Books: The Best Books For Writers

Emerald City Trapeze

Emerald City Trapeze

Hello Dear Reader, if you are in fact still out there. I know I’ve been off the map, but I tend to do that from time to time. And that’s okay. I am a vagabond. Sometimes you just need to go out and live life. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I took a class where I learned how to fly… well I learned how to climb “silks” and swing from them like Pink! does. I also learned doing that is really, really hard, and I am a total badass because I fucking did it. So there was that.

I’ve also been reading like crazy which is good since I am “literally” trying to pen a novel in long hand. Anyway, all great writers are great readers. Stephen King, or should I say NATIONAL MEDAL OF ARTS recipient, Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Margaret Atwood says, “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice.

41VVy56lKJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reading is fundamental to writing. If you want to be a writer you should be reading books. And not just books about writing. While those are valuable, you have to be careful or at least thrifty about what you read. Good advice and reading about other writers will only get you so far. Hell,  add “an MFA” and “a good Twitter account” to that list. Having a Twitter account doesn’t make you a good writer. It hardly qualifies you to put a sentence together. What you really need in order to improve is:
Every book you read is a learning experience. Reading Joyce Carol Oates is a Master Class in story, character and prose. Du Maurier is all about tension and building mystery. Different writers have different things to tell you. Some don’t have much to say at all, (Thank you Gillian Flynn) but at least you know what you don’t want to sound like. Read writers who inspire you and scare you. Read books with unusual language or style. Read books that make you read more books. Or… try these. These are just a few of the best I can think of. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these books are on my personal short list for writers. Read these if you want to grow in the craft of writing. And they are just really good books.

  1. Steering the Craft, by Ursula LeGuin
    This is a revised edition of the same titled book she wrote in the 90’s. In the Introduction she states this “is not a book for beginners.” It’s for people who have already worked hard on their writing. That hooked me. A lot of writers today have the expectation of fame and fortune, of being published and Tweeted about, of possibly being the next big thing. But they don’t do the work. They’ve never read Twain or Dickens. They have heard of Shelley but don’t see the point in reading something so old or out of touch. Ms. LeGuin’s book is full of reasons why to read these books and what you can learn from them. It is also full of exercises for The Lone Writer or a Mutinous Crew (her term for a writing group) It’s a delightful and lovely book that just so happens to be about writing.
  2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy I know. The last book you want to read as inspiration is “The Best Book Ever Written”. But it worked for me! I was not only inspired by Tolstoy and the story he was able to tell, but how economical he was with both word and emotion – considering how long that book is. And I guess I should add he was not so economical with his words when it came to hay. A good lesson to learn: Just because you find “hay” fascinating, doesn’t mean it deserves center stage. It’s a beautiful book about love and hate and marriage, gender roles, having kids, and being human.
  3. Don’t Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier and The Collected Stories, Grace Paley
    Two collections of short stories which I find to be the best. The first is fear, tension, sex and mystery. And also a sense of humor. You’ll read the short story called “The Birds” which Alfred Hitchcock changed from a terrifying tale of animals rising up against a small seaside fishing village to an odd romance where Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette eat more scenery than the birds do. Every story in this collection is fun and a lesson in how to write short fiction. And all writers should be readers in short stories. Grace Paley is the American Master of them. Haven’t heard of her? Run. Go now to the library or local independent bookstore and get her. If Raymond Carver is all you know, you don’t know much.
  4. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
    He is pretty much literary perfection. I’m not the first or last to say it. But read Lolita and not be transfixed and transplanted by his absolute dominance of the english language. And this from a non-native speaker! Of course, Nabokov wrote in english and Russian, but Lolita was his first novel written in english. Read it and think about that until you feel a little dumb. Then shake it off and get to work. Nabokov didn’t learn english overnight, he worked at it.
  5. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
    Oddly enough, this incredible true story of magic, murder and mayhem during the 1893 World’s Fair is the best example of a perfect narrative I can give you. All of his books are. This book is full of facts and true history, but you’d never know it. He takes old boring documents and turns them into a unputdownable narrative which keeps you on the edge of your seat. Not bad for non-fiction, eh? Any writer who says they “don’t read” non-fiction isn’t a writer I would read.
  6. On Writing, by Stephen King
    41cqe00ZzsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Stephen King understands what it takes to write books. He’s written like, sixty books, not including his non fiction and short stories. Anyway, if you want an expert on the craft of writing, look no further. His book reads as part awesome writing coach and part memoir of America’s most prolific and beloved writers. If you are too snobby for Stephen King, read this and tell me he’s not good. The man knows how to tell a story and… he can scare the shit out of you USING ONLY WORDS. Anyway, here are a few tidbits of wisdom from the master.
    “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
    And finally, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
  7. Joyce Carol Oates, anything you can get your hands on
    I am the only bookseller at my current bookstore who has read, and who currently reads, Joyce Carol Oates. This is a sad little travesty. Not only has she been producing work since 1962, that work is all really, really good. Okay, I haven’t read all of her work…. but I’m working on it! Now think of the volume of work she produces and now add to that she works IN LONG HAND. Yep she WRITES her really long and intricate stories. That is rad. She writes from 8am til 1pm and then again, two more hours, at night. And she still has time for The Wire. If Joyce Carol Oates can put out a memoir and three novels a year, I think you can finish that short story you’ve been working on.

