The war may be over, but I’m still cold

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, pictured in 1871.

Image via Wikipedia

So, it’s about time to get this virtual party started which means I have to pick the first book.  I’ve chosen Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (or Dostoevsky, depending upon what resources you use), and I’ll tell you why.

 I am a member of Generation X and a child of the Cold War.  We (meaning the good guys, the Western World, and more specifically, Americans) had a defined nemesis:  Communism and the Soviet Union.  I was taught to think of it as a classic conflict between good and evil, and I saw it over and over again on the news, in books, in movies, and in history classes.  And unlike today, we knew who they were, where they lived, and what they wanted to do, which was mainly blow us up with a nuclear bomb.  Granted, it was a very simplistic view, but I was young and we had a movie star for a president, so what do you want?

 There was a pervasive dread that infused everything in my school years.  I’m sure it was at least as dramatic in the preceding years with the East versus West conflicts that played out in Korea and Vietnam.  When I think about it, though, I wasn’t consciously aware of the undercurrent of fear that colored my every day.  It was like I lived in the fog.  We all did.  It was normal and we didn’t know anything else, until some point in my college career when the fog lifted . . . the Berlin Wall fell, all of Eastern Europe came out from behind the Iron Curtain, and the big, bad Soviet Empire crumbled and became just Russia.  Someone took away from me a burden I didn’t even know I carried.

 And very quickly after that we bombed Iraq, but that’s another story.

 The point is that even though the United States is all buddy, buddy with Russia now (though I’ve definitely got my doubts about Putin), you don’t just shake off twenty years of fear, wondering when the bomb is going to drop and the world is going to be annihilated.  There’s something in me that is still a little scared.

 As is my habit, I USUALLY like to face the most unpleasant item on a list of tasks first.  When presented with a plate of food, I used to eat the vegetables first, just to get it over with.  (At this point, though, I’m a big fan of broccoli, spinach, asparagus and a number of other veggies I once considered disgusting.)  Then I can really enjoy the dessert, knowing that it’s the taste that will linger.  So I’m going to read the scary Russian writer first because I have it in my head that it’s going to be difficult and unpleasant, even though everyone says it’s good for me.  I mean, really, look at that picture.

 Wish me luck!

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Hello world!

Books

Ahhh, the classics

I decided, in a moment of shame and disgust combined with dash of insanity, that I wanted to read the 100 greatest books ever written.  There are four primary reasons that I decided to embark on this project and document it in a blog.

1.  I am an avid reader.  Almost always have been.  When I was very young, my mother used to complain to my father that I was staying up til all hours of the night reading . . . and the books weren’t even ones I was supposed to be reading for school.  (Oh, the horror!)  My father said simply, “At least she’s reading.”  That must have been comfort enough in a family of intellectual snobs, because I was left alone to choose my own reading materials as long as I got through the assigned stuff too.  Jump ahead about 30 years.  So this particular summer of 2010, I had just finished getting my MBA during which time I was almost entirely unable to read for pleasure.  My graduation present to myself was a trip to Barnes & Noble to purchase books that I WANTED to read.  Fastforward a bit more to August.  My extended family was enjoying the annual family reunion/bachanal at the beach where I am lucky enough to live all year.  It is no exaggeration to say that in the two weeks we stayed in that beach house, we did not turn on the television once.  Everybody, including my four teenage nieces, preferred reading to watching the boob tube.  I had run out of my own books to read and started borrowing from my extremely bookish family.  I picked one up by a well-known and successful author who focuses his fiction on the lawyer-genre.  I got about one chapter into it, and I put the book down wondering to myself, “Why am I reading this?  It’s trash!  It’s like I’m only reading it to have something to read.  There are so many amazing books out there that I have never read.  Why am I wasting my time with this?”  So, I shamed myself into making a list of wonderful books that need to be read.

2.  I am a classically trained (thanks, Dad) and highly accomplished procrastinator.  I can make this list of novels and have the best of intentions, but end up watching reruns of “Two and a Half Men”.  However, I am also extremely motivated by guilt and shame.  Proceeding on this journey on an open blog, although I can’t imagine who’s going to read it, raises the very real possibility of failing to complete my self-assigned task in a humiliatingly public way.  I am anticipating that my fear of public failure will outweigh my desire to procrastinate.  It’s nice that I recognize such admirable qualities in myself, don’t you think?

3.  I am a writer . . . or at least, I aspire to be.  It’s always tricky to make this assertion as everybody starts to critique anything you put on a page, so let’s just nip that one in the bud right now.  I don’t need stylistic and grammatical critiques on my blog.  I only say this as further explanation of the project.  I’m not going to be trying out excerpts of my novel on you.  I am really only hoping that by reading truly great works of literary art, I can recognize little bits and pieces of what makes them great.  In doing so, I’m also hoping that greatness transfers to me by proximity.  I know that’s not the way it works, really, but a girl can hope.

4.  And the fourth reason, is that I aspire to be a writer.  So I guess it’s really reason #3(b) rather than #4.  I have this amazing ability to NOT write, even though I desperately want to do so.  It’s uncanny.  It’s already taken me 2 days to put the first word on this blog.  Instead, I procrastinated by picking the theme and learning about tools & widgets & whatnot.  I am always preparing to write, but so rarely actually write.  This is the reason for the blog part of the equation.  If I can get in the habit of creative writing on a regular basis . . . writing anything! . . . I believe it will bring me that much closer to writing the great American novel.  Or at least a moderately successful piece of trash that one might read during those summer days on the beach.

And don’t kid yourself . . . I finished reading that trashy lawyer novel first.