The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part I: Like sands through the hourglass…

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Part One of The Brothers Karamazov could be called an infodump. Our narrator, after telling us who the hero of the story is (bit presumptuous), introduces us to the Karamazov patriarch Fyodor Pavlovich and each of his three sons in turn. We learn about Fyodor’s wives and how each son was brought up, and where they are today. But Dostoyevsky somehow brings us to the first crucial set piece of the book – the meeting with Father Zosima at the monastery – seamlessly. And from there, we are off, with outbursts and hot takes and accusations and of course, a love triangle (or two).

One of my favourite things in the world is to start reading a big, canonical, serious classic only to realize it’s about a love triangle. Dmitri isn’t our hero (apparently) but he is the central point in two rivalries: between him and his father, over “scandalous woman” Grushenka, and between him and his brother Ivan, over “good girl” Katerina Ivanovna. This is approaching Days of Our Lives-level shenanigans (recall Brady Black and his father John Black both being with Kristin, and later Brady and his *grandfather* Victor fighting over Nicole…)

Me trying to keep track of all these love triangles
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Nine links that will help you finish The Brothers Karamazov

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Today’s the day: start reading!

If you’re on the fence, or intimidated, take heart. I’ve read Dostoyevsky’s other major works (and a few minor ones), and relatively speaking, at least in Part I, The Brothers Karamazov has a manageable number of characters, is very plot driven, and is pretty light on philosophical debates. I expect that to change at some point, but so far, it’s not too hard to follow. As you’ll see, Part I is actually very juicy! I can’t wait to talk about it next week.

That said, there are a ton of online resources to help you get started. If you’ve found some others, please drop them in the comments.

Character lists

If you use one online resource, make it a character list, especially if you aren’t familiar with Russian nicknames and naming conventions!

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The Brothers Karamazov: Problematics’ Fav

When you find out Stalin had good taste in books and made hilarious annotations

Blurbs on classic novels are kind of, well, superfluous. While the contemporary blurb is rightly suspect, we understand why it’s there. But on a classic, what are we trying to do? Convince readers to give a struggling author like Dostoyevsky a try? A blurb from Sigmund Freud of all people on my Penguin Classics copy of The Brothers Karamazov confused me, but it also made me wonder if Dostoyevsky has any other famous stans, and hoo boy does he. But you can see why some of them didn’t get asked for a blurb. In order of problematic-ness:

  • Jonathan Franzen (not problematic despite his reputation). This actually makes a ton of sense if you’ve read Crossroads, which, like the Brothers K, is all about religion and lust and sensuality and guilt. Like Dostoyevsky, Franzen is planning at least one sequel; let’s hope that unlike Dostoyevsky, he’ll live to write them.
  • Nicolas Cage (beloved with a few problematic tendencies). An inspiration for this read-along, in fact. It’s too bad that Nic is too old to play Mitya now!
  • Hillary Clinton (??) This was just so random to me, and kept coming up in my search queries.
  • Jordan Peterson (problematic and annoying). Content warning: Jordan Peterson, talking about The Brothers Karamazov, does eventually get to an interesting point about beliefs versus action.
  • Stalin (problematic and evil). Apparently a lifelong book lover and prodigious annotator, but yeah, problematic doesn’t really cover it…

I couldn’t find the source, but I remember reading that Putin’s a fan too, so there’s that.

I’m not too concerned though. The Brothers Karamazov has been widely read since it was published 140 years ago, so it’s not that a lot of problematic people like it, it’s that a lot of people, period, like it, some of whom happen to be cringe, annoying and/or evil.

That said, I will need to come to terms with the fact that two of my personal all time favs appear on Peterson’s list of great books (Wuthering Heights and The Stone Angel).

The Brothers Karamazov: Choose your fighter

I’ve started reading ahead for my August read-along (I encourage you to do the same!) and immediately, the contrasting of the three brothers – one “sensual”, one “intellectual”, and one “spiritual” – puts me in mind of modern pop culture properties that encourage you to identify with one character above all others. From the babysitters club (I’m a Mary Ann) to Sex and the City (a Miranda), women in particular are encouraged to “pick a team” or “choose a fighter”. I’m intrigued by how this will play out with our Brothers K, especially with the narrator not-so-subtly telling us that Alyosha, the spiritual one, is the hero.

I’m more used to Dostoyevsky novels having one main character whose main characteristic is being depressed

But before you can choose a brother, you have to choose an edition to read. I touched on this in the announcement post, but now that I’m reading alternately from three editions, I can provide a little more guidance, especially the one I was sleeping on:

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The Brothers Karamazov: A Superfluous Read-along

Brothers and sisters, are you ready?

Getting through summer 2022

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.