Need more? Susan Sontag, Frank Stanford, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, Murakami, Mary Gaitskill, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Caine, Jane Smiley…

Books: Summiting

Children Climbing a Mountain of Books 1993

Children Climbing a Mountain of Books 1993

The Seven Summits are the seven highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is considered to be the ultimate in mountaineering challenges. To achieve such a goal takes time, effort, money, strength, and training. But more importantly it takes focus, will, and drive. George Mallory once famously said one climbs Mt. Everest because it’s there. While that’s the idea, he actually said this:

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.” – George Mallory, Climbing Everest: The Complete Writings of George Mallory

This is the best comparison to my thoughts on reading. I don’t read books solely for enjoyment. The enjoyment is a happy byproduct of my need. My hunger. People who have summited the highest mountains often say they were compelled by something inside them, something in their nature thrust this hunger for climbing into their DNA. That’s how I feel about reading. Books are what keep me going. Reading is as much a part of me as the tattoo on my back or the blood in my veins.

Instead of fighting it, I relinquished to it. I am a slave to books. I’m not being dramatic here, I literally carry them around all day, tuck them back into their proper spots, and make sure no harm comes to them. When you work in a bookstore the gravity of books, both literal and philosophical, are around you every day. Sure, they fall from shelves or get left on the floor. They topple from my arms and land on my foot. But they also taunt me. The unread ones, that is. Those which eluded me day after day, year after year. Those discovered and forgotten repeatedly, a horrid and lonely fate. I know. Those I’ve read haunt me like ghosts or perhaps old friends I remember fondly, but fade a little over time until all I am left with is a faint memory, like summer grass from childhood.

I read because I have to. I want to be the guy that has read all the books. Not out of a sense of competition, but rather for personal accomplishment. Nothing gives me greater joy than finishing a book. Well, perhaps the feeling I get when I am almost finished with a book. It usually happens maybe sixty pages away from completion. My mind begins to think of the new possibilities before me. What I chose is important, for I will be spending much of my time with it. But that feeling of possibility, that feeling is the need. That is the Book Summiter calling out to me, “Hurry up ‘ol chap! There’s another mountain over here! It won’t climb itself!”. I don’t know why, but the Book Summiter inside of me is of British descent, and dresses like Edmund Hillary.

I will continue my quest to summit the many mountains of books in the world. I will take it one step at a time, taking from each book some new treasure or tool to aid me on my journey. Because reading makes me smarter. Not just in the obvious ways such as vocabulary or how to tell a good sentence from a poor one, but in little ways I could never have even dreamed of. The world opens a little wider with every book I read. I am a more well-rounded person. Reading Watership Down gave me a sense of discovery I haven’t had since I was a child. In a novel where the world is seen from the point of view of rabbits, a boat becomes a strange and wondrous thing. I got the joy of discovering, along with Fiver and Hazel, what that strange wooden thing in the water was. And it was delightful! There is something worth finding inside each good book. Another summit, reached!

I hope nothing more than to inspire you to read today. Take a moment. Close your eyes and let your mind wander. Follow where it leads you. Did it take you down a dark path in a dark wood? Perhaps you’ll consider Shirley Jackson. She is one of my favorites to spend an afternoon with. Maybe it took you instead to a secluded beach on a far off shore, in which case The Island, by Alex Garland will suffice. If your mind took off to another planet, please spend time with The Book of Strange New Things by the always formidable and gifted Michel Faber. You will be surprised in all of the best ways possible.

