This is a big step for me. I normally don’t reread books. It’s just a matter of time. There are too many books in the world and not enough time to read them. I also feel like I’m pretty good at remembering the books that I read (at least the good ones).
But since the alternative seemed to be that I would read nothing, I decided I could relax my stance on this. And subsequently went in search of a novel that I felt like I could bear to reread. I decided that it should probably be something it’s been at least four years since I’ve read. And it should be something that I enjoyed reading quite a bit. So far, so good. But I also felt like it should be something triumphant. Something that celebrated the human spirit. Because as much as I enjoy The Bell Jar and Journey To The End of the Night (two books that I considered), I do not feel like they are the best things for a bad mood.
Anyway, with these criteria, I narrowed it down to a few contenders: Vanity Fair, Emma, Anna Karenina, and Main Street. Since most of these books are in the public domain (except for AK, for which I own a Kindle copy of the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation), I was able to sample them all.
I really wanted the book to be Anna Karenina since it’s a fantastic novel, and when I read it for the first time I was a much less sophisticated reader than I am now. However, I read about a tenth of the way into the book and wasn’t feeling it. I mean, the brilliance emanates off the page. I am at a loss for how someone could read the first page of AK and not be completely blown away. As famous as the first line is, I feel like the first paragraph is even better:
All was confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with their former French governess, and had announced to the husband that she could not live in the same house with him. This situation had continued for three days now, and was painfully felt by the couple themselves, as well as by all the members of the family and household. They felt that there was no sense in their living together and that people who meet accidentally at any inn have more connection with each other than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys…
That just says it right there. “They felt there was no sense in their living together and that people who meet accidentally at an inn have more connection with each other…” I love it. So there was no problem with reading further. I just wasn’t connecting with it emotionally.
Umm…but then I did. I don’t know. Sometime around when Levin is trying to propose to Kitty, I was all like, “Yes, I am totally into this.”
What I’m noting this time about AK that I hadn’t noted the first time is how well-observed it is. Tolstoy generalizes about people in such a surefooted way that even a modern reader can say, “That’s absolutely true.” For instance, when Levin is trying to figure out whether it’s possible for Kitty to love him back, Tolstoy writes:
He had heard that women often love unattractive, simple people, but he did not believe it, because he judged by himself, and he could only love beautiful, mysterious and special women.
It drives home the idea that these are people just like us (albeit much richer than us), and that these dramas are normal human dramas.
Anyway, I’m moving right through. The book is very fast-moving. Chapters are only a few pages long. Time moves at a rapid quick. Fortunes go up and go down in the blink of an eye. And even though I know exactly what’s going to happen, I still feel the pressure of suspense: How do Kitty and Levin get together? How does Vronsky seduce Anna? What happens to the Oblonsky marriage