Classics Challengers: It’s off to Siberia

I’ve been putting off announcing the next category in the Classics Challenge 2015 because I’ve been waiting for more people to post reviews of the first category, a classic by a woman. But either people are slower readers than I am or maybe you dropped out or just don’t want to post, but it’s time to announce the second category: A Russian classic.

Really, there’s no better time to read a Russian novel than the middle of winter while the snow piles up outside. Light a fire, wrap yourself in a blanket and top off your glass of vodka. I can think of nothing better, frankly.

idiotI know this will be a tough one: Russian novels are nothing if not long. (They had to do something to get through the cold winters.) My other theory about why Russian novels are so long is that the characters’ names are so long, and they use their full names constantly. If, in the novel I’ve chosen, the character Nastasia Philipovna was named Maisie Jones, the book would be a good 50 pages shorter.

I’m looking forward to this challenge because I do not have much experience in Russian works. I read “Anna Karenina” in a novels class in high school and still remember quite a bit about it, so I must have liked it. I recently checked a book out of the library by an author who is apparently one of the most respected writers in Russia today: “There Once Was a Mother Who Loved Her Children Until They Moved Back In” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. (A woman! I don’t think I can name another Russian woman author.) I chose it because I loved the title, but the three novellas inside were confusing and I gave it up. My choice for this challenge is nearly 150 years old, but more accessible.

Fyodor Dostoevsky published “The Idiot” in 1869; I saw this book on my family’s bookshelf for nearly as long. It’s a slim (only because the pages are the thinnest of onionskin) volume in the Everyman’s Library edition. It was my father’s and I know this because under the title on the spine, some wag had written “Ronnie,” my father’s name. I assume it was from a college course and I’ll also assume he didn’t read it: My dad was not a reader.

Throughout the book in the margins are wavy pencil lines that mark passages someone (Maybe my dad? Or did he buy it used? There is a $1.25 price penciled on the flyleaf like you see in used books.) I find I’m torn about what to do with this book after I’m finished: One goal of this challenge is to clear the bookshelves and boxes of books out of my home and send them to used booksales where they can be loved by others. This book was my dad’s, and he’s been long gone. As I said, though, he wasn’t a reader, so I wonder why he kept this, alongside paperback versions of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and novelty books like “The Dieter’s Guide to Weight Loss Before, During and After Sex” (from which I must admit, came most of my sexual education).

So, we’ll see how I like it, I guess, and go from there. What will you be reading for this category? Add it in the comments below. And to get you in the mood, I give you this famous song from the musical “Lady in the Dark” as performed by Danny Kaye. Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Classics Challengers: It’s off to Siberia

  1. Pingback: The reader who came in from the cold | Shelf Improvement

  2. Peggy Ptasznik

    Thanks for the delightful Danny Kaye recording. I hope you will let me count War and Peace which I read as part of Ernie’s challenge in 2014. The names were daunting so about 100 pages in I made a list of all the names for each character and kept the list beside me as I read so I had at least a fighting chance of knowing who Tolstoy was talking about when he used only one of the many names and that often a cute diminutive. Ultimately I enjoyed the book. I am still reading Bully Pulpit and especially enjoying the chapters on the journalists. I think you would enjoy those, Ron.

    Best of luck to all as you are “off to Siberia!”


    1. I think you’ve done your time with War and Peace and that’s a good idea about the names. Maybe others might benefit from your idea. I recently read The Yellow Kids about journalism during the Spanish American War, so it’s just before The Bully Pulpit is set, though Theodore Roosevelt is a character. What they did down there was almost criminal, though their lives were pretty fascinating.


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