Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way."

This was actually the book that I was supposed to post about a while ago, but it took me a very long time to read. I am not making any excuses for myself, but it is a really long book.

Anna Karenina is a book that follows the lives of several closely linked Russian families. Each family has it's good and bad times, but mostly bad times. It parallels the differences of lives led in the country and in the cities of Russia. Mostly set in the rural area of Russia at the home of Levin, and in the city of Petersburg at the home of Karenin, and in Moscow around the home of Oblonksy.

The three main families to follow are the Levins, Karenins, and Oblonksys. They are all related by marriage (at least by Part 5 when Levin marries the sister-in-law of Oblonsky. At some points I found it a little difficult to keep up with the separate lives of everyone since Tolstoy intermingles them so often. Once I found myself getting used to the jumps and the writing style it became more natural to associate the different passages with the different families.

I'd have to say that my favorite family would be the Levins. This is most likely because it's the family that is the least linked to the frivolous lifestyle of the city, and also the family that worries more about the contribution they make to society than the contribution society makes to them. Working on the farm before he is married Levin worries about the process and the labor used to work his land. He begins to write a book on the farming of the land based on the views of the peasants who were recently freed from serfdom. He works the land side by side, speaks with the peasants, and tries to find a way to include them in the working of the land so that they see it more as working for themselves than simply working for a wage. After he marries Kitty (Oblonksy's sister-in-law) he loses sight of his original goals, and feels the loss of freedom that comes with marriage. They have their marital disputes such as most couple face, and yet Tolstoy writes such love into their lives. I believe that Kitty and Levin end up being the only couple who find real happiness at all.

Oblonksy on the other hand is a rascal, a philanderer, and very wasteful in spending. During part one Dolly, his wife, finds out about an affair that he had with a previous employee of theirs. She is utterly heartbroken and threatens to leave him. Her thoughts of leaving are only swayed by the words of Oblonsky's sister Anna Karenina. She is convinced that she should forgive her husband of his exploits and change nothing in the way they live. She does this, and finds out very quickly that nothing can really ever be the same. At the same time Oblonsky has known for a long while that he is no longer in love with his wife, and continually has pursuits outside of the family situation. This never changes throughout the novel. Oblonsky is portrayed as a general man about town. He is well liked by everyone, and never puts an opinion out that would upset too many people at once. He is a politician that follows only the most current trends in everything including fashion and leisurely pursuits. Buy the end of the novel they are in such financial straits that he tries and obtains a job of which he has no actual qualifications in which he receives a much larger salary and doesn't have to leave office. For this family it is all about broken trust and money. I think more than any other family, this one disappoints me the most. I really hate that he got a position based on his general likableness and not on the grounds of actually having the means to accomplish the job well.

The last family of major importance is the Karenins. Of course, Anna Karenina is the one the book is named for. She is a woman married to a very famous politician and leading thinker in Petersburg. In her very first introduction she is shown as a sensible woman who doesn't lean towards excessive dress and shows unfaltering love for her only son. Then she meets Vronksy and it all pretty much goes downhill from there. Originally when they meet at the ball it seems like Anna is above the petty attentions of Vronsky and that she dances with him but refuses anything further. Vronsky has fallen deeply in love with her so soon, he follows her home to Petersburg when she goes. I believe the time frame is nearly a year before Anna breaks down to him and finally becomes his lover. She continues to live her daily life with her husband and see Vronsky when she can. Eventually it all comes out in the open, and her husband Karenin is made aware of the realness of the situation. A lot of things happen in the middle, but eventually Anna leaves Karenin and lives as a kept woman with Vronsky.

During the time that Anna lives with Vronsky it's made more and more apparent that she suffers from the loss of her son. She also becomes insanely jealous of anything that Vronsky does that doesn't include herself. She was jealous throughout the whole affair, it just gets so much worse now that she is placed in a horrible position in society. There is much discussion about a divorce so that she can become the rightful wife, and regain at least a little of her standing in society. And yet, Anna is so back and forth on the idea because she can't stand the thought of losing her son forever. Eventually the whole situation of her jealousy gets so out of hand that she makes a move, and it's for the worst.

