Realistic reading

It has come to my attenion recently that I am not reading Anna Karenina. Oh, I think about it almost every night – I’m somewhere past page five hundred now, you know. I’ve watched Anna leave her cold, (somewhat) uncompromising husband to join Vronsky abroad, and I’ve sat through Levin’s numerous ponderings about agriculture and Kitty, I’ve been to Italy and back again and yet I find myself…I am sorry…just not caring. I wish I could. I read often on litblogs what an incredible novel this is, how it has inspired so many people and to them I can only say: What the hell? This is a novel about horrible people making horrible decisions mostly motivated only by their own selfishness. And it NEVER ENDS. But I realize, of course, that Anna Karenina is so much more than my own shallow thoughts about the text.

It’s not even so much the case now that I’m not reading…I’m just not reading this book. And so last night, after much hemming and hawing, I took my copy of this book, this large, Oprah-stamped gray and black copy with those little girl hands clutching violets and I…are you ready, take a deep breath….moved it to my finished pile EVEN THOUGH it’s not finished (to be fair, we all know the ending, and it is not good). My finished pile actually is the space underneath a chair in the bedroom because S. and I are flat out of bookshelves. Every so often we look at our overloaded shelves and promise one another that this will be the week we take the time to purchase shelving, but something always comes up and now books cover nearly every flat surface of our home.  One  particular flat surface happens to be under the chair upon which we pile our dry cleaning, a hamper being yet another thing we promise to buy and never do.

 I don’t know if this just isn’t the time for classics, in general, or just the wrong time to read AK, but I do know this summer feels particularly short on time and I found myself avoiding reading so as not to sit down with this book. And it occurred to me last night that I could actually just – not – finish – it, for now. It feels like a lot of hard work for nothing but on the other hand perhaps fall or winter will provide me with the kind of space and time necessary to relish the book. For now, though, it rests beneath the chair which holds our drycleaning, joining some recent reads I read while not-reading AK.  These include:

(1.) Yonder Stands Your Orphan, by Barry Hannah. Recommened by my dad. I’m still not fully sure how I feel about this book. The writing is incredible and there were many many points where I really understood what the author was trying to say, and I fell in love with the characters that populate the small fishing community where the novel is set. This book is more about a community of people than any one incident, although the mysterious appearance of two corpses act as catalyst for the action. Sometimes Hannah’s sentence structure read oddly to me and I occasionally had trouble keeping track of the large cast of characters, but for the most part I thought this was a really beautiful book which spends time exploring aging, community and fear.

Tijuana Straights, by Kem Nunn. Another recommendation from my dad. Your usual Hemingway-damaged lead male character finding fleeting redemption in a Madonna (the virgin, not the singer) like female character. Worth reading, though, for Nunn’s extravagant writing style. He also does remarkable work with scene and really evoked the desperation people live with around the Tijuana Border. I will definitely read more books from Nunn because they can’t all have the same sort of frustrating lead character.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – not sure what’s left to say about this one. What a miserable place to spend two nights of my life, and yet I’m glad I did. I had a lot of theories about this book until I saw McCarthy debunk most of them in his Oprah interview. He says it’s really just about a man, a boy and a road.  This book – this book – it really left me depressed. I internalized it a bit too much, I think. I should have been more objective. I will be reading more McCarthy, absolutely.

The Other Side of You, by Sally Vickers. Recommended by Litlove (Okay, I just spent many, many minutes in Litlove’s archives and can’t find the review she wrote, but it is incredible! Perhaps she will leave the link here if she can readily find it.) This is really a remarkable book  – part love story, part meditation on art and its roll in our lives, part tragedy – I can’t talk too thoroughly without giving the plot away but I do recommend you read this book. It is really a beautiful work of writing.

And so, that’s what I’ve been reading while not reading Tolstoy. Over the last couple of nights I finished the February 2007 issue of “Harpers” which included an excellent rant from Barbara Ehrenreich and an incredibly disturbing short story by Alice Munro, and today after work I am going to the library to browse the shelves. I can’t wait to see what I find. Without AK teasing me from the nightstand I feel I am finally free to read something completely unexpected.  AFter all, right now, the slate is clean…I don’t have one single book started, which leaves me free to so many, many options.  It’s thrilling.

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9 Responses to Realistic reading

  1. litlove says:

    I have to say I am rather relieved to hear you say this about Anna K. I picked it up again on Monday and tried to get back into it, but there is just SO MUCH of it, and I think it is destined to slide back onto a shelf one day, unfinished. So very glad you liked the Vickers, and here’s the link:
    http://litlove.wordpress.com/2007/04/19/to-be-loved/

    Isn’t it difficult to find things on sites, though? I have such trouble sometimes. And that is one fine selection of books you have got through. And a lovely, free vista ahead…

  2. Dorothy W. says:

    Oh, since you’re a Harpers reader, did you see the Rebecca Solnit article on Detroit? I just finished it recently and thought it was fascinating and beautiful (Solnit is a favorite of mine). I’m curious what you think.

    And I hate being in the position of avoiding reading because I’m reluctant to pick up the book I’m currently trying to read but not enjoying. It makes tons of sense to pick up things you actually want.

  3. Litlove – Thanks for providing the link! I wanted to make sure people could read your incredible review…I haven’t felt too much like reviewing myself, lately.

    Dorothy – actually, S. takes all the magazines we get and reads them first and then gives them to me, which is to say, I have not yet read the article about Detroit but I will go home tonight and find it!

    The reading situation is much better after losing my mind checking out books yesterday!

  4. Kelly says:

    I am one of the weirdo people that loved AK, but I totally get your frustration with the characters! : )

  5. LK says:

    AK is one of my favorites, but that’s the thing about reading: Everyone has their own tastes, everyone comes from their own particular vantage point. Sometimes, I’ve read a book and thought it was great and recommended it to everyone, only to revisit it later and think it was crap. And vice versa.

    I am intrigued about The Other Side of You…

  6. missv says:

    I think sometimes it’s much more enjoyable to read what you’re not supposed to be reading. Otherwise reading feels like compulsory homework.

    I really enjoyed The Other Side of You also.The Road is on my ‘to read’ list but I’ll have to be in the mood for reading something bleak …

  7. Courtney says:

    Kelly – welcome! I think I’ll enjoy the characters another time…it was just to langorous for me at the moment.

    LK – You are one of the reasons I want so much to love AK! And do read the Other Side of You, it’s lovely.

    Miss V – I think Mccarthy’s book should be read in broad daylight, in one sitting, when one can go drinking afterwards.

  8. Emily says:

    Well, finally, something we don’t have in common, since I was hooked on Anna from beginning to end when I read it. It’s a relief, though, really. I mean, it was getting too eerie that we were so much alike, wasn’t it? And we still have these things in common: I hate to say I’ve finished a book when technically I haven’t (but really, you’re finished WITH it, aren’t you? Maybe you’re finished BY it. Maybe you’re just plain FINISHED. Why quibble over the exact meaning of such things?) I hate to stop reading a book when I’ve put that much effort into it (good for you for doing so). We have books piled on every flat surface in our house, too.

  9. Andi says:

    And I just, today, added AK to my bookmooch list. Perhaps I’ll take it back off. I honestly can’t see myself doing much with it besides using as a doorstop. I have trouble with the Russians.

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