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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina has been on my bucket list of books forever. At almost 900 pages of classic Russian literature, featuring characters with complicated names that come with coordinating nicknames, it’s not a book you mindlessly pick up to take to the beach. First of all, it would take up your whole dang carry on. And second of all, Maggie Gyllenhaal performs—not reads, performs—an audio version of it. So, set some time aside, 36 hours if you are going to hang with Maggie, and get ready for the long haul. And when you’re ready, check out the longest book review I have ever written about the longest book I have ever read.

Warning: There are spoilers ahead, but I give you ample warning. I can’t read almost a thousand pages (or listen for almost the length of a work week) without getting really into the specifics. But first, let’s cover some basics.

Who’s Who?

Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky (aka Stiva) (aka Oblonsky). He’s married to Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (aka Dolly). Wealthy. Five kids. He’s a cheater cheater pumpkin eater.

Then there’s Stiva’s pal Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin (aka Kostya) (aka Levin) a poor farmer who lives out in the country and is in love with Kitty.

Kitty (aka Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shchebatskaya) is Dolly’s sister. She’s not in love with Levin, and in fact, she refuses Levin’s marriage proposal because she’s in love with Vronsky. #Drama!

Vronsky is a Count. Of course he is. And he’s hot, single, has money and is also known as Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. Oh and he’s hopping in the sack with our leading lady, Anna Karenina.

Anna (aka Anna Arkadyevna Karenina) is gorgeous young wife of old and boring Karenin. She’s also the mother to Sergei Alexeyitch Karenin, or, Seryozha.

Karenin (aka Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin) is a Senior Statemen that is super concerned with his reputation and not at all happy with Anna.

There’s other characters of course, but these are the main ones and just referencing their names and nicknames probably accounts for 100 of Tolstoy’s 900 pages.

Digging In

Tolstoy has written a fascinating and epic novel of people falling in and out of love, making good and bad choices, and suffering the consequences and benefits that come from love—despite the fact that I am not sure I would call Anna Karenina a love story.

It’s more a social commentary on a young woman’s short-sighted choice to go out on her marriage—her unhappy and loveless marriage to a man twenty years her senior—that results in Karenin issuing Anna an ultimatum. She can either leave him—and their young son forever—in favor of divorce and Count Vronsky or she can keep her son and stay married, but cut off the Count. In a decision many would disagree with, Anna chooses the Count.

If you’re still with me, that means she chose to leave her son. It’s a rather shocking choice. Rarely do we look favorably upon women that choose men over their child. And, you have to remember, this was written in 1877. It was a time when women were often forced to marry young, religion prevented divorce, and the laws were not in favor of women.

And of course her relationship with Vronsky develops it’s own challenges. They have a child. A child he can’t claim as his own, because, as it turns out, Karenin won’t divorce her. Anna grows jealous of Vronsky as cheaters often do—worrying that their partners are doing to them what they initially did to their spouses. Funny how cheaters become an untrusting lot.

Spoiler Ahead!

Is it really a spoiler if the book was written over one hundred years ago? Well, I can’t share my thoughts without spilling my guts.

Anna kind of loses her mind. She spirals and and sees no way out of her situation. Karenin won’t divorce her. Vronsky can’t assure her enough that his intentions are true. She misses her son with Karenin and dislikes her daughter with Vronsky. She’s miserable and she wants others to suffer the way she perceives she has. In her misery, she recalls being at a train station years earlier, with Vronsky, when a man falls under the tracks. It’s this shocking memory that gives birth to an idea.

Yep! She throws herself under a train! A FREAKING TRAIN! And, yet, if ever there were a person’s demise so breathtaking, I think this was it. It was stunning, in a freak-show-can’t-look-away kind of way and I backed up the audio recording multiple times to hear sweet Maggie’s voice articulate it again and again.

Let’s pause for a moment.

A FREAKING TRAIN!

The Swoonworthy Part of Anna Karenina

And then, the love story that did work out—Kitty and Levin! If you recall, Kitty initially spurned Levin in favor of Vronsky. Unfortunately, Vronsky only had eyes for Anna and this left Kitty humiliated and deathly ill. Levin, still heartbroken and pining, was secretly glad to learn Kitty was single and perhaps a little deserving of the illness. Knowing Levin and Kitty should be together, the Oblonskys orchestrate a social gathering that will facilitate a meet up. Who new such a meet up would turn into a total meetcute? I will spare this spoiler; but know it involves a cryptic love note the two write each other during the party that sets the record straight and results Levin asking for her hand marriage. This scene I could also play again and again. I can’t even with the cuteness. That Tolstoy knows how to court!