While reading the novel I was never very concerned about Oblonksy, his wife Dolly, Karenin, Anna, or Kitty the wife of Levin. The two characters I felt for the most would be Vronsky and Levin. Levin had my love from almost the very beginning. He asked Kitty to marry him in Part One, she refused him then because she thought she was going to get a better offer. This really made me not like her. He went home to his farm and began to work more intensely on cultivating and learning what was going on. His passion was based on what was actually taking place in front of him, based in the real life instead of all the talk of higher powers and official business of the country. I've always appreciated someone who tried to improve the country by starting small instead of reaching for the stars without even getting a ladder.

Vronsky I enjoyed because his love continued even through all the bad times. Anna loved him to the point of nearly smothering. She needed him in her loneliness, needed to know without a doubt that he would never leave her nor betray her. And he never did. Seeing the situation from his side, I can feel the pressure and the constant struggle. He loses some love for Anna when they leave Petersburg together, and yet he remains faithful to a fault. Anna never really believes or trusts in his love when he isn't within her eyesight. There is a constant battle for him to prove himself more and more thoroughly. It's never enough for Anna, no matter what he says or does, she always loses faith in him when he goes away. All of this is wearing him down, but he knows she gave up so much to be with him, and he stays.

My boss said something really funny to me when he found out that I was reading Tolstoy. He said that "it's dryer than the driest desert." Surprisingly enough I actually ended up falling in love with this book. It was very long, and took me a very long time to read. But I made it through and enjoyed almost all of it. If you want something to read that you can savor for a very long time, I'd suggest this book. It's not all about romance though, a good deal of the book is based in questioning religion and science, and also a good deal about politics and philosophy. It's Russian, I'd expect nothing less. Either way, those are the kinds of things I like, so I loved the book. The real question is this: will I ever read it again? Not likely, it's not a book that you could just pick up for some light reading, or get any enjoyment out of reading just a couple chapters.

I already finsihed reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell and will post my review about that tomorrow and let you all know what I'll be starting to read tonight. I'd tell you now, but I haven't exactly decided. It's between three books from the list I previously posted.

Until tomorrow then, I wish you happy reading,


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

100 Books I Should Read:

I've been at a loss of what to read now that I have begun this journey of mine. I suppose there is no easier way of deciding what to read than following someone else's suggestions. Below is a list of 100 suggested books (, and I will read them. I have already read a few of the books on the list, and most likely won't be revisiting them. I also will not be going in order.
I have decided to read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell next. I do realize that I have strayed from my original timeline a bit, but I blame that on the holidays and also on the fact that my last choice was 923 pages of Russian translated into English. Tolstoy was amazing to read. It just wasn't a quick one to get through. I'm hoping to take the time tomorrow to actually get my review of Anna Karenina up. I finished it on Sunday and just haven't had the sufficient amount of time to process the book and translate that into a cohesive blog. 

Below this I'll tell you those of the subsequent list which I have already read. If later I feel the need to go back and read these again I'll definitely give you a heads up.

Books I've Read:
100 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
79 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
54 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
38The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
14 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
11 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
1 Middlemarch by George Eliot
11 out of 100 that's not too bad. I actually own almost all of the books on this list, either in paperback or in Kindle format. So it should be relatively simple for me to access all of them. That is definitely a bright side. It's also better knowing that these are mostly books that were already on my tentative reading list. These things should all help my progress go much more smoothly. 

And so, I'm off into the world of Elizabeth Gaskell, I'm really just glad that Wives and Daughters wasn't on this list. I've begun reading that book more times than I can count, and haven't made it even half-way through. Just the size of that novel is daunting to me. I could finish it though; I did just finish reading Anna Karenina after all, and that only took me about a week and a half. 

