Anna Karenina. An author’s mind.

It took me 3-4 months to finish reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. (It feels somewhat formal to say Leo Tolstoy than just Tolstoy).

I have always felt that Russian authors write the deepest into a human mind. Human mind at its natural best, and worst. Human mind as how we humans most times do not want to accept it. Tolstoy surpassed all my existing opinion of Russian authors. In this single book, (oh yes but its a huuuuge book),  he has explored every single human emotion, every single weakness a person can develop and the minutest character detail the God above has conjured up for humans.

There are various authors who delve that deep into human beings. Invariably in most of their books, you tend to know at the end of the book the distinct characteristics of the author himself (/herself) and the strong preferences and advocacies of the author. After going through the lives of the multiple central characters in Anna Karenina, I found it difficult to frame an opinion on Tolstoy. It was difficult, atleast for me, to imagine what Tolstoy was like. So deep does he go into the minds of so many numerous characters that its hard to tell. This is my striking takeaway from the book. Tolstoy’s brilliance lies in here. I am pretty certain he could not have identified, at the level he goes to in the narration, with each of these personalities that make up his book. The characters are all so intricately thought about and written about in Anna Karenina. They are all extremely real. Very real are their wants, their outlooks and just about everything about them.

Tolstoy probably borrowed a little from every person he ever met and then some bit of himself.  It may have been a tad bit intimidating to be a friend of Tolstoy’s then, don’t you think? That is, if he ever let it slip that he is using this interaction with you for decorating his creativity. To think that every emotion or every word you express or say is being weighed and is being used to judge mankind and to build a fictional character that will form part of literary history.  At the same time, I wonder if a person such as Tolstoy who has proved to be able to go into the deepest corners of a human mind, himself may not be a bit of it all. A multi-dimensional personality and I don’t mean that in a good way. One cannot write so true to reality unless one experienced it as one’s reality. If you were a mere observer and grasped the intricacies, is it possible to shed the experiences without being affected? If you were an observer and an unaffected one at that, can you translate it into a piece of literary masterpiece? I think not. I wonder if there are some great books written on Tolstoy himself. Its one of those books that made me think about the author as much as his characters.

A red letter affair

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Yet another bookstore that hooks you. Red letter books in Boulder. The collection is impressive and the condition is great. Dont expect the storekeeper to help you find any book because organisation is their forte only to the extent that most books are organised section wise but they may not have a good track of which particular book maybe kept where. But that is the point where it attracts someone with my sensibilities. You may find books stacked on the ground too. The entire setting is a charm. Simple store where the only thought that has gone into the decorator’s mind is to surround you with enough books to make you want to live there. Now in a book store what would you want to see more than books? They sell second hand books which to me adds more character and depth to the books (The books are in exceptional condition). It is as though every book has a story to tell apart from the one the words within narrate.

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Walking past the aisles staring at the books with a longing. And then a book tugs at your heart. You pull it out to read few passages. Then another book tugs at your heart too. And then another. Finally I literally sat on the ground (yes the store does not have stools for you to sit on while you choose your books but trust me you wont complain) and read through my shortlisted books and chose one. 

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Sitting on the ground to read my book redefined my connection with the book store. I felt at home. A sense of liberation every book lover or book writer yearns for. The same sense of good preclusion a great book takes you into. I hardly looked around me. I sat right there on the floor letting my intuition reach out to my hands to pick the pages to read from and to pick some more books to choose from.

Red Letter book store has history. Someone who frequented the store 10 years ago took me there. Its been there for much longer than that. It makes you wish someone would pay you for reading books and that too read it while you are IN the shop. Sitting on the floor. 

Sometimes when you walk past an aisle, you feel the urge to instantly experience all the worlds that all the books on that aisle have hidden within its pages. Impatience to “feel” the contents of the books will rise. Till you find that one book which calls out to you TODAY. It works this way for me.

Today, I chose Ramayana by R.K.Narayanan. (Also, my next buy from Red Letter has been chosen)

Atonement by Ian McEwan

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A book hooks me or fails to hook me in the first ten pages. Atonement failed me miserably here. I attempted to read the book thrice in a span of 3 years and its only the third time that I managed to go past the first few chapters, allow myself to take in the book patiently and complete it.
 
The book does not stir your emotions untill almost 40% is completed. Way too many words and reader’s (atleast readers with my taste) time is wasted in the first 40% of the book excessively narrating the landscape and other sundry matters. Words spent on workings of Briony Talli’s mind also may appear to be wasteful when you are still in this first 40% portion of the book. However, as the subsequent events unfold you realise the importance of gaining an insight into this character’s mind. Infact the subsequent chapters do not pointedly explain the young Briony’s thought process and subsequent wailings. With the help of the seemingly extended narrative in the first chapters, the reader automatically understands the deepest corners of this character’s mind. You are left undecided on whether she remains a victim of her youth throughout the period discussed in the book or if you expect her maturity to have surfaced at some critical point to undo the damages of her acts performed in veiled innocence and under good intentions.
 