The wedding day is hilarious, their relationship is full of professional bickering and a child is born. The overly contemplative and super philosophical Levin questions if he’s truly happy and learns the answer during an afternoon storm that puts his young bride and son in harm’s way. Levin and Kitty are total #CoupleGoals.

So super dramatical, right? Right. And I loved it. I loved almost every minute of it. There were some agricultural politics and Russian business mumbo jumbo that was a little snoozeworthy. But the voyeuristic view into these characters lives and choices was wholly satisfying. So much so, I am pretty sure I want to read it again. And I don’t read anything again. Certainly not 900 pages of something, Maggie or not.

A Story a Day in May!

Short Story Month

Join me! May is Short Story month and I’m going to read a story a day for the month of May. 

Need inspiration or ideas? Gotcha covered right here: http://onelitchick.com/snotty-literati/a-story-a-day/

Would love more recommendations myself! What are some of your favorite stories or collections? Please comment below.

What I Read in 2015

Best Worst HandsMy goal was to read 30 books this year and fill out my Book Bingo Card and drumroll please… I did! Here’s what’s worth mentioning, good and bad.

Best Book Published in 2015: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Now, I probably only read five books that were published this year, but this took my breath away. In traditional spare prose that packs a punch, Haruf’s final, posthumously, published work is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Best Book Regardless of Publication Date: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Thank goodness I read this book before it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction or I might never have picked it up. Those Pulitzer people aren’t the arbiters of such great taste. However, if I won one for say, book-blogging, I would brag the hell out of that shit… oh let me tell you. Here’s where my writing partner and I, aka Snotty Literati, reviewed All the Light We Cannot See.

Best Book I Reread: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Obviously. One of my book clubs read it in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman’s release. I even pre-ordered it. Ugh. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I cancelled Go Set a Watchman, I mean, Amazon gets enough of my money, and I went on knowing in my heart of hearts that TKAM is the best work produced my Ms. Lee, and likely the Greatest American Novel. Period.

Best Book by an Author I Have Read Before: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. This is the same guy that wrote the wildly popular and all-time favorite of mine The Book Thief. Once an author reaches the kind of fame they do with a book like The Book Thief, their other works can rarely match up. And I Am the Messenger doesn’t… but it’s still really, really good. It definitely reads as more YA than the supposedly YA Book Thief, but I can’t recommend it enough.

Best Book I Read with The Book Babes Book Club: Not counting the aforementioned books that were all read for book clubs, I am going with A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Bachman. Translated from Sweden, this is the sweet tale of a crotchety old cranky crankenheimer whose life gets softened and turned around in ways he least expects. It’s totally a feel good book without the artificial corn syrup that can be mixed in by lesser talents.

Worst Book I Read with The Book Babes: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Let me spare you. It has moments of lovely phrasing, and then wording that hits your beautiful reading experience like an elderly man flashing you out of nowhere. Unless this is your thing, move along. So many books. So little time.

Best Book I Read with the First Draft Book Club (FDBC) at Changing Hands Bookstore: Again, not counting any previously mentioned books, Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. You may recall Clegg from his 2011 memoir Portrait of An Addict as a Young Man. This literary agent-turned-sometimes-writer has some real talent. The story centers around June Reid, and the unfathomable event—losing her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend in a house fire. It takes June escaping across country and the interconnected stories of others to understand what actually happened. Now, I didn’t read his memoir but dove right into his first novel, but I couldn’t put this debut novel down. He says is love is behind the scenes, working the deals, but I would love to read more of his fiction.

 Worst Book I Read with the FDBC: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. Let me start by saying she’s a strong writer and someone I will likely read again. But this book was just not my cuppa. In the end, which I didn’t get to because I couldn’t finish it, Watkins had clearly done her homework, but it seemed she thought this term paper could be tweaked into a novel that would please her professors and the reading public. It just didn’t work for me. But, hey! It might work for you. It did for tons of way more important people than I am who put it on their Best of 2015 lists.

Best Book I Should Have Read by Now: It’s a tie between Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Americanah by Chimamanda Ingozi Adichie. Why do I ever wait to read anything by Patchett… it’s a wonder. But here’s what Snotty Literati thought of Bel Canto. And, when you are done with that, you can check out our review of Americanah.

