Confessions of an Inattentive Reader

Mar 31st, 2010

I’ve tried to read The Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы) four times and failed.  I’ve read the first 100 pages each time, and each time become distracted.  As a person who wishes to be considered a member of the well-educated literati, this is most unfortunate.  As one with formal studies in history and philosophy, an embarrassment.  As one with a rather unfortunate history as a tortured-soul-up-and-coming-theologian (you know the type, whose only claim on Dostoevsky is to have read The Grand Inquisitor a dozen times), this is an abject personal failure.

I love reading philosophy, especially the more syllogistic, analytic type.  I appreciate brevity in prose and dryness in wit…I’d be a perfect INTJ snob if only I had the money and a tenured professorship.  =)  Yet despite my fervent desire not to be an the subject of spot-on satire from The Onion, nonetheless I struggle to read dense fiction.

I’m not sure in what proportion to blame nature or nurture.  My problem is 19th-century prose, saturated as it is with sprawling sentences of hubristic syntax and playful metaphor.  The sheer ostentatious indulgence of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, et al, is at once off-putting and sublime.   When I’m able to actually sit down and read it – decluttering my mind from Facebook, email, the chatter of political blogs, and my still inexplicable desire to create fantasy transit maps, I experience a fleeting transcendence that I deeply wish I had the patience to endure.

So this is my 5th attempt at TBK, and I’m on page 25 out of 776.  Maybe publicizing my previous failures will compel me to complete perhaps the world’s best novel by force of guilt and social pressure.  Hey, whatever works.

  1. Sarah
    Mar 31st, 2010 at 20:45
    Quote | #1

    If your problem is 19th century prose, I recommend avoiding it for the most part. As someone with an MA in lit., I can say with conviction that it’s better for your reading life to read fiction that resonates with your own perceptions of the world than to trudge through the dull and verbose for the sake of being well-read. But then again, I don’t rarely want to read literature that is really philosophy or theology. I don’t think the two mix.

  2. Susan
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 11:03
    Quote | #2

    My ability to read The Brothers Karamazov from start to finish (and truly enjoy it) peaked at about age 17. I loved it as an embarrassingly earnest high school senior, but when I started rereading it four years later in an attempt to bring some sense of cosmic meaning back into my life, I just found it tedious. Maybe you’ll have a different experience this time, though. Good luck!

  3. Sarah
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 11:23
    Quote | #3

    Hi Susan,
    I’ve had a similar history with all 19th century literature. I loved reading it in high school and was much more likely to read Hawthorne or Bronte than to read anything remotely contemporary. Since then, I find it tedious and kind of a waste of time better used reading something contemporary (Confessed with guilt). I think the exception is Robert Louis Stevenson who I read for the first time last year and found pretty riveting.

  4. Lloyd
    Apr 1st, 2010 at 20:39
    Quote | #4

    Ahhh, don’t bother – read Chekhov instead!

  5. Gregmore popular
    Apr 26th, 2010 at 22:16
    Quote | #5

    Which translation? If you’re not reading the Pevear and Volokhonsky one I suggest you give it a try. I found their version gripping.

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