Schedule

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):

This amounts to an average of about 36 pages per day, if you start reading August 1, though I encourage you to start early!

Editions

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.

Whither the blogroll?

I added a blogroll to Reading in Bed. I thought this would be a quick tweak, but apparently WordPress removed the blogroll “widget” nearly a decade ago. Despite that, I see blogrolls in the sidebar of book blogs fairly often. They aren’t dead. But they have waned, likely for the same reason that blogs themselves have – the ascension of big social media platforms. Who needs a quickly-outdated list of recommended blogs when Twitter can take a pretty good guess at what else I want to see, and suggest a passel of related accounts every time I hit the follow button?

The fact that they do still exist, and that the ones I quickly surveyed appear to be up to date, suggests that there must be something relevant about a blogroll, something that social media, or newer WordPress widgets like “recently liked”, can’t quite replace. As I filled in my blogroll, I went down a blogroll rabbit hole, as it were…

Who coined the blogroll

One of the only “official” looking sources of info about who may have coined “blogroll” comes from a 2004 book called “Who Let the Blogs Out” by Biz Stone, who names Jason DeFillippo, and points to a website that no longer has anything to do with blogrolls. Stone and DeFillippo have both since shuttered their blogs and moved on to newer media (Stone co-founded Twitter, DeFillippo produces podcasts).

This is painfully early aughts

There’s a bit of a historical record around the time that WordPress removed its built-in blogroll feature, notably this post from (also defunct) Lorelle on WordPress that gets into the controversy and ends up recommending, perhaps reasonably, that if you want to recommend another blog, you just write a post about it.

Why blogroll now, in the year of our Lord 2022

Posting about your favs is a valid suggestion, but posts and pages get buried. Unless you are very dedicated to posting links to other blogs (e.g. Pickle Me This “Gleanings“), blogrolls still seem to best serve bloggers (build community, signal where you fit in the “blogosphere”) and visitors (find more blogs to follow with ease) alike.

I decided to add a blogroll for an even more self-serving reason: I wanted an easy way to check in on my favourite blogs. I use the WordPress reader, and have email notifications turned on for some blogs, but I only really sit down to read and comment every week or two. I get quickly overwhelmed by how many posts I’ve missed. There are only so many tabs I can open! I want a limited list of homepage links, so I can take a quick look at new posts from the past few weeks. I also prefer to actually “visit” blogs, rather than view them in the reader or in an email, which strips away all the formatting and menus.

Blogrolls: you can too

If you want to add your own, you have to add a “menu,” title it “blogroll,” and use a widget to place it on your homepage, a process much better explained by wpbeginner. It’s easy enough, just a little clunky, as you must type in each blog’s title (and double-check format and capitalization), manually toggle it to open in a new window, and manually alphabetize the list at the end.

So far, I have 26 blogs listed. These are the blogs I want to have handy for weekend perusing, the ones I comment on most, most of which I’ve followed for many years. I started using it to catch up on blogs today, and I love it.

If you need some blogroll inspiration, check out Ye Olde Blogroll, a sort of blogroll without the blog, with around 200 links across many categories, including books. It’s delightfully old school but well maintained.

And if you’re looking for some new book blogs to follow, look to your lower right (or scroll waaaaay down if you’re on mobile). Assuming you aren’t reading this in WP Reader or an email digest or something. Work with me!

Reading Roundup: Winter/Spring 2022

Woman Reading in a Forest, Gyula Benczúr, 1875

Inspired by this existential blogging crisis and wrap up by Volatile Rune.

I knew it’d been a few years since I did any kind of wrap up or roundup, outside of a year-end post. I did not think it’d been since 2013! I’m going to try to follow my old format and see what happens, and cover the last few months.

Book events

Few and far between recently, but I am signed up for a event for The Books of Jacob next week, hosted by Portland State University, which will include translator Jennifer Croft and other luminaries. I have 836 pages to go (the pages are numbered in reverse, so I can say that with confidence), and I’m loving it so far.

Blog events

I am not as tuned in as I was nine years ago, but there are a few things happening:

Books read

Some highlights. Someone recently asked me what kind of books I like, and the first thing that came to mind was “weird Japanese short fiction”:

  • Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori. I read these with my sister, and the sharp turn from quirky to unsettling, both within each story and between the two books, was a lot to take! She’s got a short story collection coming out in July, I wonder if I can convince Cait to go for the trifecta…
  • Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, tr. Sam Bett and David Boyd. I normally don’t like it when an author inserts long philosophical meanderings, masquerading as dialog… (remembers that I like Dostoyevsky)… okay maybe I do like it.

