Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Alistair McCartney
Associate Faculty, MFA
Adjunct Faculty, BA

For a long time I didn’t read novels for plot or story. I mainly read for sentences, read novels the way you might read a poem. I’m not sure why. But back in the late 1990’s, encouraged by my partner Tim, I found myself reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I was a little bit daunted by its 800 plus pages. But from the first page that sensation left me and turned into something else: pleasure. I was swept up by the story, something I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid. I was also taken with Tolstoy’s moral intelligence as an author and the startling modernity of the novel–it really felt like the beginnings of the modern novel as we know it, especially its sophisticated insight into the complex inner lives of the characters. Soon I turned to Eliot’s Middlemarch, Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and Tolstoy’s real whopper, War and Peace. But my book is Anna Karenina. It got me reading like a child again, with voracious intensity. And it turned me onto the intense pleasure of reading long novels, the ritual, where you feel like your brain has run a marathon at the end of it.
“The Murder of Leo Tolstoy: A Forensic Investigation.” Elif Batuman, Harpers
Love. Amy Winehouse
“Tolstoy read a lot. He remembered what he had read for a long time, and he always distinguished books which should be read carefully and those in which he only selected the most essential extracts to save his time.” Yasnaya Polyana, The State Memorial and Natural Preserve Museum-Estate of Leo Tolstoy

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