Updated: Apr 15, 2019
There are excellent reasons to read Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Anna Karenina. (I weep with reasons. They are many and varied and I feel them all sincerely.) This is not that blog post. Instead, I offer you ten terrible reasons you need Anna Karenina in your life, eating your leftover orange chicken at midnight, and playing her music too loud. SPOILERS abound:
Kitty gets super fussy about her earrings bugging her when she is delivering a baby for a whole day. (Girlfriend didn’t have any pain relief. Girlfriend is allowed to be fussy.) Soon she’s screaming about her imminent death and it gets very Samuel-Jackson-Snakes-on-a-Plane. You do not want to miss that.
Levin’s Un-sexy Scything
Much hay (a thousand pardons) has been made in aid of sexy scything but, though Tolstoy denies us Poldark’s shirtless yard care, I will not.
Still, Levin shows that he’s capable of rolling up his sleeves and working with the peasants which bodes well, both for Kitty’s future landscaping needs and the upcoming Communist revolution in the next forty-odd years. And if that’s not sexy, I don’t know what is.
The Mind of a Dog
Have you ever wanted to read a bird hunt from the perspective of a dog? Sure you do. Maybe you’ve flipped through all 750 pages of this behemoth and can’t believe you’re actually taking a tangent into the mind of a dog. But you are. You can’t believe Tolstoy did this to you. But he did, that trickster. Back to the 750 pages. Now you’re reading Russian farming theory. He got you again!
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Stiva?
Anna’s brother is a big Russian bear with excellent taste and I would kill to have dinner with him. He is never bored (except with his wife and his children), is enormously generous (except with his wife and his children), and fulfills every duty of a gentleman (except with his wife and his children). I couldn’t decide if he was Daisy Buchanan (Oops! Did I break that?), or Incorrigible Kurt von Trapp (Can’t grow up. Won’t grow up).
Failure to Launch
Levin’s brother Sergi. I know that guy. He’s the guy who’s been working on his dissertation for a decade, enjoys reddit an unusual amount and has a long-term girlfriend who, he insists, goes to another school.
There’s this moment in the woods when he almost, but not quite, proposes to Verenka and it makes me want to invent a time machine to fictional worlds, bash him over the head with the mushroom basket and tell him to drag that willing woman behind a tree and kiss her senseless. A good snog with an actual girl would have SORTED him.
Dilettantes on Parade
Talking about failing to launch...Maybe my favorite thing about Vronsky and Anna’s great love (gagging myself with an actual spoon) is how earth-bound it is. Vronsky is a middling painter. Anna tutors an English girl in physics and Vronsky thinks it’s silly. They spend an insane amount of money at their rural estate entertaining their egos but can’t scrounge up enough feed for their guests’ horses. These pedestrian details are like ankle weights when one wishes to prancercise.
Moral: And if one requires Hollywood lighting to have A Great Love™, one does not actually have a great love.
You get a spa! And You get a spa!
Feeling blue? You get to go to a spa. Wasting away from want of love? You get to go to a spa. Abandoned by your mother? You definitely get to go to a spa!
As Calgon taught us decades later, there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved with a warm soak.
Anna’s suicide ideation amounts to, “He’ll miss me when I’m gone. I’ll show him.” Like Ralphie in the classic A Christmas Story, she’s going to get her Red Ryder BB Gun (Vronsky. Sure the metaphor is solid.) or die trying.
Conquering the Names
Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (Kitty), Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (Stiva), Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Dolly), Sergei Alexeich Karenin (Seryozha), Nikolai Dmitrich Levin, Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev, Agafya Mikhailovna, Elizaveta Fyodorovna Tverskaya (Betsy)...
If Dick and Jane books are at sea level, Anna Karenina is Everest. Think of how those people who climb actual Everest never have to shut up about it. It's too awesome. You, too, can be that awesome.
And my favorite, most terrible, reason for reading Anna Karenina is...
Vronsky’s Bald Spot: The Drinking Game
Every mention of Count Vronsky’s ever-growing bald spot earns you a drink of your choice.
Bonus drinks for a nagging toothache.
I love Anna Karenina more than Chick-fil-A cheese sauce and, to quote the late, great Whitney Houston, that's the greatest love of all. Even when he had me tour a Russian hospital (He got me again!) Tolstoy had me in the palm of his hand. Seeing if you can resist his siren song might be the best worst reason to read it that ever was.