Last year…

in my “Writing the Environment” class, I wrote a paper titled “On Not Reading Anna Karenina.” It reflected on my yearly failed attempts to make it through Anna (mostly owing to anxieties I have about all the other books I won’t be reading if I spend all my time with Anna). I also considered,  à la Pierre Bayard, the ways in which books can be meaningful to a reader, despite having not read them all the way through. I have a feeling that essay is going to need some revision.

I’m almost halfway through Anna Karenina. And liking it. More than I remember liking it any of the other seven times I’ve tried to read it.

I think this is mostly because I spent most of last term being far too busy to read anything outside a syllabus: an experience which has made me realise how much worse a fate it is to read no books at all than to devote a great amount of time to reading one massive book (sure, I’m reading Anna at the expense of four or five books I’d also like to read this term, but I wasn’t really reading those books anyways; there’s no point in being anxious over these matters, really).

I also have to admit a false note in my paper of last year. While I can feel unashamed to not have read Anna before this moment (it’s a more-than-900-page novel, after all), I think that I (and Bayard too) perhaps put too much emphasis on the meaningfulness of a book one hasn’t read. Yes, we can understand the significance of books culturally, and relationally (to other books) without having read them through, and yes, the experience of not reading a book can reveal much about how we read and why; however, the two experiences — of reading, and not reading Anna Karenina — are not equal.

That’s a tautology, but a necessary one. It’s much more satisfying reading Anna than not.

Soon I’ll have done both.

22 February 2010 ~ Hamilton


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