Monday, August 4, 2014

Anna Karenina: Too Long; Read it Anyway

I've just finished rereading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  It’s a revelation to me on a number of fronts. I read it first when I was 19, a lifetime or two or three ago. I remembered it only vaguely, except that I loved it. On rereading I wonder why. What did I think of the great swaths of the book dedicated to Russian politics, the long passages describing hunting trips, the chapters about farming? Did I admire the, to me now, overblown emotions of Anna and Levin?
Yet although I finished reading the novel over a week ago, I can’t stop thinking about it. Perhaps it is the slow painting of a life and time sketched out in such close details that, even now, I feel like I've been there, that the people of the story are part of my life. Perhaps is the awful way that Tolstoy strips his characters for us to view the vulnerability that we skitter away from, even from our own selves, particularly from ourselves. Perhaps it is the unhurried unfurling of ideas, revealed through lives and moments.

Too often, now, I skip from idea to idea; if a book doesn't interest me quickly, I read a different one; if an article drags, I click to another. When I first read Anna Karenina, however, there were no bookstores nearby; the Internet did not provide an endless supply of reading material. I wonder if it is new for me to become frustrated with passages that don’t meet with my tastes. Perhaps with no unlimited supply of reading to turn to when I became uncomfortable, I was more patient in my youth, savouring the story as it unfolded. We so routinely set aside anything too long now, that we use an acronym – tl;dnr – too long; did not read.

I wonder what in my life, in our lives as a community, is being lost in abundance. I am grateful that, despite its being too long, I read Anna Karenina anyway.

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