On Reading Really Long Books

anna-karenina

After a warm autumn, the November winds have arrived and the rain and wind have brought cooler and damper weather. Time to retreat to the indoors, a comfortable reading chair, your beverage of choice…and a good long book.

Some time back I wrote about “Books I Read Too Soon” and one of the books I mentioned was Anna Karenina. Supposedly I read this in high school. Thinking back, I’m not sure if I ever read all of it, or just enough to fake it. I know Anna commits adultery and comes out a lot worse than the man. In my post I wrote, “It did awaken me to the double standard between men and women at a time women of my generation were talking of women’s liberation.” Truthfully, this book was miles away from my dorky life back then, I was just hoping there would be girls interested enough to even go out with me!

In recent years, I’ve heard great things about the new translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. So when a copy turned up at my local Half Price Books, I snapped it up and it has been sitting on my TBR pile for a while. I’ve been reading “around” it because it is too fat to take on trips. But I don’t have that excuse since I’ve been grounded because of foot surgery, so I’ve just settled down to begin my journey through its 838 pages. The translators have a helpful but brief introduction and notes on translation. So often, it seems to take a few days to get through the introduction. Not so here, something I like!

Also requisite for a Russian novel is a list of major characters so I can keep track of all those Russian names. The translators even tell us how they are related to each other!

Initial impressions? At first the book seems to be about the adultery committed by Anna’s brother Stepan and the romantic aspirations of Levin with Kitty (his encounter with Kitty on the skating pond is all the stuff romances are made of!). I remember this book being more profound than simply a Russian version of the affairs of the rich and famous. Haven’t gotten there yet but the reading so far is straightforward. I find myself wondering, does adultery run in families? My high school impression of the double standard does seem to bear up. Stepan seems more to regret being caught and the fallout of this than anything.

So I’ve begun. One of the questions knocking about in my head is why this is considered one of the great Russian novels, other than simply because of its length. I like Levin, who reminds me a bit of my bumbling teenage self (maybe that’s why we read it!). I wonder if I’ll like Anna. So far, I just know she is out there.

We’ll see which comes first, finishing Anna Karenina or getting the cast off my foot, which doesn’t happen for nearly three weeks yet. Seems we’ll be traveling companions for a while, so to speak. I may share a few “travel updates,” especially if I’m encouraged! And I’d love to hear if there are any long books you are hoping to lose yourself in as the days grow short and cool, and the nights grow longer.

One thought on “On Reading Really Long Books

  1. I read Anna Karenina 3 or 4 years ago. Would have to get out my book logs to be sure. I never read it in school. I “liked” this very tragic story. I do remember sections about Russian politics/economics that bored me though…

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