I hate to call stories set in the late 20th century “historical fiction” but these sure evoke the era:

  • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (70s). Great fun while you’re reading, but on a moment’s reflection, full of cliches and plot holes.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt (80s). I liked it, but was expecting something more? It really reads like a debut, which, fair enough! I may have been spoiled by accidentally reading an erotic fanfic first.
  • Larry’s Party by Carol Shields. A trip through the 70s, 80s, and 90s with an every-man who’s very into mazes and metaphors.

I absolutely needed to read short stories in between the interminable Gargantua and Pantagruel:

  • Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor. For me, a big improvement on the super-hyped Real Life, it felt more assured.
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro, you know how I feel about that one.
  • Homesickness by Colin Barrett. Like Taylor, I think Barrett made a leap forward in his style, and he was already a genius-level writer so… yeah.

Books I want to read and a pre-announcement if you made it this far

I keep a “TBR not owned” list in my books spreadsheet (I have long quit Goodreads) and have added 14 books so far this year, most recently Bad Dreams by Tess Hadley, based on this review.

But the book I’m really thinking about right now is The Brothers Karamazov. I think it’s time, and may resurrect the Reading in Bed Summer Read-along to do it. I’ve read seven Dostoyevsky novels over the years, loved them all, and this is the only of his major works I haven’t read. And it checks all the read-along boxes (on the 1,001 Books list, near one thousand pages, seems wildly inappropriate for summer reading). Feel free to express your interest below and watch this space!

You can read an Alice Munro story anytime you want

This post is just to say that you can read an Alice Munro story anytime you want. Even right now! A few possibilities:

  • The New Yorker: Do you have free articles left at The New Yorker? Use one. Do you have a subscription? Even better, binge away – there are 61 stories dating back to 1977. Are you at your limit for free articles? I’m sure you know ways around that. For instance, I found out that you can borrow issues in Libby. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a guide to some of her stories available online.
  • The library: Your library system probably has many Munro books, available right now, for free. Sixty-five in Edmonton, some with immediate ebook and audio access. There are, in addition to the major collections: book club kits, translations (in Chinese, Korean, Polish, French, and Spanish), early works, biographies, books for which Munro wrote a foreword, and books for which she acted as editor.
  • The bookstore: Dozens of Munro books are in stock at my local chain bookstore, and while she’s not on hand at Glass, I know they’d order her in. If you order a newer edition, be aware that Penguin Canada has, for some reason, updated the cover art on a few of her books recently. I think they look kind of gross.
  • Other: You could, of course, start a paid ebook or audiobook at any time. And you’d be hard pressed to find a used bookstore in Canada without a few of her books kicking around. Even outside Canada, I’ll bet you have pretty good access to a recent-ish Nobel winner.

That was a long preamble just to say that you could read a Munro story at any time. I’ve been thinking about this since reading her 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage. I was feeling sappy about such a profound and entertaining reading experience, partly because I could have read it anytime in the past twenty years, but I put off till now. So I just want you to know, you don’t have to wait.

I don’t say this in a “life is short, read good books” kind of a way (though you probably should). Or in a “read her stories to develop empathy” kind of way (though if anyone’s writing can help with this, it’s hers). And definitely not in a “put your phone down and read for *self care*” kind of way (though again… perhaps…)

But more in a, “isn’t it amazing that you can?” kind of way. In a moment, on a whim, for free, you can be reading a story by arguably the world’s greatest living writer.

The closest approximation of the feeling I’m trying to convey is probably this iconic meme from Da Sharezone. I’m not saying you have to, but I think it’s important to know that you can. You can leave! Or you can read Munro.

friend ships….court ships… etc

Let’s also have a moment of appreciation for an author who did, indeed, “hit da bricks” (she hasn’t published much, if anything, since her Nobel win in 2013) rather than limp on, gathering up awards and distributing hot takes. I don’t know what Munro would post on Twitter, and given the proclivities of some of her contemporaries, I don’t want to know.

How to read the 2022 International Booker Prize longlist in Canada

In what has become a biennial tradition (see 2018, 2020), I present to you my guide to the International Booker Prize for Canadians. The fact that this is necessary is a good thing, as it means this prize continues to spotlight small publishers. Small publishers don’t always have international distribution, but, where there’s a will, and a spreadsheet, there’s a way.

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My Top Five Irish… Canadian Authors!

It’s week one of Reading Ireland Week and… okay look. I need a quick and easy, list-style prompt to get me back in the game. I haven’t posted all year. Nor have I read any Irish books (though that will change soon). Week one of Cathy’s long-running event prompts us to rank our top five Irish “novels, writers, films, musicians, plays, poems, albums” and so on, and I am ready to take it in just a slightly different direction…

While I love me some Tóibín, Joyce, and Keyes (Marian, that is), much of my Irish reading is actually Irish-Canadian reading. Here are my top five Irish-Canadian authors:

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