By Dennis Abrams
The lights are coming down. The tree has been dragged out to the curb. The tinsel has been vacuumed out of the carpet. Another holiday season has come and gone, and with it, a new year is here. It’s time for resolution and reflection. In other words, it’s time to put away the genre fiction and read something with a little more, substance. You could take on Proust – and if you’re interested in getting started, may we direct you to The Cork-lined Room, our group-read of Remembrance of Things Past which took place last year.
But January is a perfect time to get started on something a bit more wintry, a bit more… Russian.
It’s time, in other words, for Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Need convincing: E.M. Forester wrote that “No English novelist has explored man’s soul as deeply as Dostoevsky.”
We’ll start the year with Crime and Punishment, where we’ll we explore the soul of Raskolnikov, who believes that he has a moral right to commit crimes in the name of humanity.
We’ll follow this with Demons, which biographer and critic Joseph Frank calls “still the best ever written about a revolutionary conspiracy.”
In The Idiot, we explore the struggle between “goodness” and “the world.”
Finally, to round out the project, we’ll dive into Dostoevsky’s masterpiece – The Brothers Karamazov, where the master struggles with the question that has long haunted man: “How can a God of love have created a world in which evil exists?”
Indeed, there is much to learn from the man who spent so many long, dark nights contemplating the human condition. But, it should be noted, several months of reading Dosteovsky is not like being sentenced to hard labor in a gulag. There are genuine pleasures to be had as well.
Perhaps of most importance, reading Dostoevsky will likely make you appreciate those novelists who followed after him.
Ernest Hemingway said of him that “he is the man more than any other who has created modern prose, and intensified it to its present-day pitch. It was his explosive power which shattered the Victorian novel with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces; books which were without imagination or violence.”
Virginia Woolf, noted, “The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled around, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Outside of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.”
“Project D” – as we’ve dubbed our on-going group read of Dostoevsky is launching today – check out the site, sign up, stash a bottle of vodka in the freezer, and by the end of the week, have your copy of Crime and Punishment.
We look forward to sharing the experience with you.