... it was more of a nickname he adopted himself. his GIVEN name, ONCE AGAIN was:
    ***Durante Degli Alighieri***
    And, 'Dante's Inferno' was NOT named for the author, it was named for the character!