Don’t Wanna Be A 19th Century Russian Idiot

The Idiot is #861 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

First things first. I know that I never post regularly, but this time I have an excuse. An adorable excuse!

Baby Henry

Henry Keith Frey, born February 15th 2012.

With my first son, I didn’t read one word (other than baby books, which, yuck, that’s a whole other post) from about eight months pregnant to six months post partum. I also suffered from a severe case of mom brain. I used to think the whole baby brain/mom brain concept was sexist, but having experienced it, I can say that it’s true – pregnancy and child birth makes you dumber. That’s why I was so determined to reach 100 books, and to make #100 a doozy, before baby #2. I was afraid that this time, it would be worse. I might never read from the list again. I might have to start reading chick lit. Or The Hunger Games. Or 50 Shades of Grey. *shudder*

After triumphing over The Magic Mountain, I put the list aside, and ended up reading some great books (Half Blood Blues, Slammerkin, The Lover’s Dictionary) and some so-so books (The Virgin Cure, The Happiness Hypothesis, Juliet Naked, The Help). (Psst: Hover over titles for mini-reviews.) All this while in the end stages of pregnancy or with a very demanding newborn. And all thanks to TECHNOLOGY!

Henry and The Idiot

Not a great shot, but I will not risk him waking up to take another. That’s “The Idiot” on my Kobo. Trust me.

And I don’t even like my Kobo. The buttons are clunky, it’s slow to load, it’s a base model with no wireless and no touchscreen, and the free books don’t work. It doesn’t have the look and feel and smell of a real book. It makes Jonathan Frazen cranky. BUT I CAN READ WITH ONE HAND. And that has made all the difference in the world.

FYI, if you use Spark Notes, be prepared for spoilers. Yes, it’s still a spoiler even if it was written 150 years ago!

There is NO WAY I would be reading a heavy, thick book like Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot in traditional form. The only time I get “to myself” is while nursing (if you classify having another human being attached to you as time to yourself) and now I can read!

Until I started The Idiot, I was pretty smug about the mom brain thing – not this time, reading will keep my mind sharp. But the Russian names and complex plotting and character development are throwing me a bit. I’m having a hard time keeping the characters and their motivations straight. So now, I’ve got my Kobo in one hand, and SparkNotes on my phone so I can refer to the character list and read plot summaries. I’m not proud that I need this much help, but, I’m working on the list… on very limited sleep… and feeling pretty good about it.

I need to finish before I can fully comment, but, I’m finding similar themes as in The Magic Mountain – a naive young man meets and unconventional woman; corruption through drinking and disease; you know, light stuff. But more important that the ins and outs of this book – I won’t be an “idiot” on this maternity leave. I’m excited to get through even more great books in between Curious George and Little Critter’s adventures.

“A fool with a heart and no sense is just as unhappy as a fool with sense and no heart.”



  1. Kiri

    I remember needing to create my own character list when I read “Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” in high school – I don’t think you should blame mommy brain, I think you should blame Russians.

  2. Kiri

    I remember needing to create my own character list when I read “Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” in high school. I don’t think you should blame mommy-brain, I think you should blame the Russians.

    • lauratfrey

      Darn Russians! I hate that they all nave nicknames, and their nicknames do not resemble their real names. And what does almost everyone have a first name that starts with A?!

      • Russo Phile

        uh they do resemble their proper names. For instance Alexei becomes alyosha.. with Al the same and yosha the diminuative.

      • lauratfrey

        It’s the ones that don’t start with the same letter that throw me off. “Kolya” for Nikolai, for example. I understand how they get there, the “kol” is the same, but my brain isn’t used to these names so it’s tough!

  3. Miranda

    I have apparently read The Idiot and it is on the list of 100 and the larger list too. I had it on my bookshelf and thought it was unread until I looked through it and saw the entire thing highlighted with quotes. I will do a review of it when we get to it on the list of 100 but until then good on you for reading it with a newborn! I too have a base model kobo and am highly irritated due to the lack of highlighting function. In terms of the older books on the list though it has saved me a fortune so I can’t hate it too much!

    • lauratfrey

      Huh, I looked it up on the Novel 100 and it wasn`t there. Or I`m just not seeing it.

      My free books never worked… I went through customer service and everything, reset, etc. and just gave up! But I think the edition of The Idiot I got is a better translation anyway 🙂

  4. Jen McLeod

    hmm…I loved Juliet Naked – but I heart Nick Hornby so I may have a bias…D-sky is a little too ambitious for my mommy brain right now, I can’t even be bothered to spell it out… (!) PS Henry is a cutie pie. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Infinite Jest broke my Kobo. And my brain. | Reading in Bed
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  7. Nicholas

    Heey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with myy myspace group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.

    Please let mee know. Manny thanks

  8. Pingback: The Brothers Karamazov: A Superfluous Read-along | Reading in Bed

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