Just look at the thickness of this book! It’s intimidating! 776 pages and it took me 31 hours to read. Now you’re thinking, “Wow. This person is probably just a tad strange! How does she even know exactly how many hours it took her to read it?” Well, let me tell you because it’s one of my favorite things.
I have a reading journal that I keep. I keep two of them because I’m usually reading two books at once, a fiction and a non-fiction book. The journal sits with the book I’m currently reading and when I start a new book, I write its details and the date I started reading it. Like this:
Every time I sit down to read, I get that book out and write the start time down. When I’m done, I write how many minutes I read and the page I stopped on (helps when your kitty pulls the book marker out). As I read, I write some notes in the margins and underline as I go, but sometimes I have a bigger thought I’d like to remember, so I put a star there in the book and, in my journal, I write the page number and the thought.
It’s probably a little obsessive but I enjoy it so much, especially the look I get from my husband who keeps reminding me that I’ll only die and all that information that I put in my head will die with me. I wave my journal at him and remind him that someday the only physical record of life in the early 2000’s will be my handwritten journals and then he’ll understand the importance of my madness.
When I think of something, I can thumb back through the journal and find where and in what book I got that idea from. You’ll never believe this, but sometimes I read books and I can’t remember a thing about them. It’s tremendously sad. My journal helps because I can scan through what I wrote and that triggers the memory of the book I read, and it all comes flooding back. It’s a treasure to me.
At the end of each book, I go to the back of my journal (I started this log on the last page of the journal and worked forward) and log the book like this:
At the end of the year, I go back through and calculate how many books I’ve read, how many hours, and how many pages. It’s an extremely satisfying way to spend my New Year’s Day.
“Yep. She’s not just strange. She’s obsessive.” Yes, I am! And damn proud of it!
This particular journal is just now all filled up with 50 different books. It brings me joy just seeing it on the shelf above my computer. A record of my productivity, so to speak!
But here’s the rub about these super long, classic books. I rarely take the time to go back and really think about all that I’ve read. So…I’m going to do it this time, on THIS book. And I’ll do my best not bore you but maybe inspire you to pick it up and read it.
Like most college students, I was assigned a few Russian novels and plays to read in my Literature classes. Honestly, they sucked. I hated them. I don’t think I finished any of them and there was nothing in them that I could find interesting at all. My theatre class did Chekov’s “The Seagull” one year and I did the lights for it. I seriously thought I’d die of boredom. I didn’t have to read it, but hear it, over thirty times. It. Was. Awful.
It turns out that the reason I was so bored was that I didn’t understand what was going on. The translation was bad. I’ve found out recently, in the last couple of years, that Russian is hard to translate into English and get the same feeling or meaning. Words and language are just that complicated. A few years ago, I was reading an article about it and it recommended a newer translation of classic Russian literature by Pevear and Volokhonsky.
The first translation of theirs that I read was War & Peace. I fell in love and have been reading them ever since. They’ve brought Russia to me and I thank them for it.
Here’s a fun little thing about Russian books. The characters all have four or five different names and the characters use all of them! It leaves you thinking, “Who the heck are we talking about here?!” At the beginning of the book is a list of each character and their alternate names. But you get used to it as you read. Russians call each other different names according to status and who’s speaking to whom. My mother calls me Michelle Ann when she’s mad. My brother calls me Shorty. The banker calls me Mrs. Huelle. And my co-workers used to call me The Bitch. Same concept.
The Brothers Karamazov is a notoriously long and boring book. Luckily for me, I didn’t find out about that until I had the book in my hands and posted on Facebook that I was about to start reading it.
I’m starting to think that the people that complained the most loudly about it were the ones that were assigned it at school years ago (previous lifetime for some of us) and haven’t even heard about the new translation. Who knew that a translation could be SO different? Don’t believe me? Try using a computer translator for the same sentence in several different languages!
Like the others I’ve read, I couldn’t put it down. I was THAT intrigued by the story. Sure, there were parts that I read and thought, “Why is this even in here?” Some pieces are interesting in and of themselves, but I failed to see the connection with the bigger story. The book could have been that much shorter, and nothing would be lost from it if those chapters were never written. But who I am to judge? A story is a story and I felt for those smaller characters and their stories as much as the main ones.
What is this book about? Three brothers and their less than perfect father, a love triangle, a murder, a trial, the death of a small boy, a young lady and a gold-digging peasant. One of my favorite parts was a story that Ivan told about Jesus coming back to check on His people and the Pope telling him to leave because he had taken the deal that Satan had offered Jesus and was taking care of the people himself. The Pope told Jesus that it was cruel to give people free will and let them decide to follow God or not. He fed the people, told them what to do, and ruled the world. It was striking and pretty relatable.
Human nature: politics, love, religion, justice. It’s all in there. It continues to amaze me when I read a book written over 100 years ago, in a country so culturally different than mine, and find people discussing the same subjects, fighting the same fights. It’s soothing to know there really is nothing fundamentally new going on. There are just new ways to communicate our troubles.
When I started this, I thought I’d go through and find my favorite quotes and expound on them, but I’ve changed my mind. That’s boring! Go read it yourself! Don’t be intimidated by its size and reputation. Take that sucker on! (insert immature giggle here, “That’s what SHE said!”)