Written by Rodney Welch Monday, 06 October 2008 16:14
The Reading Club at BookBalloon has begun its discussion of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Rodney Welch is leading the discussion, and he starts us off with this comprehensive and insightful introduction. You are welcome to join the discussion -- our simple registration process is entirely free of charge.
Some books, I guess most books, get smaller as you return to them; you see the seams a little more closely, the mechanics, the contrivances, the defects. Tolstoy's masterpiece is different. Like Moby Dick or Ulysses or Absalom, Absalom!, it gets larger: it always, reading for reading, is about more than I either remembered or thought.
Here's my initial experience. I first read it 20 years ago this year, and I thought of it as another stellar example of the great 19th Century novel, crowded with characters and centered around a few, full of balls and parties, life high and low, and maybe a little longer than it really needed to be.
But in another way, it was quite different: it was modern. Of course, a timeless novel is always modern. Also, it was perplexing; I had a problem grasping the focus of it. Rather than being centered around the story of Anna, the beautiful society woman who falls in love with a dashing soldier named Vronsky, it seemed to keep going off on one tangent after the next. Commensurate with Anna's story is the story of Levin, the despairing landowner who is in love with Anna's sister-in-law, and Levin -- who is generally regarded as Tolstoy's counterpart -- is engaged in any number of mundane matters that either seemed to have a lot more to do with his time than ours, or which seem thoroughly out of place in a novel: the proper means of farm efficiency, for example, or the intricacies of 19th Century Russian politics.
Of course, perhaps to some extent this would not have been wholly unexpected for the readers of Tolstoy's time, as his previous War and Peace also devoted any number of pages to the author's own theory of history. Still, it was a sermon that grew out of that great book; Anna Karenina seems to jump the track a good deal more.
Written by M. Buck Monday, 15 September 2008 00:00
We humans are a smug species. We’ve been convinced of our own uniqueness for centuries, complacently self-assured that we sit at the pinnacle of the natural world. Some believe this is our rightful place as ordained by divine will. Others argue we represent the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder (a persistent, if erroneous, metaphor). In our defense, we are remarkably successful animals: we’ve populated every continent, adapted to every climate, and produced a dazzling array of cultures. Among our accomplishments we can boast of language, art, mathematics, philosophy, science, and a formidable technology. With such a resume, we may be forgiven if we harbor a secret agreement with Shakespeare’s words:
Written by Terry Weyna Thursday, 28 August 2008 17:18This past Sunday was my birthday, and no one gave me a single book.
Yes, yes, I know all the excuses. I have lots of books already. In fact, I have more books than I'll be able to read in my remaining lifetime, even if I have as many years ahead of me as I have behind (which is still possible, though less so than it used to be). One colleague has even called my library "obscene," and he wasn't kidding around; the tone was censorious. He seems to think it represents the ultimate in greed, as if I owned eight houses or wore $500 Ferragamo loafers. I've been accused by others of decimating forests, not to mention damaging floors. But don't these people understand that there's no such thing as "too many" books? That those who write, think and read need to be surrounded by the written word?
Written by Terry Weyna Tuesday, 19 August 2008 20:02Every March, during that time fondly known to students and academics as Spring Break, a certain cadre of authors, academics and independent scholars gather in Florida for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. This conference is notable for three things (at least): it welcomes independent scholars and encourages them to present papers on various aspects of science fiction, fantasy and horror; it is as much a giant, four-day party as it is an academic conference, even while it maintains a degree of seriousness that separates it from the usual science fiction convention; and it attracts a large number of science fiction, fantasy and horror authors who actually write the books the teachers are teaching and the scholars are studying.
I've attended the conference on and off for about ten years now, and I've always had a wonderful time, even though I'm a little shy about approaching authors whose works I've read and admired, not to mention the critics whose reviews I rely upon to guide my reading. I tend to feel like Wayne and Garth from those old Saturday Night Live sketches - "I'm not worthy!" I'm finally getting over that a bit, especially since I've recently discovered that these folks don't bite, and are actually quite friendly. As a result, I've had some illuminating conversations with some of my favorite authors.
Written by Terry Weyna Wednesday, 13 August 2008 18:29
I am all about books.I've been a reader since that magic moment in first grade when I made the connection between the marks on the page and the words they represented. It can't really have happened in a lightning flash like that, can it? Yet that's how I remember it, as if one second I didn't know how to read and the next moment I could read everything. And I did, from every book in the classroom to old science fiction anthologies found in back bedrooms of relatives' homes while my parents visited. My fondest childhood memories involve climbing a tree to a platform high above the world where I could spend hours reading, or riding my bike to the library and picking out a stack of new books to devour.
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