Friday, July 23, 2010

Murder, He Wrote

While in Beijing, I hit a goldmine of books. As far as my list is concerned, I'll be nearly set thanks to the Wangfujing Bookstore. On the third flour I perused row upon row of English import paperbacks. The classic lit novels, which is mostly what I'm in the market for, were 20RMB ($3) or less a pop. “Treasure Island,” “Little Women,” “Emma”--they were all there. Normally these types of books don't interest me enough to inspire a purchase, but since beginning my 50 book task I am thinking about things different. I actually felt excited buying Fyodor Dostoyevsky's “Crime and Punishment” (although I did balance the purchase with a little light reading by picking up a bilingual copy of Suess's “Fox in Socks”).

“Crime and Punishment” is one of those books people think about reading but almost never do. I was wondering if anyone I know has read it. Have you? It make Newsweek's list of books people want to read (right up there with Tolstoy's “War and Peace”). After finishing up Emily Bronte's “Wuthering Heights,” I decided to take the plunge instead of delaying the inevitable. I don't want to leave the longest and seemingly most difficult books for last. I'm also trying to work myself up to “War and Peace,” which will end up being the longest book I've ever read (at nearly 1500 pages. Gulp.). I thought 500 page “C&P” would be a good warmer upper. I have to admit, that half in, I'm pleasantly surprised. “Crime and Punishment” ranks up there among best novels ever written for a reason. It is not the verbose snoozer I anticipated it to be, probably because it successfully puts the reader into the mind of a murderer, the story's protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov. I have found that being in the mind of the murderer is more interesting and not quite as unsettling as being in the mind of a child molester (I must also thank “Lolita” for this revelation). The frightening thing is, I can easily follow and even anticipate much of RR's thought process. But I would like to cite the Hollywood film industry for this ability and not credit it to any personal deep-seated homicidal tendencies. Just to clear that up. . . .

While I am enjoying this novel, it is one of those I wish I had read for a course in college. It is heavy with symbolism and allegory, much of which I'm sure I'm missing. I know very little about Russia, particularly 19th century Russia where this story is set. I am fairly clueless about Russian writers and their writing, though I'm learning. It's hard to put a book like this into context and fully appreciate it without knowing more about it's background and being able to discuss and analyze its contents. Being where I am, in smallish and (currently) foreigner devoid Chengde, I have no choice but to go it alone and share my findings with you, bookish blog reader.

Signing off here with a final question: What tops your list of “Should Read but Haven't Yet” books?

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