Monday, December 16, 2013

Russian Literature 2014



I just found a challenge (here) that may push me to finish a personal project I've been putting off for years now.  One of the first blog events I ever happened upon was a challenge to read Russian literature.  Because I am often overly optimistic but always methodical, I promptly went to the library and checked out and read several books on Russian history, made a list in chronological order of what I felt I should read, and started reading. 

I started with The Complete Prose Tales of Pushkin, some of which I enjoyed and some of which underwhelmed me.  I moved on to The Collected Tales of Gogol, with which I had the same experience and attempted but couldn't get into Dead Souls.   I read and enjoyed A Hero for Our Time by Lermontov but got frustrated at this point feeling like I was stuck in Russian Literature land to the exclusion of everything else.  So I quit.  Since then I have read Lolita, which I unexpectedly loved, Crime and Punishment, which I liked but didn't love, and Anna Karenina, which I absolutely loved and want to re-read.  I've also read a few mysteries by Boris Akunin and a couple of poems by Anna Akhmatova.   I still have on my shelf to read:  Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, First Love by Turgenev,  The Brothers K, War and Peace, Dr Zhivago, and a book entitled Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes, which is a history of Russian culture.   I also want to read more of Anna Akhmatova's poetry, Oblomov by Goncharov, and the dystopic novel We by Zamyatin. 

With all these grandiose desires reigned in now by experience, I am going to sign up for the 2014 Russian Literature Challenge, Level One.  If I read more than three, Hallelujah,  and if I read only one, Amen. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Experimental Reading


"...you dream of rediscovering a condition of natural reading, innocent, primitive..." Calvino

Why do we read?  For the stories?  The characters?  The universal truths?  To be entertained?  To escape?  To learn?  To forget?   I don't know that I can verbalize why I read so much.  All of these reasons and more, and the reasons seem to change daily and to be different with the different books I read.    Sometimes I want to escape and sometimes just to be entertained.  Sometimes I want to forget, and sometimes I want to learn and to remember.  I suppose that's why reading works so well for me, because it's always different and always challenges me in different ways.

It's taken me several weeks to know what to say about Italo Calvino's novel, If on a winter's night a traveler, and even now I'm not sure I know exactly what I want to say.   It's not so much that I found it difficult to read, once I realized what was going on and learned to suspend any expectations I might have about the book.  It certainly is not a book to read for plot or character development.  It seems to be a study in genres and also a study about readers and reading.    Did I enjoy it?  Sometimes.  But also sometimes I was bored and irritated with it.  Did I learn from it?  Maybe, if only by being exposed to that type of experimental fiction.  It seems to be a sort-of precursor to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Reading If on a winter's night a traveler was more akin to working a jigsaw puzzle than to enjoying a good read, but I'm glad to have read it, and I certainly enjoyed reading it along with other people and following their tweets about it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reading Without Writing

Gratuitous Book Pile Photo
"It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read."  Lemony Snicket

Lately I've been on a reading tear, much to the detriment of this blog.  Since last I blogged, I've read three novels:  If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino, The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman, and Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. 

I read the Calvino novel as an online read-a-long in November, and while I enjoyed it and am glad I attempted it with support, I am still trying to sort out my thoughts in order to write a post.  It is a challenging, complicated book.

For a change of pace, concurrent with reading Calvino, I read The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman, an entertaining, easy read.  I enjoyed the story and found the theme of the lengths to which morally strong people will go given a certain set of circumstances to be fascinating.

My most recent read, Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner was lovely.  This short novel (only 183 pages) made a huge impression on me, after starting off VERY slowly.  Around page 90, I was thinking I might abandon it. I am so glad I didn't.  Within the next ten pages, the book became and continued to be a novel I loved.  I can understand why this kind of novel is not for everyone.  It's very introspective, and almost nothing happens, but I loved the voice of Edith, the main character, and I loved the way she learns to accept herself as is throughout the course of the novel.  As a woman who grew up in a very conventional South, I can relate completely to her struggle.

Time to choose my next conquest!
 

Our Dirty Glass Castles

photo by Amy Brandon   "Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" ~Miss Kenton in The Remains of the...