Best Collection of Short Stories: I finally got around to reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I wasn’t going to read it, but Snotty Literati reads the National Book Award fiction winner each year and Jennifer said, “If we are going to read Redeployment by Phil Klay, then we have to read the best war stories ever written.” And there you go. Well, kudos to Jennifer. I don’t know if The Things They Carried are the best war stories ever written, but they are damn good, and scary, and sad… so very sad. But mostly, they are important. You should read them if you haven’t. Here’s our review of O’Brien and Klay’s collections.

Best Non-Fiction Read: I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, even though I do buy my fair share of it. This year, I read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It’s a non-traditional leadership book, but I think it should be required reading for everyone. Brown, a PhD in social work, has spent her life studying vulnerability and shame. She breaks down the harm of living in shame (and we all do) and the riches that can be achieved with living more authentically and vulnerability. It’s not new age-y, it’s not self-help mumbo jumbo—it’s real and it’s good.

Now, I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comments what you loved, hated, and were indifferent about this year.

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah

My Snotty Literati cohort and I finally got to one of the best books of 2013, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read our review of Americanah and see what we thought. SPOILER ALERT: We loved it!

Sunday Sentence | October 25

DYE Family

“There’s a lot of resentment simmering underneath the smiles and so good to see yous and no problem, happy to do thats of this town.”

Sunday Sentence, July 13, 2014: A Three Dog Life

Here’s the best of what I read this week:

A Three Dog Life

 

We envisioned an old age on a front porch somewhere, each other’s comfort, companions for life. But life takes twists and turns. There is good luck and bad.

From A Three Dog Life
by Abigail Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Sentence, May 18, 2014: The Husband’s Secret

The best of what I have read this week come’s from The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty:

The Hubby Secret

“A red traffic light loomed, and Cecilia slammed her foot on the brake. The fact that Polly no longer wanted a pirate party was breathtakingly insignificant in comparison to that poor man (thirty!) crashing to the ground for the freedom that Cecilia took for granted, but right now, she couldn’t pause to honor his memory, because a last-minute change of party theme was unacceptable. That’s what happened when you had freedom. You lost your mind over a pirate party.”

From The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Sunday Sentences, May 4, 2014: One More Thing

The best of what I have read this week comes from this collection of stories:

Snap 2014-05-04 at 11.58.31

From No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg:

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” said Nana. “You have infinite time here, and there are infinite things to do, but you still don’t end up doing much of it. You do what you love most, over and over.”

From Julie and the Warlord:

“Flour is probably the least unhealthy thing I can think of in chocolate cake,” the warlord continued. “Is that supposed to be the point? That the whole cake is just all eggs and sugar and butter? And anyway, who cares? It’s chocolate cake. We know it’s not a health food. Use whatever ingredients you want. All it has to do is taste good. We don’t need to know how you did it–just make it.”

From Kellogg’s (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy):

“Fate, to me, simply means that all the billions of microscopic actions we can’t calculate lead to consequences that feel right because the are right.”

From Kindness Among Cakes:

CHILD: “Why does carrot cake have the best icing?”
MOTHER: “Because it needs the best icing.”

 All from One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
by BJ Novak

Sunday Sentence, April 6, 2014: Hollow City

The Sunday Sentence is “simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.” author David Abrams.

Snap 2014-04-06 at 20.37.23

 

“Walking down to the water’s edge, I tried to picture myself the way my new friends saw me, or wanted to: not as Jacob, the kid who once broke his ankle running after an ice cream truck, or who reluctantly and at the behest of his dad tried and failed three times to get onto his school’s noncompetitive track team, but as Jacob, inspector of shadows, miraculous interpreter of squirmy gut feelings, seer and slayer of real and actual monsters–and all that might stand between life and death for our merry band of peculiars.”

From Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

Sunday Sentence, March 30, 2014: The Happiness Advantage

The Sunday Sentence is “simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.” author David Abrams.

Snap 2014-03-30 at 19.47.15

 

“We think: If I just get that raise, or hit that next sales target, I’ll be happy. If I can get that next good grade, I’ll be happy. If I lose that five pounds, I’ll be happy. And so on. Success first, happiness second.

The only problem is that this formula is broken…

Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result.”

From The Happiness Advantage
by Shawn Achor

 

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