February Reading Challenge: Anna Karenina

My desire to get through this Leo Tolstoy creation is red hot; unfortunately my success with doing so is as non-existent as a flame in an outdoor fireplace buried under four feet of snow. I have tried reading this novel over and over and over again, and while I did get further this month than I have during previous attempts, I still could not get through the seven hundred and fifty four pages of this particular edition. Why oh why can I not get through it?

Before talking about why my need to read this novel is so intense, I need to tell you that this Reading Challenge conclusion is not [primarily] about the contents of Anna Karenina, in case you haven’t already figured that out. Although February was a short month, albeit a day longer than in most years, I’m not going to extend this challenge for the following reasons:

  1. I’m not about to bullshit you with the “I really will finish it in the next two to three days” bit.
  2. I am feeling quite under the weather, and can’t bring myself to keep my eyes open and myself awake to read this, when I just want/need sleep and to feel better.

 

So let’s talk about language. Language is a large part of Anna Karenina, and not just because the edition I have been attempting to read is a translation from Russian to English. French is spoken by the characters of the novel, and many times is used to either create more well-rounded children¹ or make a lecture or statement seem less harsh or formal². This just fascinates me: that sometimes certain languages can lessen the blow of an insult, or heighten a conversation through the use of specific terms.

Lately and more frequently, I have been reading blog posts, news articles, short fiction pieces and the like that discuss language. Most recently, in the February 22nd edition of The New Yorker, the fiction piece entitled “Sine Cosine Tangent” reminded me of such a simple, commonly underestimated fact about language that has also presented itself in Anna Karenina: words and how they are used have such strong implications, effects, consequences.

Take for example, a sentence from this short story: “I watched standing up.” Okay, so our narrator tells us a simple fact about how he watched, in this case, a spot on television on which his estranged father appeared. The fact that this is an ending sentence, and not an introductory sentence, makes it abrupt; significant. What would it mean if the narrator was sitting down? Perhaps he watched standing up because when his father left, our narrator was sitting at a desk. Perhaps sitting while watching means getting comfortable; paying attention. Standing up implies impatience, perhaps frustration, disbelief.

Besides the breaking down of words that the narrator does in this story – more language fun! – he also admits to wanting to read “lengthy and intense European novel[s], written in the nineteen-thirties, and translated from the German…”While Anna Karenina was translated from Russian in the 1870s, this “wanting” is similar to what I feel towards not just this classic but other classic European novels.

My infatuation with classic literature comes from my infatuation with the unknown, the unfamiliar, and language. I feel as if I was not born just in the wrong decade, but in the wrong century; I’m in love with the fairy-tale like parties and balls, English manors and flighty adventures. Perhaps my nostalgic personality is the big driver of my love for the classics; I want to forever preserve the past. Not that I don’t like the present; my surprise at loving The Goldfinch has inspired me to reach beyond the modern novels I was introduced to, and likely turned me off from contemporary fiction, in college, and try to enjoy something from at least this century decade. Although I am also infatuated by the language of historical and classic novels, I’m beginning to sense shifts in contemporary language, and how explicit our discussions and words have become.

So while I don’t see myself no longer reading classic novels, I feel my need to read contemporary novels increasing. Which is also important to me for the sake of my blog; I’m hoping that by talking more about what is happening now in literature, I’ll be presenting a better platform for anyone looking to discuss books and writing and language.

What literary infatuations do you have? Are you in a similar bookish boat that I am? I hope my Reading Challenge failure this month will not stop you from following me into my next Challenge, or from sharing with me your challenges, failures, and successes. See you soon!

 

 

 

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003)

¹Tolstoy, 254.

²Tolstoy, 265.

Five Podcasts for March

Greetings! Since I really did/do enjoy listening to the podcasts I chose for February, I have five more suggestions for you (and for myself) to discover for the month of March. And, if you didn’t join in the podcast party during February, you now have a chance to either A) Join or B) refuse to join because I called it a podcast party.

If you are a religious podcast listener and think people should know about the podcast(s) you listen to, drop your suggestion(s) in a comment below and share the podcast knowledge! Here are my selections for March:



Longform Podcast

Longform.org

This podcast is “a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories.” Longform.org itself is all about introducing, discussing, and sharing work of non-fiction writers around the web. What’s always interesting about interviews with non-fiction writers is that many of them are writers second, or third, or fourth – and other things first, second or third. Regardless of [not always] being writers primarily, incredible insight and knowledge about writing can be gained, and even if you aren’t looking for writing advice, the conversations are worth your time.

New Episode: Every Wednesday
Listen: On iTunes or at Longform.org/podcast



The Truth Podcast

Radiotopia from PRX, the Knight Foundation, and MailChimp

Like movies but wish they were shorter? This podcast is for you! Self-described as “movies for your ears,” these original stories are less than thirty minutes long, and cover a variety of genres so you can find something to your liking.

