Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in July. This past month included a fun trip to Boston to visit family, a joyful event (our daughter's wedding), and then the inevitable aftermath: covid.
Book One: A Nice Little Family
Chapter 1: Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place.
This happened back in March of 2010, when the Philadelphia train station still had the kind of information board that clickety-clacked as the various gate assignments rolled up.
You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus?
Tom Langdon was a journalist, a globetrotting one, because it was in his blood to roam widely. Where others saw only instability and fear in life, Tom felt graced by an embracing independence.
It’s hard to imagine modern life without the crossword. The puzzle originated in 1913, and it soon became part of the fabric of daily existence.
The titles and authors revealed:
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear. First published 1879. This translation first published 1990. 815 pages.
I’d like to say something pithy about this book but I can’t because I just had covid. And I read this in the BC period (Before Covid). (I am now on Day 8, feeling much better, thank you, and tested negative.)
I first read The Brothers Karamazov when I was in high school, but not for a class, so I had no guidance to help me through. The main thing I remember is that it was full of over-emotional characters. The main phrase was:
“(some exclamation),” Dmitri cried.
Dmitri was always crying, that is, crying out. I believe it was the Constance Garnet translation. When I read it 40+ years ago, I did not understand it well.
I thought maybe if I read it in a newer translation I might get better insights, so I bought this translation for my kindle in 2019. I started reading it in April 2022. This new translation seems to bring forth the narrator’s voice - it’s got a sardonic tone to it. The text seems to flow well, and the notes are helpful. But it is still full of over-emotional characters.
The B.K. reminded me of Wuthering Heights. It’s about one hugely messed up family who do terrible things to each other, and the characters’ names are fiendishly hard to keep track of. Then add in a whole lot of musings about the Russian church and God and the devil, and you’ve got yourself a fine Russian classic. At least there is Alyosha to give us all hope for humanity.
Fun fact: In the 1958 movie version Alyosha was played by William Shatner. Also starring Yul Brynner as Dmitri and Lee J. Cobb as the depraved father Fyodor.
An example of a Dostoevskian sentence:
And at such moments he was glad that nearby, close at hand, maybe not in the same room but in the cottage, there was such a man, firm, devoted, not at all like himself, not depraved, who, though he saw all this depravity going on and knew all the secrets, still put up with it out of devotion, did not protest, and – above all – did not reproach him or threaten him with anything either in this age or in the age to come; and who would defend him if need be – from whom?
French Braid, by Anne Tyler. Published 2022. 244 pages.
The story begins on the train from Philly to Baltimore, so I loved the book from the start. It’s about a kind of flaky family, with children of such vastly different personalities that it is amazing the family can still be together, although they don’t see much of each other. I read this for book club, and we concluded together that it is not the best Anne Tyler book, but I enjoyed it.
The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke. Published 1895. 28 pages (short story).
Part of my self-assigned “Winter reading in July”. This was a charming tale, quite short.
The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci. Published 2002. 273 pages.
Part of “Winter reading in July”. I enjoyed this book – good characters, plot twists and turns, railroads, and a happy ending.
Thinking Inside The Box by Adrienne Raphel 248 pages. Copyright 2020.
The history and current standing of the crossword puzzle. Many mentions of Will Shortz. The weirdest thing was the description of the crossword puzzle cruise. This was a good book to read while lying in bed with covid.