Happy reading to you all,


100 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
WH Auden thought this tale of fantastic creatures looking for lost jewellery was a “masterpiece”.
99 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A child’s-eye view of racial prejudice and freaky neighbours in Thirties Alabama.
98 The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore
A rich Bengali noble lives happily until a radical revolutionary appears.
97 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Earth is demolished to make way for a Hyperspatial Express Route. Don’t panic.
96 One Thousand and One Nights Anon
A Persian king’s new bride tells tales to stall post-coital execution.
95 The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Werther loves Charlotte, but she’s already engaged. Woe is he!
94 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
The children of poor Hindus and wealthy Muslims are switched at birth.
93 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Nursery rhyme provides the code names for British spies suspected of treason.
92 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Hilarious satire on doom-laden rural romances. “Something nasty” has been observed in the woodshed.
91 The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki
The life and loves of an emperor’s son. And the world’s first novel?
90 Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
A feckless writer has dealings with a canine movie star. Comedy and philosophy combined.
89 The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Lessing considers communism and women’s liberation in what Margaret Drabble calls “inner space fiction”.
88 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
Passion, poetry and pistols in this verse novel of thwarted love.
87 On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Beat generation boys aim to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles”.
86 Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
A disillusioning dose of Bourbon Restoration realism. The anti-hero “Rastingnac” became a byword for ruthless social climbing.
85 The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Plebian hero struggles against the materialism and hypocrisy of French society with his “force d’ame”.
84 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
“One for all and all for one”: the eponymous swashbucklers battle the mysterious Milady.
83 Germinal by Emile Zola
Written to “germinate” social change, Germinal unflinchingly documents the starvation of French miners.
82 The Stranger by Albert Camus
Frenchman kills an Arab friend in Algiers and accepts “the gentle indifference of the world”.
81The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Illuminating historical whodunnit set in a 14th-century Italian monastry.
80 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
An Australian heiress bets an Anglican priest he can’t move a glass church 400km.
79 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Prequel to Jane Eyre giving moving, human voice to the mad woman in the attic.
78 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Carroll’s ludic logic makes it possible to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
77 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Yossarian feels a homicidal impulse to machine gun total strangers. Isn’t that crazy?
76 The Trial by Franz Kafka
K proclaims he’s innocent when unexpectedly arrested. But “innocent of what”?
75 Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
Protagonist’s “first long secret drink of golden fire” is under a hay wagon.
74 Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan
Gentle comedy in which a Gandhi-inspired Indian youth becomes an anti-British extremist.
73 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
The horror of the Great War as seen by a teenage soldier.
72 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Three siblings are differently affected by their parents’ unexplained separation.
71 The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
Profound and panoramic insight into 18th-century Chinese society.
70 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Garibaldi’s Redshirts sweep through Sicily, the “jackals” ousting the nobility, or “leopards”.
69 If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
International book fraud is exposed in this playful postmodernist puzzle.
68 Crash by JG Ballard
Former TV scientist preaches “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology”.
67 A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
East African Indian Salim travels to the heart of Africa and finds “The world is what it is.”
66 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.
65 Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Romantic young doctor’s idealism is trampled by the atrocities of the Russian Revolution.
64 The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Follows three generations of Cairenes from the First World War to the coup of 1952.
63 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s “bogey tale” came to him in a dream.
62 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Swift’s scribulous satire on travellers’ tall tales (the Lilliputian Court is really George I’s).
61 My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
A painter is murdered in Istanbul in 1591. Unusually, we hear from the corpse.
60 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Myth and reality melt magically together in this Colombian family saga.
59 London Fields by Martin Amis
A failed novelist steals a woman’s trashed diaries which reveal she’s plotting her own murder.
58 The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Gang of South American poets travel the world, sleep around, challenge critics to duels.
57 The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
Intellectuals withdraw from life to play a game of musical and mathematical rules.
56 The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Madhouse memories of the Second World War. Key text of European magic realism.
55 Austerlitz by WG Sebald
Paragraph-less novel in which a Czech-born historian traces his own history back to the Holocaust.
54 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Scholar’s sexual obsession with a prepubescent “nymphet” is complicated by her mother’s passion for him.
53 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
After nuclear war has rendered most sterile, fertile women are enslaved for breeding.
52 The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Expelled from a “phony” prep school, adolescent anti-hero goes through a difficult phase.
51 Underworld by Don DeLillo
From baseball to nuclear waste, all late-20th-century American life is here.
