Monday, November 4, 2013

Five Years--What a Difference

I know that at some point I should cease to be amazed by the changes in my reading life--insights, perceptions, reactions--but I can't help it.  The latest incident comes from re-reading a favorite that I read five years ago--Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

I started and stopped this book a number of times before finally pushing through to the end, which I vowed to do by my 21st birthday.  I succeeded in finishing a couple of days ahead of schedule.  I loved the book.  I became so totally engrossed by the ending that I felt what Anna K felt--I understood her desperation and her fear and all the emotions.  There were, to be sure, long speeches on government and politics that I glossed over.  But I finished the book.

Now, just before I turn 26 next week, I am re-reading Anna K.  I didn't do it on purpose.  I just felt that yearning to read something fabulous and Russian that would make me feel...everything.

So I picked up a copy, in a different translation (for Russian authors, I always favor the Pevear and Volohonsky translation) because that was all the local pseudo-bookstore had available and I just had to get my hot little hands on a copy immediately.  I've been interacting with the text, underlining, bracketing, writing questions/thoughts/reactions in the margins and marking things to come back to, which was something I did not do on the first go.  I think this was because I was too swept up in what Tolstoy was doing and also reading so furiously that I just could not stop.

The main thing is that I am also looking at things from different angles this time.  I got this idea from Amanda at Dead White Guys, who has written a few times about Anna K, but this mention of the book in a Top Ten Tuesday and this review of her re-read are my favorites.  The first link gave me the idea of re-reading the book and focusing on Levin, who is supposed to be a semi-autobiographical representation of Tolstoy.  The second reminded me of the grandeur of the book.

I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying this re-reading.  I am getting sucked into the book in ways that I didn't the first time (does this happen to anyone else?  Maybe I should read everything twice!).  I find myself thinking of the characters and the plot and the words even after I have set aside my copy for the time being.  I would love to take off work and real life for the next week so I can just finish.  But maybe have to read in fits and starts is helping it soak in more than if I just indulged in my impulse to immerse myself.  Maybe coming up for breaks is helping me digest it better.

And in thinking about the overall book, I can see why Levin is in many more ways the hero and the point of the story.  Anna might be a cautionary tale; but Levin is the ultimate message.  At 20, I just sort of figured that the book was named after the character for a reason, so that was where I focused.  Not necessarily, my friends.

I am super excited to be reading this.  Granted, I always go into any reading experience whole hog and then it peters out (usually).  But I don't see that happening this time.  I am too intrigued by what I am noticing as I read and the characters that I notice and am thoroughly enjoying.  So fun!

Has anyone else ever tried re-reading a favorite from a different perspective?  How did that work for you?


  1. I really need to read Anna Karenina! I have the movie on my DVR, but I refuse to watch it until I read the novel, which I'm planning to read next year.

    I agree that re-reading books definitely brings up a lot of fresh perspective. I think that in regards to classics, if you've read them once already, you're already familiar with what will happen & what to expect, so the book no longer seems 'daunting' to you the second time around. Instead, you're more comfortable with it and can thus notice things you wouldn't before (if that makes sense) because you aren't reading just to read it, but to enjoy it.

    I haven't tried reading different translations of books yet, but I'll definitely have to give it a go sometime. Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. I am sad to say I am still trying to work my way through my first attempt at Anna Karenina. I ended up getting it on audio book and I am making so much more progress that way. I think when it comes to very moving books, especially in older literature, you almost have to read it a few time to get a good grasp on all of the different aspects of the story. I have certainly found that to be true with Shakespeare and other old English authors I read.

    Isn't it just a wonderful feeling to be so taken with a book! Happy re-Reading! :)

  3. I bought a copy of Anna Karenina a couple of months ago and still haven't got round to reading it. It's good to know you love it so much and this has reminded me that I really need to read it soon. I'm trying to get get through my review books at the moment (the curse of the blogger's TBR pile!) but maybe I'll try and read it over Christmas or something.

  4. This one is in my pile, and I'll be getting to it soon. I have the same edition - I've heard great things, and I remember reading the same posts at "Dead White Guys".


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