The Brothers Karamazov: A Superfluous Read-along
Brothers and sisters, are you ready?
Announcing the sixth Reading in Bed summer read-along, and the first one since 2018, when we went Full Monte. In the years before that, we read about whales, tales, the ton, and Napoleon. This year we turn to The Brothers Karamazov, which as far as I know, doesn’t include any of these elements, but with over 900 pages in my edition, it certainly could.
I call this a “superfluous” read-along for a few reasons:
- As in the trope: The “superfluous man” is a common trope in Russian literature that I’ve wrote about before. It’s basically a Byronic hero, and was popularised in Russia by Dostoyevsky’s arch-enemy Turgenev. In a story of four brothers, I’m guessing at least one of them is a little superfluous.
- As in too much: There were so many Dostoyevsky read-alongs and events in 2021, because it was his bicentenary, that running one now does feel a little superfluous; but if you were also too busy doom-scrolling, now is the time!
- As in unnecessary: Several bloggers have expressed ambivalence about reading Russian literature while Russia is invading Ukraine, notably the late Jenny Colvin of Reading Envy (see episode 243), but like her, I’ve come to the conclusion that reading about something is probably a pretty neutral endeavor.
In other words, this read-along is already a day late, a dollar short, and possibly in poor taste. And yet it somehow feels like just the right time to read The Brothers Karamazov.
I’ve been reading through Dostoyevsky’s catalogue for about the last ten years. I started with The Idiot, which I found rather challenging (let’s blame baby brain, for some reason I chose to read this when Henry was about four months old), then moved on to some shorter works (my favourite is still Notes From the Underground), then Crime and Punishment and Demons in recent years. If The Brothers Karamazov is a culmination of these major and minor works, it should include lots of religious and philosophical questions, family drama, political intrigue, and, of course, murder.
I will attempt to post according to this schedule, broken down here into even smaller chunks for those who like to track their progress (I borrowed heavily from Rincey Reads to make this daily tracker):
- August 1: Start reading
- August 8: Books 1-3
- August 15: Books 4-6
- August 22: Books 7-9
- August 29: Books 10-12
- September 5: Epilogue and wrap up
This amounts to an average of about 36 pages per day, if you start reading August 1, though I encourage you to start early!
I chose the Penguin Classics edition, translated by David McDuff. I’d like to say I have strong evidence that this is the best translation, but really, I’d like it to match all my other Penguin Dostoyevskys! I will also purchase the bicentennial edition ebook, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, because paper + ebook is my only hope with this aggressive schedule, and I like to compare different translations. I generally find P&V a little obscure in their wording choices but pretty easy once you’re used to it. I’ve heard mixed things about the Oxford World Classics edition, translated by Ignat Avsey, supposedly more readable but not overly faithful to the Russian.
Let’s get ready
Pick your edition, clear your schedule, and participate as much or as little as you like; as host, I will put weekly posts up and hope to chat with you in the comment section. You can post your own reflections on whatever platform you like. Twitter hashtags don’t usually take off for these things but let’s go with #TheBrothersK22.
Between now and August 1 I will share some resources and past read-alongs for inspiration, while clearing the decks to prepare for my favourite kind of summer reading: big, translated, and on the 1,001 Books list.
I have been waiting for the announcement! I read Karamazov Brothers when I was 15 and look forward to revisiting it. I had a tough time finding a copy without going online, but found a second hand copy from Modern Library, translated by Constance Garnett.
Awesome! Do you remember much about it? I’ve never read a Garnett translation, she was the OG!
Interesting! This is definitely on my next Classics Club reading list but can I start as quickly as August, hmm, I’m a very slow reader. I think I’ll give it a shot and just accept that I’m going to be behind most of the time, it’s a great way of reading a heafty tome thank you!