Susan's Thurday morning note June 7, 2007
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Developing a love for the classics.
Good morning! My sliding door is open & the weather is absolutely crisp – perfect for my coffee and my thoughts to develop!!! Now that I’ve set that scene, let me tell you the view…..our 50 year old Crab Apple Tree 30 feet away split right down the middle with the main section barely suspended above ground. Stu’s been telling me, “Susan, we’ve got to cut down our Crab Apple tree – it’s time.” – I guess he was right. So, this will be the last week I get the view of my pretty little tree as I hear the birds. I hope the neighbors that have never had a glimpse of my sliding door will not find new interests as they glance out their windows in the future with a direct view of my living room now. Ugh!
Several years ago I taught in Minneapolis, one of my favorite places that I’ve ever had the privilege of living. The mornings were like ours this morning, for months on end. Crisp. I can’t come up with a better description. My first summer I had before me I decided to tackle a book that became part of me, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (published in 1918). Deciding to not be daunted by the size, but rather to understand the popularity of this classic, I wanted to read the book, unabridged, for myself. If you have yet to tackle this book, I highly recommend that you do so. Male or female; young or old. The character development is truly remarkable. My favorite character is a man named Levin who loves the country, the peace, the calm, finding the ability to think and create when he is in his realm. His wife, Kitty, is opposite. She finds herself when she’s in the city. She then “awakes” and is able to develop. The way that Tolstoy develops these two in their courtship and marriage, in their struggles with location, in their development as people – I am amazed that a man can write with the ability for his readers to sympathize and relate and “become” the different characters in the novel.
Tolstoy actually wrote this novel mainly based around two other main characters, Anna, an aristocratic married woman who throws herself under a train at the end of the novel (I’m not giving this away – the back of the book tells you so!), and a man named Vronsky. The train scene was a true newspaper article that Tolstoy read about in a local newspaper, giving him a starting point for composing a novel that has been given recognition for “the greatest novel ever written.” The ability he has for his reader to empathize with all of the different characters – this type of novel is what I think has helped develop me in perceiving differences in those I meet. How there is such complexity within each of us – where we’ve been, choices we’ve made – to make us who we are. No one can be “defined” in my opinion, or “judged on immediate impressions” – for novels like this have helped me to realize how we just never will know what makes those we come in contact with who they are. The arrogance of some to label those we see in “quick judgments” just frustrates me. I want to tell them – READ!!!!!!!!!!!!! READ!!!!!!!!! The power of books to change us and develop up and help us see so much more than what our own individuals world portray – that is what books like this do.
I encourage you again, look through the “classics” at any store you’re in (this is where you’ll fall in love with used bookstores! Classics marked by someone before you with the smell of an old store – that is a heavenly smell/scene to me!) They can be daunting, I agree with you. They can be boring, I agree with you there, too. BUT – what I believe most of you are yet to find out – they can change your life. You will find characters when you least expect it, that are YOU – where you say, “Oh, yes – I know!” – for authors have written what you haven’t even realized you have thought. These are the moments of great satisfaction, where you read what defines you, what changes you. If you do not begin – you will never come to this point. There are many many many books where I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters. I don’t usually continue with them, for the sake “of wisely spending my money – I must then finish the book.” I realize if I have a million to choose from, I’d better put that one down and spend another $10 and try again!!!!! You cannot read these books if you get easily upset by those without your exact beliefs or morals. If you close books off for this reason, you will never open your mind to understanding those that think differently than you, therefore closing off major avenue of thought for yourself.
I didn’t underline even one line out of 811 pages, so I can’t give you a taste of the novel from a paragraph that spoke to me, but I can tell you, this entire book did. I’ll tell you what – I’ve never read any other Tolstoy, for I’ve been too daunted with the looks of War and Peace – but I’ll shop at this little store I know of on 13th street in Aurora today and see if the girl that works there has that book in stock. I’ll beat you to it – I’ll put my efforts the next few weeks where my talk is in this e-mail and tackle a new one! Now, onward to picking up sticks and drinking more coffee! Susan
Tolstoy, Leo, and Mona Simpson. Anna Karenina. Ed. Leonard J. Kent. New York: Random House, Incorporated, 2000.