Every story has already been told. Once you've read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.
I think predictability is built into any good novel in some way - you begin reading Anna Karenina and you know pretty much what's going to happen at the end. But that doesn't mean you know what's going to happen in the middle. For me, it's that sense of what happens in the middle that's important.
[The book, Anna Karenina, is] a mirror held up to the real, grimy, quotidian interactions of married life, of which romance is little more than a passing mood: marriage, that slippery social contract that, if it works at all, depends more on indulgent disconnection than on some kind of sacred accord.
It's Tolstoy, by the way," I say as I open the door. He turns around. "What?" Shut up, I tell myself. Shut up. "The writer of Anna Karenina. Not Trotsky. Trotsky was a revolutionary who was stabbed with a pickax in Mexico in 1940. But I can understand how the T thing could confuse you.
If you think of even Tolstoy or a book like 'Anna Karenina,' you go from character to character, and each section is from the third person perspective of a different character, so you get to see the whole world a little more kaleidoscopically that way. That's traditional narrative manner, and I haven't done a book like that before, but I enjoyed it.
Every story has already been told. Once you've read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had." [Commencement Speech; Mount Holyoke College, May 23, 1999]
As a bookish child in Calcutta, I used to thrill to the adventures of bad girls whose pursuit of happiness swept them outside the bounds of social decency. Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina lived large in my imagination. The naughty girls of Hollywood films flirted and knew how to drive.
One of the world's most tiresome questions is what object one would bring to a desert island,because people always answer "a deck of cards" or "Anna Karenina" when the obvious answer is "a well equipped boat and a crew to sail me off the island and back home where I can play all the card games and read all the Russian novels I want.
One of the world's most tiresome questions is what object one would bring to a desert island, because people always answer "a deck of cards" or "Anna Karenina" when the obvious answer is "a well equipped boat and a crew to sail me off the island and back home where I can play all the card games and read all the Russian novels I want.
Your opening should give the reader a person to focus on. In a short story, this person should turn up almost immediately; he should be integral to the story's main action; he should be an individual, not just a type. In a novel, the main character may take longer to appear: Anna Karenina doesn't show up in her own novel until chapter eighteen.
Maybe it's not, in the end, the virtues of others that so wrenches our hearts as it is the sense of almost unbearably poignant recognition when we see them at their most base, in their sorrow and gluttony and foolishness. You need the virtues, too""some sort of virtues""but we don't care about Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina or Raskolnikov because they're good. We care about them because they're not admirable, because they're us, and because great writers have forgiven them for it.
Throughout my reading life, I've enjoyed many memorable meals-if only fictionally. The oysters at dinner near the beginning of Anna Karenina, the dinner Nana throws for her overflowing guests in Zola's Nana, the walk through Les Halles for breakfast in Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, and nearly every meal in Monique Truong's The Book of Salt.
The costumes help. They make it less real, disguise what it really is both for the actors and for the people who'll see it on the screen. It's like the people who read Anna Karenina, and because it's in Russia they can say, 'Oh, that's not my pain they're talking about.' And Chris is tough. She goes from one thing to the next and doesn't worry about the past. When a cat sits mere purring on your lap, you know for a fact she isn't thinking about her former owner; she's thinking about her dinner. That's Chris.
In a vacuum all photons travel at the same speed. They slow down when travelling through air or water or glass. Photons of different energies are slowed down at different rates. If Tolstoy had known this, would he have recognised the terrible untruth at the beginning of Anna Karenina? 'All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.' In fact it's the other way around. Happiness is a specific. Misery is a generalisation. People usually know exactly why they are happy. They very rarely know why they are miserable.
Yet there was always in me, even when I was very small, the sense that I ought to be somewhere else. And wander I did, although, in my everyday life, I had nowhere to go and no imaginable reason on earth why I should want to leave. The buses took to the interstate without me, the trains sped by. So I wandered the world through books. I went to Victorian England in the pages of 'Middlemarch' and 'A little Princess', and to Saint Petersburg before the fall of the tsar with 'Anna Karenina'. I went to Tara, and Manderley, and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses, with their high ceilings and high drama, as I read 'Gone with the Wind', 'Rebecca' and 'Jane Eyre'.
Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it. And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up "" some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.
Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat. After several days on the river, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off in a borrowed wagon to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow-covered wastes of the Badlands to the railhead at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, the entire 40 miles. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in Roosevelt's eventful life. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say they haven't time to read.
The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in "Lonesome Dove" and had nightmares about slavery in "Beloved" and walked the streets of Dublin in "Ulysses" and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in "A Prayer for Owen Meany." I've been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.
Lots of talk lately about the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL that seems to be exclusively masculine. And how many of the characters in the GENIUS BOOKS are likable? Is Holden Caulfield likable? Is Meursault in The Stranger? Is Henry Miller? Is any character in any of these system novels particularly likable? Aren't they usually loathsome but human, etc., loathsome and neurotic and obsessed? In my memory, all the characters in Jonathan Franzen are total douchebags (I know, I know, I'm not supposed to use that, feminine imagery, whatever, but it is SO satisfying to say and think). How about female characters in the genius books? Was Madame Bovary likable? Was Anna Karenina? Is Daisy Buchanan likable? Is Daisy Miller? Is it the specific way in which supposed readers HATE unlikable female characters (who are too depressed, too crazy, too vain, too self-involved, too bored, too boring), that mirrors the specific way in which people HATE unlikable girls and women for the same qualities? We do not allow, really, the notion of the antiheroine, as penned by women, because we confuse the autobiographical, and we pass judgment on the female author for her terrible self-involved and indulgent life. We do not hate Scott Fitzgerald in 'The Crack-Up' or Georges Bataille in Guilty for being drunken and totally wading in their own pathos, but Jean Rhys is too much of a victim.
76. David Hume - Treatise on Human Nature; Essays Moral and Political; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 77. Jean-Jacques Rousseau - On the Origin of Inequality; On the Political Economy; Emile - or, On Education, The Social Contract 78. Laurence Sterne - Tristram Shandy; A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy 79. Adam Smith - The Theory of Moral Sentiments; The Wealth of Nations 80. Immanuel Kant - Critique of Pure Reason; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace 81. Edward Gibbon - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography 82. James Boswell - Journal; Life of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D. 83. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier - Traite e‰lementaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry) 84. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison - Federalist Papers 85. Jeremy Bentham - Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions 86. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Faust; Poetry and Truth 87. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier - Analytical Theory of Heat 88. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - Phenomenology of Spirit; Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History 89. William Wordsworth - Poems 90. Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Poems; Biographia Literaria 91. Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice; Emma 92. Carl von Clausewitz - On War 93. Stendhal - The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love 94. Lord Byron - Don Juan 95. Arthur Schopenhauer - Studies in Pessimism 96. Michael Faraday - Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity 97. Charles Lyell - Principles of Geology 98. Auguste Comte - The Positive Philosophy 99. Honore de Balzac - Pe¨re Goriot; Eugenie Grandet 100. Ralph Waldo Emerson - Representative Men; Essays; Journal 101. Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter 102. Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America 103. John Stuart Mill - A System of Logic; On Liberty; Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography 104. Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography 105. Charles Dickens - Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Hard Times 106. Claude Bernard - Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine 107. Henry David Thoreau - Civil Disobedience; Walden 108. Karl Marx - Capital; Communist Manifesto 109. George Eliot - Adam Bede; Middlemarch 110. Herman Melville - Moby-Dick; Billy Budd 111. Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov 112. Gustave Flaubert - Madame Bovary; Three Stories 113. Henrik Ibsen - Plays 114. Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales 115. Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Mysterious Stranger 116. William James - The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays in Radical Empiricism 117. Henry James - The American; The Ambassadors 118. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals;The Will to Power 119. Jules Henri Poincare - Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method 120. Sigmund Freud - The Interpretation of Dreams; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis 121. George Bernard Shaw - Plays and Prefaces
Mortimer J. Adler