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“These men of yours never loved the people, never suffered for them or sacrificed anything for them, no matter what they themselves imagined for their own good pleasure! …. One cannot love what ones does not know, and they understood nothing about the Russian people. … And those who have no people, have no God! You may be sure that all those who cease to understand their people and lose their connection with them, at once, in the same measure, also lose the faith of their fathers, and become either atheists or indifferent. … That is why all of you, and all of us now, are either vile atheists or indifferent, depraved trash, and nothing more!”

— Shatov, Demons, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky is so great. I started Demons a few months ago and now I’m coming back to it.

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I read a bit every night before I go to bed. It really helps me fall asleep. Usually I just read mindless stuff like magazines and trivia, but I decided that I would try something different this year; I would try reading fiction instead.

I knew it would be have to be something that I wouldn’t be too tempted to read during the day, thus defeating the purpose of reading it before I go to bed. And so, for my first book, I have selected C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet,” this first novel in Lewis’ space trilogy, which means I have another two books in the queue if I like this one.

I’m only 8 chapters in, so I’m reserving judgment for now, but so far, so good. Au revoir Earth; hello Malacandra.

So I managed to squeeze in one last book before the year is up 🙂 I finished Fathers and Sons on December 30.

As I mentioned in my previous  post, it’s a short book, but it works well as a short book — I didn’t feel like it should be longer at all. It predates The Bros K by about 20 years, but many of the themes are the same. (You’d think there was some kind of cultural revolution happening in Russia around that time …).

In some ways, the themes are age-old. Arkady and his friend Bazarov come back to their small home town after living and attending college in the “big city” (St. Petersburg). They have new ideas. They’re nihilists. Naturally, Arkady’s father feels out of touch, while his uncle just feels pure hatred toward Bazarov, who is Arkady’s mentor and thus is the origin of Arkady’s new nihilist ideas.

As I was reading the book early on, I wondered where the author’s sympathies would lie: with the fathers or the sons? The answer seems to be neither (though perhaps it leans a bit toward the fathers). Instead, the novel ends with Arkady’s father marrying the girl he has had a child with (a progressive idea) and with Arkady marrying a lovely girl he has met since returning home (a traditional idea). And Bazarov, the nihilist-scientist who resents the power of love, particularly in relation to himself (over the space of a month or so he falls in love twice and is rejected twice), dies after contracting typhoid from a corpse he is examining for the purpose of medical research. Though the book does not really treat Bazarov with contempt, the ending kind of speaks for itself.

Fathers and Sons

I started reading Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev yesterday (yes, I’m a fan of Russian lit…).

I’m about a third of the way through. It is pretty short — only about 200 pages.

My initial reaction: you know it’s going to be good when two of the four main characters are “nihilists.”

In other (non-related) news, with the 00s coming to a close, I have been watching movies on a number of “best of the decade” lists. Slate magazine has a great feature that collects and combines several “best of” lists. (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which I really, really liked, is the top-rated movie; “There Will Be Blood,” which I really, really didn’t like, is number 2.)

Watched so far:
Amelie
Pan’s Labyrinth
Mulholland Drive

Still to come:
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Memento
Rushmore (this is actual a 90s film; I just like Wes Anderson)

Confession

I have not been living up to the calling of this blog. Were you to ask, “What is Kristin reading?” I would have to answer … not a whole lot. I am reading an interesting monograph on Dostoevsky’s concept of spiritual re-birth, and slowing working my way through Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution.

Okay, so I have been reading. But I’m way off track as far as novels go. And I’m supposed to have “Under the Volcano” read for book club by December 4. And I haven’t started (though I suspect I’m not the only one…).

In any case, I don’t think I’m on track to read 17 books this year — at least not 17 in their entirety. (Another confession: I didn’t finish The Master and Margarita, though I did really like it. Still 40 pages from the end. Maybe I’ll finish it one day.) I feel a bit like a failure. Oh well. Maybe I’ll read a lot over Christmas …

Coming up next

August/September is officially Russian Literature month(s).

In the coming days and weeks, I will be reading:
Demons – Fyodor Dostoevsky and
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

One unfortunate thing about blogging about books I read for book club is that once I’ve discussed it at book club, I no longer have any desire to discuss it here… unless it’s a book I really liked (as in the case of One Hundred years of Solitude).

But The Cellist of Sarajevo does deserve some discussion, so here goes:

This book certainly had some strengths. The setting was very skillfully described, I thought. The setting, more than anything, made the book feel alive. The book was also relatively short. (Hmm… when I’m counting that as a plus, you know it’s a bad sign…)

The thing is, I didn’t love the book but it also wasn’t all that bad. I did find myself annoyed by some of his techniques. For example, the overuse of rhetorical questions. Paragraphs of them. On almost every page.

The characters, while interesting, didn’t feel very different from each other. The thoughts had by each person could have been swapped and you wouldn’t know the difference. The book would have been much better — and would have offered a more complete view of the situation — had the author included a more diverse cast of characters.

My last complaint — I’m not sure if it’s really a complaint — has to do with the author himself. Is it really fair for a Vancouverite to write about something he has never experienced, in a land where he has never lived? How could we possibly expect to get a genuine take on the seige of Sarajevo from someone who just wasn’t there? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. Maybe it is possible to write beyond your own experience. But I can’t help but think that there’s a reason why creative writing profs advise students to “Write what you know.” (Incidentally, Mr. Galloway is a creative writing prof…)