New Episode: Once a month
Listen: TheTruthPodcast.com


99% Invisible
Roman Mars and KALW Radio

Did you know the casing at the end of your shoelace actually has its own name? If you didn’t, it’s called an aglet, if you did, well, think of something common in your life and analyze a part of it you have never truly analyzed before. Like the mathematical determination behind the length of the basketball shot clock. Or where your mail really ends up when it gets lost. 99% Invisible covers these and so many more topics that you never knew you cared about.

New Episode: Every Tuesday
Listen: On iTunes or 99PercentInvisible.org/episodes


The New Yorker Radio Hour
WNYC Studios and The New Yorker

Presented by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, this is a series covering a variety of topics and styles of discussion, almost always in the same episode. In addition to the full hour, you can choose to listen to segments, but only if you don’t have a lot of time, says me. I recommend starting with Episode 15: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Maron, and the broads of ‘Broad City’.

New Episode: Every Friday
Listen: WNYC


Another Round
BuzzFeed

This podcast is a little less formal and less stuffy than other podcasts (can a podcast really be stuffy, I’m now asking myself), and since it’s a BuzzFeed production, you can probably guess that this podcast covers a plethora of topics, both serious and less serious. Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton are the hosts, and they are fun, fresh voices that grace my ear buds with every episode. And will grace yours, too.

New Episode: Weekly
Listen: On iTunes, Soundcloud, and on BuzzFeed

 

A Guide to Gifts

I am hopping on this particular blog article bandwagon, primarily as a reaction to many years of experiencing skepticism over my desire for receiving books and book-related items as gifts. Here are the most frequent reactions to wishlists I am asked to create:

  • You just want books?
  • Yeah, but what do you really want?
  • I don’t want to skimp on you this season/for your birthday.*
  • Don’t you already have one/hundreds of those?

My answers include:

  • Yes. I always want books. Books are one of the very few items I purchase or ask for that are “wants” and not “needs.”
  • LOL you’re right, that wishlist I poured over and meticulously chose items for is my pretend one, let me send you my real wishlist.
  • Okay, then I’ll take first/early editions of my favorite classics, preferably signed. -OR- Then get me everything on my list (or that really nice leather tote bag I’ve been eyeing)!
  • Yes, many of my notebooks are half empty and my stockpile of pens vary in color and type, but I may run out sometime soon and would hate to be unprepared. Plus, there’s always room for more books.

I know I’m not the only one with some friends and relatives who are just dumbfounded by such holiday and birthday wishlists, so rather than addressing a couple of my personal favorite wishlist items related to writing and books, I present to you a general guide for choosing gifts for that lovely bibliophile in your life. Let’s call them…Philos.**

Books
If you live with and/or see Philos reading all the time, this will be easier than if you do not. Check bookshelves to get ideas about what genres, authors, and subject matter Philos likes to read, then visit your local bookstore and either browse for those or ask someone to help you.
Otherwise, just ask. Philos most likely already has a large compilation of book titles on a “need” or “must-buy” list that they would be happy to tell you about. You can take a risk and buy a “random” title, and Philos will probably be okay with it, but why risk becoming a mediocre or enemy character in their next story?

Journals and Notebooks
Philos can purchase ordinary notebooks almost anytime they want to; as a gift, one-of-a-kind or handmade journals and notebooks, especially leather bound notebooks with metal clasps, is the way to go. Perhaps one inspired by quotes from a favorite author, and definitely one that includes a bookmark or attached placeholder.

Subscriptions
Perhaps the most underestimated gift of them all, subscriptions can bring happiness, thought provocation, inspiration, and many other forms of joy to Philos. Whether it’s a magazine subscription for National Geographic, Slate, The New Yorker, or a subscription to a literary journal like Glimmer Train, Writer’s Digest or The Maine Review (among many, many others).

Novelty
Commonly found at local bookstores and on Etsy, Philos certainly would be happy with a Jane Austen candle, witty mugs and those with favorite literary quotes and inspiration, and one-of-a-kind or handmade bookmarks; all worthy gift options. Philos and I are both currently obsessed with pendants, signs, and pencils with “I still believe in 398.2” written across them (398.2 is the Dewey Decimal call number for fairy tales).

This list should make it a tad bit easier to find that perfect gift for your favorite book lover, and who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself asking for book-related gifts from Philos next year. Happy reading, and happy giving!

 


 

*I will admit asking for expensive things as gifts makes me cringe, but I’m not asking for inexpensive items just to be nice. And like I say above, if you want to spend more, early editions of many books cost thousands of dollars, so go nuts if you feel the need! I would go into the large amount of pressure seemingly felt to buy “nice” gifts, but that would be off topic so I’ll [maybe] save it for later.

**Philos comes from the Greek philos, meaning “friend”