And isn’t that why we read? To feel? To release emotion or to remember it. To learn something new and to ultimately learn “something new” about ourselves. Big picture and little picture. Me and you. From the haunting poetry of Frank Stanford to the charming prairie life of the Ingalls family, there is something to be gained from reading. Memoir or history. Poetry or literature. I am learning about the human experience and my part in it.

So far this year I’ve summited twenty-three books, and I’m off to climb another mountain.

Books: The Most Deplorable Dads in Literature

41ZBS66oLWL._SY300_Father’s Day is a time for all us ungrateful kids to remember the guy who presumably taught us all how not to piss off mom, and maybe how to hold a bat properly. Dad’s are there for you. If you are lucky. Some of us didn’t fair to well in the Father category. And let’s face it – some Dad’s are jerks.

In honour of Father’s Day and my own failed father, I give you the Most Deplorable Dad’s in Literature! Enjoy!

  1. Mr. Wormwood, Matilda by Roald Dahl – First of all, he is a used car salesman. He is duplicitous and shady. He’s sneaky, mean and thoughtless. A crook, a liar and a bully. And he does the unthinkable: He makes fun of his daughter for enjoying books! Asshole.
  2. Alexi Karenin, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – He’s almost like a ghost father. He is cold and unfeeling and he distances himself from both his wife and only child. Poor Seryozha! He is used as a pawn in the bitter dealings between his parents and ultimately loses the only parent who loves him.
  3. Humbert Humbert, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Humbert Humbert might be the worlds worst parent. Or Step-parent. He is a wicked, wicked man. The dude married a woman solely to be closer to the woman’s twelve-year-old daughter. Eww. I have to admit, I liked Humbert. He was hilarious! And how can you take him seriously? But, he is still a deplorable human being and a really, really naughty Daddy.
  4. Jack Torrance, The Shining by Stephen King – Recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer Jack Torrance takes his wife and kids to the Overlook Hotel for a scarier than shit work/holiday. jack-nicholson-gif-4Even before they arrive at the hotel we are aware that Jack has had some trouble in the parenting arena. In a drunken rage he broke his sons arm. Not even close to the worst thing Dad’s gonna do. A note to Danny Torrance: Hide the croquet mallets.
  5. Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – This is a man with an all-consuming passion for vengeance. And while that’s kinda hot, it doesn’t make for very good parenting. Heathcliff is usually remembered as smoldering and intense. The perfect Anti-hero. Yet we forget that he also despises his own son, thinking him physically and mentally inferior. Poor sad and sickly Linton! He is forced to marry Edgar and Cathy’s daughter purely for revenge.
  6. King Lear, King Lear by Shakespeare – A father (or mother) should never play favorites. Every one knows that. But let’s get real. All parents play favorites. Even King Lear. This time playing favorites pisses off the non favored child to the point of no return. And seriously, making your three kids fight it out for your estate is fucking stupid. But nobody ever listens to reason in Shakespeare.
  7. The Chief, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – Let’s get this straight: I liked The Chief. But man, what a bad dad! While giving your kids freedom to explore the world around them is a good thing, letting them swim with alligators might be a little much. Not to mention his entire life, even his name, is based on a lie. He invented a Tribal world for his kids although he has absolutely no Indian heritage. He is brutally and unjustifiably optimistic about his failing business. Things don’t exactly end well for his kids.
  8. Pap Finn, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Drunk dads. Isn’t literature just riddled with them? Well, Pap Finn is an abusive drunk (Is there any other kind?) who parents with his fists. Near the beginning of the book Pap locks Huck in a cabin. He’s a dick and one of the most loathed characters in literature. Honestly Pap Finn is like the opposite of Atticus Finch. The best worst ever.

I know How Cersei Feels

N7r29SbI try, on occasion to think about the kind of person for whom Game of Thrones is a deeply personal show. You know, nerdy types who value loyalty to the books above anything else. These are the people who spend hours online arguing because, Brienne was would have never told Podric to leave, and in fact was always quite polite to him! Whatever. In Game of Thrones death and dishonour come swiftly and often. And usually when you least expect it. It gives me The Feels when a character I like (and hope will survive) gets euthanized by George R.R. Martin. Watching my favorite hottie get stabbed in the gut a dozen times makes me feel sad. But watching the bad guy get it makes me feel happy. At least it should.