The remaining 60% of the book is emotionally gripping. It forces you to look at the eposide that can alternate as being the protagonist of the novel from three perspectives.
 
Briony Tallis – At what point of time do we expect a child to be mature and understand the wrongful implications of an act committed with no bad intention? Is it fair to expect a child to recognise the need to and gather courage, intelligence and strength to turn back on legally provided statements in order to relieve a childhood friend of legal punishment and social embarassment that lasts a lifetime? Is her true and abundant love for her sister a justifiable shield for her act that alienates someone she genuinely believed to be a wrong doer?
 
Robbie Turner – In the first 40% of the story, he is never shown to be the quintessential romantic novel hero whom a teenage reader falls in love with and holds as a benchmark in all her romantic indulgences in her life. He is never dealt with in such a manner till the end of the book. However, when the book focusses on him in the second part (the book is divided into three parts), you develop a strong emotion towards him. I dont use the word “liking” because there is nothing in that part which makes you distinctly “like” him. You sympathise with him – his wasted youth for no fault of his, his distance from the woman he loves and uncertainity surrounding his reunion with his lover in the backdrop of the war. You do tend to admire the strength of his mind through the journey from war torn France to England. You may expect someone who has had a bad run with luck to be dejected and hopeless. But you identify the source of his strength – he has a woman to go back home to. This is where you begin to recognise the “romance” in the novel. Many of us may recognise the strength the faraway love brings to his existence. Sometimes just a thought, however uncertain it maybe, works as a miracle drug. Sometimes the hopes and dreams for a future life with your lover, however distant, is just the rejuvenating therapy one needs. We have all experienced it. The second part of the book reiterates it beautifully. What I found to be most profound in McEwan’s writing is that he is never explicit about the emotions in his characters that he wants to convey. His narrative is so strong that a reader “understands” all that and more.
 
Cecilia Turner – For most part of the book, she is angry, let down and generally down cast. Circumstances force her to alienate herself from the family. Circumstances here imply love. Newly “realised” love. When it hits her, she realises that the emotions have had their foundation in her heart through early association with Robbie. Feelings never came to the surface of her heart, her life. Secretly built emotions in the deepest corners of her heart. When it surfaced, it hit her hard, it swept her away like a long lost friend. It made her turn her back against her family. All in a matter of a day of coming face to face with her new love. All this makes one see the power of love. No one can define it, no one can set its boundaries. Immensely strong girl. Once again, love and hopes that come with it is her source of strength.

Tattered Book Cover…Love affair with a book store

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I went into the Tattered Book Cover, a lovely book store in Downtown Denver. I have been here before but did not spend too much time in there during the first visit. Today i did what I love to do in a book store.

Keep the mind open. Empty the mind of any expectations or thoughts. Let the books around you call out to me. The book calls out to me. Sometimes few books call out to me. Then dutybound, I spend sometime reading few pages (randomly picked) from each of these books. I close the books and I know (my mind tells me) which book to pick. Its always the right choice. Another book buying habit of mine is that I never buy more than one book at a time. It somehow beats my loyalty to a book if I buy more than one. Having a single book to shower my attention on lets me drown myself in it more deeply. 

The classics section lured me today. I had two russian novels set in 1800s and Romeo and Juliet with me. See when books call out to you, they usually also carry the same undertone. Today’s was classics. 

Tattered Book Cover is a delight for any book reader. More so for a lover of book shopping like me. I enjoy the process of picking a book as much as reading a great book. Its an indulgent experience for me and always been very fulfilling. Tattered Book Cover is a huge book store (two floors) with a vintage feel to it. Its a massive space which gives ample privacy and space for each section of books. Each section is almost like a small enclosure cordoned off from the rest. Many inviting old world seating is made available throughout the book store. Most common are those huge leather chairs which you associate with old rich English households. There is also a huge spread out table with chairs around it. Here you can meet other people and chat while you browse through your selections. There is a lovely cafe inside the books store as well. My favourite sight from today’s visit was that of this old man sitting by himself in a small balcony sort of extension built inside the store (refer the first picture, above the stairs). He picked the cozy spot with a drink in his hands and was seen reading his newspapers. Speaks peace.

Such book stores make you want to read all day long. It makes you want to believe that the only reality in the world are the stories it tells through its books. It stimulates your mind. Today, I read passages from heavy duty emotional fiction to a Tibetan book on death to few translated poems by two chinese authors which has great pose, love for the nature and a hidden message about life, to Romeo and Juliet. Your mind wanders for few minutes into the many worlds that the books lure you into. Then you make the choice. You cannot explain the choice, you just pick. 

I picked Nokolai Gogol’s Dead Souls.