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What the Editors Are Reading

Two years ago, while we were visiting friends in Tuscany 20 or so kilometers north of Florence, my host remarked that it was in those parts that Giovanni Boccaccio composed the Decameron, the first draft of which he completed in 1351.  The Decameron was one of many books I’d thought for years to read, without ever doing so—but I am reading it now.  It comprises ten stories conceived and recounted every afternoon in the course of ten days by ten young upper-class Florentines in retreat (in the country house of one of them) from the Black Death that was then ravaging Florence.  The reader unfamiliar with the author’s biography might be surprised to learn that Boccaccio, near the end of his life, received the necessary dispensation from the Pope in the case of an illegitimate son (which Boccaccio was) to take Holy Orders, though he never actually did so.  The 100 stories—including those told by the ladies—range widely across medieval Italian society and are frequently bawdy, unsparing of the clergy, and indeed of Christian morality, or at least of any sensitivity to it.  They are also imaginative and inventive, charming, and amusing, though a modern reader may well feel that 100 stories written collectively to a length (in the Oxford World Classics edition) of 698 pages wear out their welcome before...

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