50 Beloved by Toni Morrison
Brutal, haunting, jazz-inflected journey down the darkest narrative rivers of American slavery.
49 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“Okies” set out from the Depression dustbowl seeking decent wages and dignity.
48 Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Explores the role of the Christian Church in Harlem’s African-American community.
47The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A doctor’s infidelities distress his wife. But if life means nothing, it can’t matter.
46 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A meddling teacher is betrayed by a favourite pupil who becomes a nun.
45 The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Did the watch salesman kill the girl on the beach. If so, who heard?
44 Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
A historian becomes increasingly sickened by his existence, but decides to muddle on.
43 The Rabbit books by John Updike
A former high school basketball star is unsatisfied by marriage, fatherhood and sales jobs.
42 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A boy and a runaway slave set sail on the Mississippi, away from Antebellum “sivilisation”.
41 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.
40 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Lily Bart craves luxury too much to marry for love. Scandal and sleeping pills ensue.
39 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Nigerian yam farmer’s local leadership is shaken by accidental death and a missionary’s arrival.
38The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
A mysterious millionaire’s love for a woman with “a voice full of money” gets him in trouble.
37 The Warden by Anthony Trollope
“Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money,” said W?H Auden.
36 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
An ex-convict struggles to become a force for good, but it ends badly.
35 Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
An uncommitted history lecturer clashes with his pompous boss, gets drunk and gets the girl.
34 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts” in this hardboiled crime noir.
33 Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
Epistolary adventure whose heroine’s bodice is savagely unlaced by the brothel-keeping Robert Lovelace.
32 A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
Twelve-book saga whose most celebrated character wears “the wrong kind of overcoat”.
31 Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
Published 60 years after their author was gassed, these two novellas portray city and village life in Nazi-occupied France.
30 Atonement by Ian McEwan
Puts the “c” word in the classic English country house novel.
29 Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec
The jigsaw puzzle of lives in a Parisian apartment block. Plus empty rooms.
28 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Thigh-thwacking yarn of a foundling boy sewing his wild oats before marrying the girl next door.
27 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Human endeavours “to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” have tragic consequences.
26 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Northern villagers turn their bonnets against the social changes accompanying the industrial revolution.
25 The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Hailed by T?S Eliot as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels”.
24 Ulysses by James Joyce
Modernist masterpiece reworking of Homer with humour. Contains one of the longest “sentences” in English literature: 4,391 words.
23 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Buying the lies of romance novels leads a provincial doctor’s wife to an agonising end.
22 A Passage to India by EM Forster
A false accusation exposes the racist oppression of British rule in India.
21 1984 by George Orwell
In which Big Brother is even more sinister than the TV series it inspired.
20 Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Samuel Johnson thought Sterne’s bawdy, experimental novel was too odd to last. Pah!
19 The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
Bloodsucking Martian invaders are wiped out by a dose of the sniffles.
18 Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Waugh based the hapless junior reporter in this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.
17 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Sexual double standards are held up to the cold, Wessex light in this rural tragedy.
16 Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
A seaside sociopath mucks up murder and marriage in Greene’s literary Punch and Judy show.
15 The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse
A scrape-prone toff and pals are suavely manipulated by his gentleman’s personal gentleman.
14 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Out on the winding, windy moors Cathy and Heathcliff become each other’s “souls”. Then he storms off.
13 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Debt and deception in Dickens’s semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman crammed with cads, creeps and capital fellows.
12 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A slave trader is shipwrecked but finds God, and a native to convert, on a desert island.
11 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Every proud posh boy deserves a prejudiced girl. And a stately pile.
10 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Picaresque tale about quinquagenarian gent on a skinny horse tilting at windmills.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Septimus’s suicide doesn’t spoil our heroine’s stream-of-consciousness party.
Disgrace by JM Coetzee
An English professor in post-apartheid South Africa loses everything after seducing a student.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Poor and obscure and plain as she is, Mr Rochester wants to marry her. Illegally.
6 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Seven-volume meditation on memory, featuring literature’s most celebrated lemony cake.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
“The conquest of the earth,” said Conrad, “is not a pretty thing.”
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
An American heiress in Europe “affronts her destiny” by marrying an adulterous egoist.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s doomed adulteress grew from a daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow”.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Monomaniacal Captain Ahab seeks vengeance on the white whale which ate his leg.
1 Middlemarch by George Eliot
“One of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” said Virginia Woolf.