I’m experiencing some Anna Karenina ambivalence. Should I read the behemoth novel?
I remember many years ago, I was a brand new college graduate, excited at the prospect off freedom to pick what I would read in my downtime. Ambitiously, I decided on War and Peace as my first post-college pick, and I went out and bought a copy. I think I maybe got through thirty pages, tops.
Since then, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve sworn I’ll read all the books on those “Greatest Novels Ever Written” lists, but I haven’t gotten terribly far. (The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet and The Color Purple…But these books aren’t always on those lists, or they’re low down. Not like Don Quixote and Lolita. And don’t get me started. If a female author wrote about a woman chasing windmills or about an older woman seducing a pubescent boy, would we have even heard of those books?)
Well, lately I’ve grown curious about Anna Karenina. So, I did some research. Now I have six reasons for why I should read it, and three reasons for why I should not.
Six Reasons Why I SHOULD Read Anna Karenina:
- Tolstoy was ahead of his time, writing a novel with a flawed, female protagonist. According to Britanica.com: Tolstoy molds together thoughtful discussions on love, pain, and family in Russian society with a sizable cast of characters regarded for their realistic humanity. The novel was especially revolutionary in its treatment of women, depicting prejudices and social hardships of the time with vivid emotion.
- There are lots of famous quotes. It of course begins with the classic, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But that’s just the tip of the literary iceberg. Apparently, Tolstoy’s chapters are only around three to four pages long, and I’ve heard you’re likely to find at least one good quote per chapter. That’s roughly 200 quotes!
- It will give me perspective. Most people assume that Anna Karenina is a love story, and it is–sort of. But more than that, it’s a story about life, and our search for happiness. There are multiple major characters, each with their own internal struggles and conflicts. And even though it was written around 150 years in Russia, modern readers connect with it, finding new wisdom about their own lives.
- It’s beautifully written. Tolstoy’s description of settings, his layered characterizations, and his social commentary about Russian society leave many readers stunned.
- Reading Anna Karenina might make me a better writer. Tolstoy created a family drama that was popular, serialized fiction in his day, and turned it into something so epic, that apparently comes close to pinning down the meaning of life. Reading it is the only way to figure out his special sauce recipe, and if I do, maybe I can transfer that to my own work. (I realize this is grand thinking, that by reading him, some of his genius might seep in. But perhaps it’s worth a shot?)
- Anna Karenina is at the very top of many of those “Best Novels Ever Written” lists, and I like checking items off of lists. Plus, I’ll be able to brag about having read it.
Okay, sign me up, right?!
Three Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Read Anna Karenina
- It’s very long, and I have a lot of other books I want to read.
- The Russian names are very confusing.
- What if I don’t have the attention span? What if I’m not as smart as I think I am, and I just don’t get it? I’ll be disappointed in myself.
So, I’m still thinking about it, trying to decide. If any of you have read the novel, and have strong feelings about why I should or shouldn’t read it, please reply in the comments!
And if any of you are thinking you might take the plunge, there are lots of cheap Kindle versions of the novel on Amazon!