Sunday, April 6, 2008

Feeling good about the classics

Since the exit of required reading from my life, I've been trying to spend more time reading for pleasure. Slowly, I'm chipping away at the long, long list of books I've been meaning to read. Some of them are, of course, Philip Pullman and Agatha Christie, but there are others, the "classics" that every once in a while make their way to the top of the list. And right now, at the advice of a friend who said it was "actually really good", I'm finally reading Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, to be specific.

Now, I just started it yesterday, so I've only read the first two chapters, but I was immediately enthralled. Of course I was already familiar with that famous first line:
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
And being so familiar with it certainly dulls its impact, but in the first few pages I've discovered more wonderful lines, unfamiliar and profound, yet not dragging down the straightforward prose into meandering contemplativeness.

One I was particularly drawn to is quietly thrown in towards the beginning of the second chapter:
"There was no solution but that usual solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day - that is, forget oneself."
Who knew Tolstoy was a Buddhist? Now of course, having read only a few pages of his work and knowing next to nothing about the man himself, I'm not really qualified to evaluate this Russian's spirituality, or the overall themes and messages of Anna Karenina, but that particular line sends my mind right to the Genjo Koan, written by Dogen in the 1200s. It is a koan of everyday life, and the section which I'm reminded of goes something like this:
"To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to abandon body and mind. To abandon body and mind is to be enlightened by all things."
For me, this speaks to the same thing. All we can do in the face of any great joy or great sadness is continue to live our lives, day to day, moment to moment. There is of course self, but there is also not. Stepan Arkadyevich already knows this, and I'm excited to see how he continues to cope with his troubles unfolding as the book continues.


1 comment:

Tianasaurus said...

Wait, you were up at 9:30? On a SUNDAY?!! I guess I was up, too, but I had an excuse. One of my dad's friends wanted to buy me breakfast.

Anyway, great review. You make Anna Karenina sound like. . . fun?? Keep me updated as the book unfolds.