I am visiting an old friend: Anna Karenina. It is always a special treat when I open the first page and begin to listen, in complete comfort that this is a long tale that will be told well. A reading like this, like living through a brilliant production of Hamlet, cannot be, should not be hurried. It is very much like savoring a meal one has fantasized about but hasn't enjoyed for a while. The lines, the syntax (even though it is a translation), the very cadence of the text feel like a song long buried, finally allowed to surge and haunt, and I am very grateful to the bookclub that has allowed this excuse!
Some texts disappoint by not living up to their promise: they promise richness, minute details, subtexts, and a theme complex enough to warrant a labyrinthine plot, but only skim the surface, touch on the shallow waves, and move on to end before one has had one's fill.
Anna never fails me, though. It is a nicely developed text, with enough round characters so a whole canvas is wonderfully populated, at the same time balanced, tightly woven, and not over-done or spoiled.
Maybe it was the finesse with which the text was handled when I read it while reading Literature, a finesse that lingers beyond decades and lands, thanks to one of my favorite professors of all time. Maybe it was the many Thomas Hardy's I was reading at the same time (I am not a fan; a thousand apologies!). Maybe it is the memory of feeling young I associate with this text. Maybe it is the combination of all of the above. Whatever the reasons, this is a story I long for over and over again. On my bookshelf, there are only a few texts that warrant a return, and Anna proudly sits beside the epics and the Shakespeare's I constantly re-visit.
I like to sit in a dusty corner when I treat myself to Anna. The first time I read it, it was in a hospital library, waiting for my father to finish with the first operation of his day. So now, I like to have a slightly dusty fragrance, the fragrance of un-dusted book shelves in the background. The last time I read Anna, I even made sure to wake up extra early and read it between 4 & 6am, before the day actually dawned properly, since that was also my hour at the hospital library.
Some of my friends tell me I am old fashioned to actually like a text like Anna; sometimes, some others just smile awkwardly and look away, seemingly at a loss at what to say to a being like me; they mistake my enthusiasm for posturing. I must confess these awkward moments make me feel the extreme heaviness of Odysseus' oar like few other times do. I don't understand how I could be so misunderstood, and have learned to keep my peace, to mellow my enthusiasm so I don't seem glaringly inept.
Most people tell me they have no time to read such a thick book and shudder to underline their statement. Maybe my need for texts such as Anna is a character defect, a chemical imbalance, an excuse for my innate laziness?
Yes, I have a child; yes, she keeps me busy; yes, I have missed deadlines because I was doing chores or grading; but equally true is the fact that the savoring of well-loved texts lends relevance to my existence. I don't have time to do the laundry, sweep up the floor, keep my kitchen spanking clean, cook much, or entertain enough. But that is because these stories hold me in their thrall, keep me up when I should be asleep, give me migraines of guilt when I wander too far away from them. So it is true that there is a great deal of self-indulgence in my reading.
However, enjoying Anna is more than a narcissistic wallowing for a lost self. I know there is an ageless kernel in me that demands this re-visitation every time I get tired of my daily dealings with people and their "trivial dramas," as my daughter so eloquently puts it.
So visiting a text like Anna is my paean to the teeming humanity that surrounds me; it serves to remind me why I love real people, as I admire the nobility of Levin, appreciate life like Stiva, adore the simplicity and sophistication that Kitty is, so that I might be brave enough to live as fully and passionately as Anna does.