Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Letter to Tolstoy

Dear Leo,

Can I call you Leo? Or should I call you Lev? You Russians and your multiple names, so wacky.

I think after spending most of January together, we should be on a first-name basis.

Matthew Arnold said your book was not to be taken as "a work of art" but as "a piece of life."

As in, I have wasted a piece of my life reading it. Maybe I shouldn't say that. I'm going to be grateful that I read it, that I now know what all the fuss is about. I'm not going to devote too much space to analyzing my dislike for your book. But here are a few thoughts:

I don't understand why the title of the book is Anna Karenina. Come on, you know the book should have been called Konstantin Levin. Funny how no one ever talks about how more than half of this excruciatingly long book is about a man named Levin. I haven't seen any movies based on the book but I'd bet that all the annoying, long-winded Levin stuff gets cut out.

I read that you based the character of Levin on yourself. So allow me to apologize before I say that I hated him. What a mopey, self-involved, boring-ass man. If he blushed one more time, I thought I might step into the book and smack him. Reading portions of the book in which Levin discusses farming and peasants and whatever else felt like being at a really long, awful dinner party with the most boring people in the world.

By the end of the book, when Levin has this big revelation about faith, I couldn't have been less invested. I was just glad it was over. I had my own little faithful moment and I thanked God I was finished reading this.

OK, let's talk about Anna. Everyone acts as if the book is only about the love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky. Unfortunately, I didn't care about these characters at all. Here's another Count to show you how much I cared:
I read on the back of my book that Nabakov said this was "one of the greatest love stories in world literature." I'm afraid I just don't get it.

Why do they love one another? What is it about either of them that is so fantastic? They're good looking?

What I saw was one of the greatest stories of codependence in world literature.

If you think you cannot live without someone else, if you are willing to kill yourself (as both Vronsky and Anna are willing to attempt, one successfully) then you are codependent. Your love isn't any greater than anyone else's. Your CODEPENDENCE is greater. That is all.

People make this mistake all the time. They buy into the bull shit of Romeo and Juliet, this idea that the greatest love stories involve someone dying by their own hand, by their own misery.

I have had someone tell me he could not live without me. I never want to hear someone say this to me again. I will never say this to someone. We are not meant to put so much weight on another human being.

Does this mean that when I love my love isn't as strong or true or romantic?

If love is measured by how much you are willing to destroy yourself, then it is a sad thing. It is an addiction.

There is nothing that I could not do without. Life must be adjustable in this way. We must accept what life brings us or what life takes away. Acceptance is the only way to find peace in this harsh world.

After Anna's death, "It showed him (Vronsky) the eternal error men make in imagining that happiness consists in the realization of their desires."

I guess I just wish people would quit calling it a great love story. It seems obvious to me that you weren't saying, "Ooh, look how romantic this is."

Leo, I can appreciate that Levin (and you) gave so much thought to life, to its meaning, to humanity, to farming. I can appreciate that Levin wants to live his live, striving for goodness. I can appreciate that, with his realization that other religions besides Christianity also speak of goodness, maybe Levin will be more accepting and less of a judgmental douchebag. Levin, Pozdravlyayu! (Congratulations!)

Honestly, I just wish it hadn't taken 700 pages for Levin to get there.

I began to dread picking it up. I was thrilled to put it down. At night, while I lay in bed and read Anna Karenina, I looked longingly at other books. I was the Anna Karenina of reading. I was in bed with this one, but I wanted to be in bed with that one.

I sincerely hope that I can shake off this horrible feeling of dread by December, when I have pledged to read your other doorstop of a novel, War and Peace. 

Maybe I  will write you another letter then, Leo. In your honor, I will now sign off with all my various names.

Amy/Amy B./Becky Bickers Girl Detective/LBG/George Clooney's Girlfriend/Amushka Bickerskaya


  1. You have a great knack for getting to the heart of the bullshit... and finding awesome graphics to help make your points (love the Count!)

    1. I've been waiting for the right moment to use that image of the Count. : ) I'm sure I'll use it again in another blog post. It's just too good not to use again.


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