Anna Karenina

Cross-posted on the Robbins Library blog.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled when my book club chose Tolstoy’s famous (and famously long) Anna Karenina. However, part of what I like about being in a book club is that it often provides that little nudge necessary to tackle a book that I might not otherwise have the motivation to begin on my own.

AnnaK-DukeSo, I downloaded the e-book version from the library’s digital media catalog and put it on my e-reader…then waited until about three days before our book club meeting to begin it. Needless to say, I didn’t finish in time for the discussion, but I did finish eventually – two and a half weeks later. And I’m so glad that I took the time to read Anna at a leisurely pace, in little sections, absorbing and savoring, because it is marvelous.

There are at least five main characters: Anna herself, of course; her husband, Alexander Alexandrovitch (Karenin); her lover, Alexey Vronsky; her niece Kitty; and Kitty’s husband Konstantin Levin. Anna’s brother, Stepan Oblonsky, and his wife, Darya Alexandrovna (Dolly), also play significant roles. Tolstoy’s mastery is such that the reader enjoys insight into each character, and is able to understand and sympathize with each.

annakareninaOver and over again, the characters’ emotions struck me as familiar, and I was surprised at how little human nature has changed. We “modern humans” tend to think of ourselves as more advanced, more enlightened, more complicated, and more progressive: but here is the character Natalia saying, “Parents now are not expected to live at all, but to exist altogether for their children,” and there is Kitty reveling because Levin’s jealousy proves his love for her. Here is Karenin exclaiming, “I cannot be unhappy, but neither she nor he ought to be happy,” and there is Anna lamenting, “And no one understands it except me, and no one ever will; and I can’t explain it.” Here is Anna making the Vronsky of her imagination fit with the Vronsky in reality, and there is Vronsky made cold and vindictive by Anna’s need for him.

AnnaK-PenguinEven one character’s light suggestion that “they ought to find out how to vaccinate for love, like smallpox” could have been the seed of the idea for Lauren Oliver’s recent popular young adult series, beginning with Delirium.

All of these emotions and reactions are so recognizably human that the book truly is timeless, retaining its power throughout the years. One line that had a particular impact was one of Anna’s last to Vronsky: “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. And if you don’t love me any more, it would be better and more honest to say so.”

AnnaK-modernlibraryI don’t think I’ll ruin it for anyone if I admit it has a tragic ending, but Anna Karenina is not relentlessly sad or hopeless. There are social engagements, horse races, hunting and farming scenes, meditations on business and bureaucracy, government and religion. There are also little touches of humor, intentionally or unintentionally. For example, very early on, when Anna goes to visit Dolly, she tells her hostess, “I assure you that I sleep everywhere, and always like a marmot.” (Are marmots particularly sleepy creatures, like sloths? I don’t know.) Later, Anna’s friend Betsy says to her, “Possibly you are inclined to look at things too tragically,” which is a rather dark piece of irony, considering Anna’s fate.

AnnaK-BnNAs someone who put off reading this long, classic work that I feared would be dense, impenetrable, and boring, I can now assure you that it is none of these things; it is in fact the opposite. Anna Karenina is an engrossing read, a comprehensive portrait of unchanging human nature.

With a new movie version recently released, one may be tempted to skip the book in favor of the movie. However, if you have the time and patience to read it, you’ll be rewarded with a lasting and memorable experience.

Handmade journal

Over a year after attending a bookmaking workshop, I finally finished making a journal.


I had to cut and fold the pages to size (this was the most time-consuming part), and sew them together with a chain-stitch. The board covers I bought pre-cut, and covered them with blue paper. I didn’t have a board spine, so I used a piece of cardstock between the covers and the pages.


Voila! I haven’t begun using it yet, but I’m nearly done with my current journal, so I will soon.



Bookish Resolutions

My first successful New Year’s resolution that I made, kept, and remembered, was: read at least one nonfiction book a month. Then, as now, I was reading about 10-15 books a month, and they were nearly all fiction. I decided I needed to push myself to branch out and read in some other areas, like (auto)biography, history, and science. Thus did I discover such excellent books as The Ghost Map, The World Without Us, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, and The Wordy Shipmates, not to mention Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Keith Richards’ Life.

In the years between that resolution and this new year, I have accumulated a number of books that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading. Most are fiction, but some are nonfiction. Most I’ve bought used, some have been sent to me by thoughtful and generous friends. It used to be that if a book was in the house, I had read it or was in the process of reading it; now that’s not the case. (Partly because I work in a library; I’m surrounded all the time by free books that I can just borrow and give back, and which always seem to take precedence over the books that I own, which don’t have due dates.)

bookishresolutionI want to get through my shelves of unread books, either by reading them or by deciding that I don’t want to read them. After I’ve read them, I may keep them, may donate them, or may pass them on to friends, but there are too many unread books in the house.

So help me out: have you read any of the below? Loved them? Thought they were a waste of time? A few came with personal recommendations and are at the top of the list: Far From the Tree, God’s Hotel, Shantaram. If you’ve got opinions on those or any of the others, please share!