16 March 2007

Addendums and Details

First - thanks to everyone for the excellent recommendations! I love that I'll have this list, with your comments and additions, waiting for me next time I can't decide what to read. (Of course, I'm also very much looking forward to the day when I can read for pleasure again!) One major 'Doh!' was revealed - I can't believe I left Jasper Fforde off my list! I'm a complete idiot! He's one of my all-time favorites (whom I usually remember - he's on my blogger profile even), and I love The Eyre Affair especially!! So strange that it never leapt to my mind even while mentioning Jane Eyre (or, for that matter, Great Expectations, which I want to read solely on the basis of Jasper Fforde's use of it in the sequels to Eyre Affair) - what can I say, it was a brain fart. The other books you guys mentioned as recommendations, though, have somehow never come up in my experience so I'm really thankful to you all!

Also, a further note about Anna Karenina for Beth: yet another major thing we have in common! Actually, one of the first things Hubbster and I bonded over was that we both like poor Karenin more than any other character in the whole book. I can't stand Anna through the whole first 2/3 or so while she's seeing Vronsky - Vronsky is such a friggin' putz how could any woman in her right mind want to bother??! - but you really do have to read to the end, because somehow, despite himself, Tolstoy managed to write what I think is an incredibly moving and right portrayal of the consequences of "society" for women, but only in the final third of the book. To me, the last few chapters about Anna (after stupid old Vronsky is out of the way) are what put Anna Karenina above, say, Madame Bovary (which, at the risk again of offending others, I really hated). There are other reasons I like AK better than War & Peace...first, no anachronism issues, second, Karenin rocks so there's at least one character I really like (okay, so he gets treated like crap through the whole novel...this is Russian fiction after all!). Also, a lot of the stuff I really hated the first time I tried to read it when I was 16 (Levin, Kitty, the endless passages about Russian farming) suddenly became fascinating when I re-read it in college after a few courses in imperial Russian history that allowed me to put it in context. I've always wanted to cut up AK into three novels, each of which would be great, and perfect, for three different audiences: a psychological novel about Anna and her husband, another one about the social dilemmas of nineteenth-century Russia, and still another full of juicy, depressing gossip about vapid, manipulative people (which would be the one I'd skip but would fit right in with other books that are very popular).

I also unaccountably forgot to list my favorite Dostoevsky novel and one of my favorite classic novels ever - The Idiot. Now, for those of you who slogged through Crime & Punishment or tried to, this novel is a completely different animal. I couldn't put it down - I actually stayed up all night to finish it! It's awesome. It's probably better if you do have some background knowledge, but even without it's a proper novel unlike other Dostoevsky works. (As for C&P - my personal, idiosyncratic opinion is that Notes from the Underground says everything worth saying in a much pithier and more readable way. No one should have let old Fedor get out of control and ramble about his every last neurosis with quite so much excess as C&P. Everything interesting about Dostoevsky's worldview that isn't in Notes from the Underground is in Brothers K or The Idiot, again in a much more readable form.)

Also should have been on that list - Master & Margarita, Bulgakov. Fabulous book.

And I should recommend to those contemplating reading Eugene Onegin - also read Pushkin's Tatiana by Olga Peters Hasty. I don't normally recommend (or even read) criticism, but the gender stuff going on in EO is incredible, and really much richer if you have a guide (in part because the translations are all vastly inadequate)

Blogless Kathryn asked about my thoughts on a top-100 non-fiction or poetry. I have very few thoughts about poetry, I'm ashamed to say, because I'm an impatient reader. The only poets who have consistently reached me through my hopeless prosaic-ness and impatience have been: Gerard Manley Hopkins, e.e. cummings, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova, and Afanasii Fet. It's tricky with the Russians because I know just enough Russian to know I'm missing about 80% of what's great about the poetry. But if you know a little Russian you can read Obolensky's dual-language collection (A Heritage of Russian Verse), which completely rocked my world.

A word on translations from Russian: never, ever read a Constance Garnett translation, unless it's Turgenev. Turgenev had a very British-sounding voice anyway, so he comes out okay, but Garnett made everybody else, no matter how they actually wrote, sound like a British realist classic. The new translations coming out for many Russian classics by Pevear and Volokhonsky open up a totally new world for English-speaking readers. Try 'em.

As for non-fiction - I can really only speak about history books, because history and memoirs/letters (of people dead at least 50 years) is pretty much the only non-fiction I read that didn't come from salon.com, reuters, or the daily show. And my historical interests are almost always tied to gender and/or cultural history. My stand-by recommendation for non-academic readers who like history are the classic micro-histories:

everything ever written by Emmanuel Leroy LaDurie
The Cheese & the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg
A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

A few other really great, readable history texts are:

The Death of Woman Wang by Jonathan Spence
The Free Women of Petersburg by Suzanne Lebsock
The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery
Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard
The Ghost of an Executed Engineer by Loren Graham
Stalin's Peasants by Sheila Fitzpatrick

There are other, more obvious books, especially on American and French history, which I've either not read or that don't come to mind immediately, but the ones listed above are ones that should be on anybody's top-whatever list, but maybe aren't because they're a bit under the radar for one reason or another. If you looked at the linked lists or recommendations on the Amazon page for each, I bet you'd soon have a top-200 list of readable, interesting historical monographs in no time. Isn't the internet great?

Finally, because it's been too long since I've posted a picture (and because I still don't have any knitting worth showing) here are some pictures taken on my research trip to Vladimir, Russia, that won't go into the dissertation but really ought to inspire some knitting:

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