More Thoughts on Anna Karenina

I keep thinking about Anna Karenina, and things that I wish I had mentioned in my original post about it.  For instance, there was a section where the character Levin is wanting to get portable fencing to alternate pastures for his cows; I couldn’t help wondering if Joel Salatin had ever read that book and chuckled in amusement about 100-year-old references to what he does on his farm all the time.  I love when one thing I’m reading reminds me of other things that I’ve read.

There are so many topics that Anna Karenina addresses:  courtship, marriage, adultery, religion, faith, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pietism, Christian mysticism, farming, art, politics, government, child-rearing, childbirth, the influence of the media, social conformity, gender roles, and education.  And somehow it covers all these things in one book without seeming like just too much.  And I think it would have seemed even more subtle to those who read it when it was first published in installments.

Then I got to thinking about what it would be like to read books such as Anna Karenina or David Copperfield as they were originally published, in installments.  Is something lost by just plowing straight through the story?  My friend Kelly and I have discussed before about how our kids will never know the anticipation and fun we had waiting for each new volume of the Harry Potter series to come out, making theories and such.  They will just read one book after another or watch the movies with as much or as little space between as they wish.  It might be an interesting experiment someday to break down a book, like Oliver Twist, and read it in monthly installments as it was originally released.

After Kelly’s comment on my original post, we had a private discussion that brought up an interesting point about how the timing of when we read something can effect our enjoyment of it.  Do we associate reading particular book with a rough time in our past?  Are we more open to the message(s) of a book at one point in our lives rather than another?   Should we give books that we remember disliking another chance down the road?

There have certainly been times when I’ve just not been able to get into a book that I thought I wanted to read and ended up putting off to read at a later time.  But in the case of Anna Karenina, I think that my 23-year-old self could have gotten into the book but would not have appreciated it as much as my 33-year-old self did.  I probably would have ignored its conservative social messages as silly history rather than still having relevant merit today.  It’s possible that I would not have even picked up on many of the messages and just seen it as an interesting story.  And I also have a much better understanding of history in general and how Anna Karenina fits into it than I would have at 23.

Of course this makes me wonder how much my children will get out of classic novels if they read them too early.  Will they have the background knowledge or life perspective to appreciate them as much as they would if they read them later?  Is it necessary that they be able to eke out every nuance in one reading, or is it more important for them to know that some books are so good that they may require multiple re-readings to fully absorb?  I need to be careful that they (and I) don’t start to think of good books as titles to mark off of a list (or, like many homeschoolers, to be compiled in an impressive list to attach to their college application).

And maybe I should give Watership Down (my own personal least favorite book) another try someday?  Like-um, ya know- after I’ve read all the other books I want to read that I haven’t read yet.  😉

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