rereading anna karenina

786716Last year I read 54 new books, from start to finish. Some were shorter than others, but some were hugely long, so on the whole it was a record I was proud of. And I definitely enjoyed myself, finding new authors, a new series or two, reading all the big titles that came out in the past year or so. It meant I always had something to say about whatever anyone was reading, and it was fun zooming past my goal of 52-books-in-a-year. This year, though, I’ve read a fraction of that. And this summer, I’m being really lazy and rereading. I love to reread my favorite books. Some are comfortable old favorites from teen years, or fantasy novels that take me away from everyday humdrum. My favorite reread of all, though, is Anna Karenina.

I first read it towards the end of high school, many moons ago. I also don’t know how often I’ve reread it since. If I had to count, I’d put it close to double digits, and since it’s a pretty long book, that’s saying something. Why do I keep going back to it? The language is lovely, and the descriptions are beautiful. The story is compelling and tragic. Anna, though, has never been very sympathetic to me, and Vronsky less so. Watching their doomed trajectory is fascinating, but it’s Levin I love, and through him, Kitty. Without a doubt my favorite literary passage, anywhere, is the scene where Levin harvests the grass and hay with the peasants who work his farm, every minuscule detail of it. It’s not the tragedy but the everyday simplicity that I keep coming back for.

Maybe that’s why I’m rereading Anna Karenina this summer. True, it starts with disappointment and indecision for Levin, but in the end, it’s nothing but love and contentment. That’s what I want. The ugly, impassioned, hurtful way Anna and Vronsky crash through the lives of everyone around them is the kind of drama I never could see the value of, in literature or out of it. Give me a sweet couple who hurts no one at all by being wonderfully in love any day.

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