How long have I waited to see Cersei get what’s coming to her? A really long time. She is an awful human being who deserves everything she gets, and probably more. She likes killing people, torturing them, manipulating them, and fucking her own brother. And, she makes really bad decisions that usually end up biting her in the ass. That’s pretty much all you need to know about her. In the season 5 finale, Cersei is completely humiliated in front of the entire kingdom (stripped naked, hair sliced off with a razor for that I just had a bit of Lice look) and paraded through the town while a woman with a triangle, shouts “SHAME!” every five seconds from over her shoulder. This is the moment fans of the show have been waiting for. I should have been cheering. But I wasn’t. I felt bad for her. Why?

Before watching GoT, I logged on to my blog and found a comment waiting for me. I should know better, but I read it anyway. For every comment I get that is positive, I get eight that are mean. It was someone from Texas. Again. Texans are still raging because of an opinion piece I wrote about living in Austin. Two years ago. And I am still getting RUDE comments from Texans. The comment, which I am paraphrasing, went something like this:

“Alicia. Fuck off and die and go back to CA you dick addicted whore. Cunt. Fuck you, you trust fund, bitch hippie.”

I read the shitty comment and deleted it like I always do. I thought, “Nice try fucker! That’s never going to see the light of day.” And I would have forgotten all about it, like water off a ducks back. But, as I watched Cersei Lannister get what was coming to her, I felt a sense of kinship with her. I realized that folks yell the same things at me… online. The townspeople spat in her face. They called her a whore and a liar and a cunt. They screamed “SLUT!” at her and threw shit in her face. A man jumped in her path, naked, and shook his dick at her while screaming, “You can suck my cock!” Or something to that effect. She walked all the way through the narrow streets, enduring all of it because she had no other choice.

1434336782-cersei-mountain-game-of-thrones-finaleOkay… Ready? Here comes my theory. What you watched on the Game of Thrones season 5 finale was a great metaphor for what it feels like to be a female online. We get shamed. We get called horrific things. And it is humiliating. A woman should be able to go online and write, speak her opinion, without someone commenting on her looks or calling her a whore. Or worse. Every time I log on I am subjected to slander and misogynistic treatment. I’m sure this piece will piss somebody off and it will start all over again. If you are a woman and you choose to write something and post  it online you are agreeing to mistreatment. There is nothing you can do to stop it. Those cowardly assholes hide behind their keyboards and are protected by anonymity. The only protection us ladies have is to ignore them, or be vocal. Ignoring doesn’t solve the problem. They always figure out a way to get through. And being vocal just pisses them off more. Right, Anita Sarkeesian?

We just need a huge Franken-Warrior to protect us. Just like Cersei.

Books: No Exclusions

collage1There is a small Book Club who comes to our store about once a month to choose a new title. They come together, all four of them, after their Book Club/Curry dinner. They walk through the store, browsing titles and cracking jokes while they figure out what to read next. They are pretty hilarious. The last book they chose was James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”. They chose it because, as they put it, “2015 is the year we don’t read white guys.”  I laughed when they said it, but it struck me as an easy thing to say, as if all novels written by caucasian men are going to be the same. As if a white person living in South Africa will write the same kind of novel as a white man living in Indiana, or London. It’s kind of an ignorant way to choose your next book: This year we only read books written by women, or ethnically “diverse” people – i.e. anyone whose pallor doesn’t read “white”.

Why would you want to do that? I understand that setting boundaries can help when there are too many choices, but I have never chosen a book based on the skin color, gender, or ethnicity of an author. That seems really, really weird to me. If the idea is to broaden your horizons, then couldn’t the parameters be, “Authors which you’ve never read before”? Take the average number of books you read in a year (for me about 40) and make HALF of those absolutely new authors to you. You could even take it one step farther and spend the entire year reading works by authors you’ve never read before, and genres which you don’t usually read. You are bound to end up with a diverse list.

