Thursday, March 5, 2009

Question

Over at Booking Through Thursday the Question is this:

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet. What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

It's probably The Brothers Karamazov. The translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years and I know that someday I'm going to read it.

Why don't I, you ask?

I think it's because I don't know how to allocate my time for it because I don't really know anything about it. I'm not familiar with the narrative. All I know is that it is a long novel. I don't know what the flow of the story is; I don't know how many natural stopping points there are; I don't know how demanding it will be from a time perspective.

I don't mean overall time, that never bothers me. I mean each individual segment of reading time. In my youth, when I had large blocks of time that I could spend reading, long novels never deterred me. But now my reading time is more often broken up into smaller segments. So before I pick up a large novel I wonder how many natural stopping points there are and I wonder how intense the reading experience is going to be (i.e. how fast or slow am I going to have to read).

Last September I decided I was going to read Anna Karenina over the winter and part of me hoped it would be a warmup for Dostoyevsky. Why did I feel I could read Anna but not Brothers? Because I knew the story of Anna - I've seen movies based on it. A year ago I saw an Opera based on it. Since I knew the story I felt comfortable that I knew where the natural stopping points were going to be and I also felt comfortable that if I had to put it down for a while I would remember the storyline when I picked it up again.

And, indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tolstoy broke the novel up into very short chapters. So it is possible to pick it up and put it down over the course of a week. And when I was diverted for almost three months I didn't give up on it, I just eventually picked it up and started reading where I left off. It helps that it is one big soap opera. But I knew before I started that the narrative had a soap opera quality to it.

Brothers? I know nothing. I don't want to start it, find out I don't have time and need to divert myself and then give up because I know that I'll be helplessly lost when I pick it up one (or two or three) months later).

But. I will read it one day.