In Gilmore Girls, aka the best show ever written, bright-eyed Rory Gilmore is continually seen reading a wide array of books. Whether in preparation for Harvard or for her time at Yale, she is always improving herself via literature.
Juxtapose this with Patrick Lenton, who found himself re-reading The Wheel of Time for the seventeenth time, grimly hoping the ingrained misogyny might somehow disappear if he just believed hard enough. What happened to his days of challenging himself? What about that one time he read Moby Dick and felt good for eight years? Patrick decided to take a leaf out of Rory’s books and read Rory’s books.
7.) Anna Karenina
Russian literature is a huge, icy black ocean. You hear people tell stories about it, in a casual, offhand way. ‘Oh yeah, I read War and Peace’ and everybody else in the room just shuts up. If you’ve read Russian literature, you don’t need to boast – anybody else who has sailed its iceberg littered waters knows exactly what you’ve been through. Why try to explain the unfathomable? Try to describe a beaky old squid, ripping up clams with its thousands of flailing arms, to a cat. Go on, do it. That’s what describing Russ. Lit to the uninitiated is like.
My first dip into Russian literature (realism – I’m a Bulgakov fan from way back, yo yo) is Anna Karenina. Anna Karenina is an enormous book that was originally written in a serialised format like many other massive tomes from that era, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This could be why each section kind of reminded me of episodes of Days of Our Lives. It all revolved around vary social functions, and a selection of personalities involved in various things, usually related to marriages, affairs and business.
Let’s just halt this criticism truck at the precipice of Angry Comment Gorge. I liked Anna Karenina. It took me a few days to get into it – probably the first hurdle is the writing, which feels stilted, probably due to age and translation. But after you get into the rhythm of it, you understand that it’s anything but stilted – it’s highly crafted. It is like speaking to somebody who does not understand contractions.
The story revolves around Russian aristocracy, and the affair of the title character, Anna Karenina, with Count Vronsky, who is a classic player, yet loses his shit for Anna’s ineffable charm. For much of the book I just kept thinking, ‘Why do I even care about these fucktards? Don’t they all get shot up by some Communists in a few decades?’ But old Tolstoy knows his stuff, and soon I found myself utterly entranced during a horse racing scene – a chapter of surprising tension and intensity.
The novel opens with the line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Which is really strange, because I didn’t really feel like this was a novel about families. Then again, everyone refers to each other by their full name, like ‘Alexander Oblonsky Sardhenyukov, would you care for some tea’ and maybe I just stopped following the names and maybe they are all related to each other, I don’t know.
You know what television show that line could relate to? Gilmore Girls. I’ve read some interesting things recently where people have written off the ‘drama’ or ‘conflict’ of Gilmore Girls as meaningless or boring because of the stratosphere of privilege that it occupies. Large sums of money usually related to Rory’s education are thrown around by various members of the family, usually as a way to gain influence or power over the others. But if you look at it, this show is almost singly about a family who is uniquely unhappy. And money almost always turns out to be an inefficient glue to try and stick it together. In fact, it generally causes problems. What does keep them together? Mostly coffee.
Curious to see the full reading list? You can view it here.
Patrick Lenton is a playwright, fiction writer and blogger, based in Sydney. He is into you. He blogs over at The Spontaneity Review, and likes to publish his stories in journals like Voiceworks, Best Australian Stories, TIDE and The Lifted Brow. He also edits a comedy writing anthology, The Sturgeon General.