There is more than one way to achieve diversity. Limiting your reading based on race, gender, or sexual orientation limits you. Why restrict what you read? For starters, it’s pretty lame to “only” read one thing no matter what that thing is. You don’t want to be one of those people who says silly blanket statements like, “I don’t read non-fiction“. Yeah, right. BECAUSE ALL NONFICTION IS THE SAME. No way! That’s like saying “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (a 2013 book by French economist Thomas Piketty. It looks and weighs about the same as a dictionary.) is the same as “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, by the always hilarious and readable, David Sedaris. Non fiction encompasses a wide range of topics, from Business and Economics to memoirs, history and health and self-help. Saying you won’t read female authors or white authors is the same thing. Just be savvy about what you choose and you won’t have to set silly limits for yourself. If you try new authors and different genres then you will inevitably read different types of writers. Writers who are men, women, gay, straight, wealthy, dead, poor, alive, foreign or local. Avoiding a book because of the authors physical or genealogical background is lame. And you don’t want to be lame.

The best way to avoid being lame is to be inclusive. You don’t want to be one of those single-minded idiots who being sentences with, “I don’t…” . Like this,  “I don’t read non-fiction”. Or this one, “I don’t read dead, white guys”. Or my favorite, “I don’t read living authors”. Uh. Okay weirdo. Close minded people annoy the shit out of me, and there is nothing more closed-minded than emphatically stating what you DO and DO NOT read. If you are reading books which interest you, then you are on the right path. If you are reading books for the approval of the Twitterverse, then… I just feel bad for you.

My advice is this: If you want to read different types of authors, then do it. Just don’t do it to exclusion. Rotate what you read, and pretty soon it will become a habit. If you feel your reading list has gotten a little too, vanilla, then shake things up by picking a book by an author you’ve never heard of before, maybe an author from another country. It works! I promise!


I was eleven years old when the television show Moonlighting, aired on ABC. Murder She Wrote was the hot detective show at the time, and Jessica Fletcher was TV’s leading lady detective. Nothing against the incomparable Angela Lansbury and the endless parade of relatives and/or murder victims that plagued her everywhere she went, but the young me wasn’t having it. The many deaths in Cabot Cove, Maine were not my cup of Kool-Aid. Sure there was Spencer for Hire or Mike Hammer, but those were pretty much the same show, and there are only so many rugged detectives that the world can handle at one time.

MOONLIGHTINGEnter David Addison and Maddie Hayes. Two good looking people that had onscreen chemistry like no other. The premise was this: A bankrupt model partners with a sarcastic PI to save a failing Detective Agency. It starred Cybill Shepherd as the former model (no stretch there) and an unknown actor named Bruce Willis as the foil to her straight man. The show was funny and exciting and full of something I had had never felt before – sexual tension. From episode one I was on board, full steam. And it had everything to do with Bruce Willis. Everything. He was everything.

It started slowly, quietly. Every Tuesday I religiously recorded Moonlighting on my superior to VHS in every way except for selection at the video store, Betamax, and watched them repeatedly. I watched them until I had all of David Addison’s quips memorized. I watched them so often I could tell you at which point in a chase scene you could see Cybill Shepherd was wearing sneakers. I actually practiced smirking in the mirror. I had never really seen sarcasm before and Bruce Willis was a master of it. And I learned at the feet of The Master.

Soon I was redecorating my bedroom, taking down pictures of Bono and Kirk Cameron, and replacing them with pictures of Bruce Willis. I even moved my Magnum PI poster to the inside of my closet door (sorry Tom). I cut out any picture – no matter how large or small –  and put it on my bedroom wall. I spent countless hours looking for articles about Moonlighting in hopes of finding new pictures of Bruce Willis. It was a gradual decline, but looking back it was definitely obsession.

Moonlighting was on for five seasons. Within that time I amassed a collection of pictures. I lost count at 350. This is what obsession looks like.

When I traveled, I took a picture of Bruce Willis with me. In a frame. (see below)

I wore black for a month when he married Demi Moore, but after Rumor was born I eased up a bit.

Me w/ my Bruce picture at Camp.

Me w/ my Bruce picture at Camp.

I started a fan club which consisted of me and my friend Audra. We were President and Vice President. We said an oath, promising to forever love him (I still do, Audra!) We wrote songs about him. Well, not “wrote” exactly. We took existing songs and changed the lyrics. My favorite was the Genesis classic Invisible Touch changed to “Invisible Look” on account of his smirk. The main goal was contact with Bruce. We wrote letters and made phone calls. We were pretty tenacious in a time before internet and cell phones. The most we ever got back was a signed picture from his agent.

