You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Late at night on November 7, I fell and badly sprained my ankle. It hurt like hell.

By the afternoon of November 8 I was periodically soaking it in a bucket of ice water and taking the hydrocodone my doctor had prescribed.

Sitting with my foot elevated, only mildly bothered by the pain, and feeling generally pretty good, I decided to read Anna Karenina. It was an excellent choice. The hydrocodone lasted only four days and it took me over a week to read the book, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

For the past couple of years I have been reading a lot of science fiction and crime. I've enjoyed most of what I've read. I've been genuinely impressed by much of it, but you know, just a few pages into Tolstoy's novel I remembered it is hard to beat masterpieces of nineteenth literature when it comes to storytelling and characters. Especially the characters.

Characters in science fiction are in service to the author's idea. (I read a lot of Philip K. Dick.) And when most science fiction writers think they a developing fully rounded characters they a just scratching the surface. It could be that since those characters have to act out their stories in imaginary worlds, their interactions with those worlds cannot be as complexly realized as the actions of characters in realistic fiction. Crime novels satisfy my innate, pessimistic worldview, and you get to know some really horrible people, but I don't care what happens to these people. I am only curious to see whether or not they will get their comeuppance, and if the novel is good, I am satisfied either way.

But in Anna Karenina I remembered what it was like to live with characters. When Kitty's pregnancy stretched past nine months, I feared the worst. When Anna was snubbed at the opera, I thought she should have seen it coming. When Levin went out to mow with the farmers, I hoped he wouldn't make a total ass of himself.

Now I have my eye on The Red and the Black. I've already read War and Peace and I think it would take more than a sprained ankle along with stronger drugs to get me settled down forThe Brothers Karamazov. I am also reading a 1970's novel by Ramsey Campbell called The Doll that Ate His Mother. The life of the mind goes on.

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