Reading Resolutions 2009: Ryan Call

(Ryan Call is af requent contributor to The Quarterly Conversation. He most recently reviewed boring boring boring boring boring boring boring by Zach Plague.)

See all of TQC’s Reading Resolutions here.

Usually my reading list is determined by what projects I’m currently working on: fiction, reviews, course planning, and so on. In the past, I’ve tried to have several kinds of books going at once: a classic, a contemporary, and a book of nonfiction. Now, for example, I’m slowly reading Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler (forthcoming Featherproof Books), and The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather. Weather has worked its way into my writing recently, so those sorts of books have been helpful to look at, to get a sense for how others write about weather, how weather feels on the page, the nature of it.

But this coming year, I’m going to add a fourth category, as there’s a possibility that I’ll be going on a family vacation to Russia this summer. I haven’t read much Russian literature at all, aside from Anna Karenina, Notes from Underground, and the stories of Chekhov and Gogol, so I think now more than ever is a good time to introduce myself to some of the Russian greats.

Below is my perhaps too ambitious list; whether or not I follow it depends on how well my next semester moves along. And I realize that these selections are in no way new or surprising to a well-read audience of TQC readers, so I welcome any suggestions you might have.

Eugene Onegin by Aleksander Pushkin
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
St. Petersburg by Andrei Biely
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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Good list. In particular I love Doctor Zhivago (and plan to re-read it this year) and Dead Souls. When you get to War and Peace, I suggest you read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. In fact that goes for Crime and Punishment too. I’d also suggest adding a few more:
* Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov
* Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman
* Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn
* Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin
Enjoy your trip to Russia, and your exploration of Russian literature.

An impressive list, to be sure. I might skip War and Peace, and read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” instead, or read both depending on how much time you have.
I’d also try and cram “The Brothers Karamazov” in there, as it is well worth the effort.
Oh, and “A Hero of our Time” by Lermontov is pretty great too. Happy reading, and enjoy your trip!

There are some great ones on that list, including a couple of my absolute favorites, like Cosmicomics and Crime and Punishment (second the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation; I wore out the Everyman’s Library copy, carrying it around on the subway and feeling moody, like I should be wearing a shabby Russian coat all the while.) I also second adding The Master and Margarita to the list, and while Biely is very worth a peek, you might find it a bit of a slog to get through St. Petersburg. I found it more interesting to read Nabokov’s thoughts on Biely than to read his work itself. Maybe throw A Hero of Our Time in instead.

Great list. I read seven of the Russian novels in one class, Russian Literature in Translation, that I took 38 years ago — with a prof who’d been a Cold War CIA agent stationed in the USSR, really right-wing at a time when we were all radicals, but one of the best courses I ever took. Two years later, I took Dostoevsky in Translation and we read about a dozen books.
I’d also recommend “Oblomov” and “A Hero of Our Time,” though.

hey thanks everyone for the suggestions. ive since deviated a little from the list: i read the idiot, am in the middle of brothers karamazov, and will read oblomov next. its been very dostoevsky heavy, which is great, but i hope to expand soon.

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