I own The Return of Bruno on LP.

I drank Segram’s Golden Wine Coolers because of Bruce Willis. It’s wet and it’s dry… my my my my! 

I was at a Bon Jovi concert in Los Angeles and they brought Bruce Willis on stage to join. I grabbed binoculars and I swear, he looked at me. HE LOOKED AT ME.

I went to see every one of his movies on opening day up to, and including Color of Night. After that I was a little more lax about it.

I saw Blind Date three times in the theater and bought the soundtrack.

I still cry when I think about meeting him.

bruce-2These days the word “Obsessed” gets tossed around more than a deflated football at a Pats game. We are obsessed with ourselves (‘MERICA!) with cupcakes, with BEING obsessed with something… anything! with Twitter, and for some reason with Taylor Swift. The word “Obsess” means “(to) preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually, intrusively, and to a troubling extent.” The key part there being, “to a troubling extent.” Do you really think about cupcakes all day? Do you tweet about them every twenty minutes? Do you eat only cupcakes? Then you probably are not obsessed with cupcakes and you should stop saying that you are. Do you wear Taylor Swift T-shirts every day? Do you have posters of her in your room… and you are not a fifteen year old? Do you write fan fiction about her and think secretly to yourself that it might come true? Do you get angry when people criticize her for any reason? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are, by definition obsessed with Taylor Swift. The rest of you? Just because you like something more than anyone else seems to doesn’t mean you are obsessed with it. And why would you want to be? Obsession is ugly and weird and for people who don’t have better things to do.

Take it from me. I should know.

(i love you bruce)

Books: Falling in Love with Anna

stephen-chappell-anna-karenina-v3-640Sorry I’ve been away for a while, but it really isn’t my fault. You see, I read Anna Karenina for the first time last month, and I have yet to recover from it. It took me just twenty-three days to finish.

I like big books… and I cannot lie, but the novel was imposing 976 pages and I devoured it. I became obsessed. Every spare second was devoted to Anna. My co-workers marveled at my dedication to the book, and more likely than not, grew tired of me talking about it ad nausem. I can’t recall the last time I felt this way about a book… perhaps never. When I had finished the novel I couldn’t pick up another book. It felt disloyal.  The world around me was lifeless and dull. Anna Karenina wrecked me in the best possible way, the way you wish all books would wreck you. Life outside of Anna Karenina didn’t interest me. I took notes as I read the novel, and I began writing my own novel. Weeks later and I am still reeling from Anna Karenina. I almost picked it up and began it again. No kidding.

I can’t explain why. It was the right book at the right time, and my reaction to the novel was a complete surprise. I wanted to tackle Tolstoy this year, but I never imagined one book would have such an effect on me. I had built up the book as a monster, a beast  that would be too difficult for me to read. But it wasn’t. The language wasn’t challenging in the least, and the story and writing style is very straight forward. The only real challenge was keeping track of the characters, because they all have the same names. (That’s Eastern Europe for ya.) Tolstoy writes about the human experience – jealousy, lust, pity, fear, pain, love, hay, ambition, lust, success, power, lust and hay. (Tolstoy really, really likes hay.) At any rate, it’s a love story. Kind of. It’s not a love story in the sense of a Romance. It’s more realistic than that. In Anna Karenina love is seen as a fate, or judgement, or curse. Love is not something you aspire to, it is something that happens to you and you have to deal with it. Love isn’t always nice or fun. Hell, it usually isn’t. And the themes of love and marriage and parenting and adultery are still very much alive and kicking today.

 If I could marry a book, it would be Anna Karenina. It has been hailed as “The Greatest Novel Ever Written”, and while I don’t generally deal in superlatives, I can say unequivocally that Anna Karenina is the best book I have ever read. I found in Anna the literary heroine I had been looking for my whole life. She is enticing, fierce, passionate, smart and beautiful. When Tolstoy describes her – through any characters eyes – Anna is a beautiful creature who is trapped by her choices and circumstances. Anna is need. She needs passion. She needs Vronsky. She needs her son. And ultimately she needs release. I adored her.