What an exhilarating book! The characters are rich and the writing is brilliantly witty and beautiful. Oscar Wilde's exploration of the depths of human depravity is genius. There are so many timelessly provocative themes running through this work - the fleetingness of youth, the superficiality of beauty, the power of the ego, the insidious danger of vanity, the importance of accountability and conscience. Lord Henry's aphorisms are as astute as they are irreverent. Be careful what you wish for!
Anna Karenina has been on my must read list for many years. I have been keeping lists – and book lists in particular – since my first summer journal at eight years old. The epic Russian novel appears at the top of many top ten novels lists and has been referred to as “flawless” and “the greatest novel ever written” by two of the most celebrated novelists of our time.
I have owned a copy of Anna Karenina for about ten years. If I have made any attempt at all to read it, I have never gotten much past the first sentence, which is one of the most iconic quotes from the book “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Last Sunday, realizing for the first time that there has been yet another movie remake – this one starring Kiera Knightly and Jude Law – I decided I’d better read the book before “accidentally” catching it on television.
Tolstoy’s world is mid-to-late nineteenth century Imperial Russia. The primary characters live lavish and eminently superficial lifestyles. Their daily existence is a whirlwind of sparkling balls featuring hair-pieced chignons piled high, and decadently luxurious boudoirs where the aristocratic Russian society of Moscow and St. Petersburg affectedly pepper their speech with French. In stark contrast to the elaborate, but constricted life of the city is pastoral Russia. The agrarian countryside has expansive landscapes, rich soil and an unending sky.
Tolstoy’s romantic masterpiece is as vivid as it is relatable. The book captures the imagination with its straightforward and exact language. Tolstoy stops time as he bores into his characters’ every thought, motive, and facial twitch, even as dialogue is being exchanged. It is a romance – admittedly not my favorite genre – but juicy from the get-go with marital infidelity, unrequited love and a tragic love affair.
The novel is sweeping, with at least two dozen named characters whose lives spiral around the two central protagonists – Anna Karenina and Tolstoy’s alter ego, Konstantin Levin. Tolstoy peers not only into the lives of a few rich 19th century Russians, but into the whole of humanity. The novel has stood the test of time because it reminds us that even the most desirable of circumstances may be unbearable, that bumps in the road may still lead to happy endings, that glamor and frivolity are but fleeting joys, and that family and real love are worth crying for, fighting for, striving for, waiting for.
Anna Karenina is a celebration of human frailty and redemption. Tolstoy says its okay to be flawed, its okay to make mistakes, just keep trying. We see that there are infinite possibilities in life, but we indeed choose our own path. Without seeking to reduce a 150-year old, 900-page classic tome to a few epithets, Anna Karenina is a celebration of life – its beauty and its tragedy – and all the meaning there is to be found, if only we will choose to see it.
This is not just another positive thinking book. It presents solid evidence that proves that we are really at our best when we are happy. Not only that, but our happiness has a ripple effect on all those around us. It may sound like common sense, and in truth we know this innately. Unfortunately, some of us corporate executive types forget this as we analyze facts and figures and are constantly focused on increasing sales and doubling productivity. In seven principles and a humorous and often self-deprecating style, the author helps us to look at the level of happiness we allow ourselves to exhibit and presents concrete ways to improve on it. Great job, Shawn Achor. Thanks for showing me that I really do take myself too seriously sometimes!
Published in 1931, "The Good Earth" is the first in "The House of Earth" trilogy. The book was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1932, and its author, Pearl S. Buck went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is the beautifully written story of Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer with a deep and enduring love for his land. The story spans his lifetime from young adulthood until his old age near his death. The setting is rural pre-Revolution China. The language is simple and dispassionate. The characters are flawed but richly presented. The themes are universal, timeless and filled with irony. It is a story of the passions that drive all human beings to achievement and often to tragedy and destruction. The author takes us on an emotional journey of ambition, survival, the attainment of wealth, self-sacrifice, family, the abandonment of traditional values and of lust. The contrast between modern Western culture and the Chinese agrarian culture at that time is striking, and I perceived that the story contained a faint thread of disdain for that society's treatment of women. As a modern woman, this particular quality is not difficult to identify with, but I found it to be slightly unsettling. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but found that while the author presents the characters and customs with affection, she remains firmly an outsider with a voice tainted - almost imperceptibly - common to Western writers who find themselves immersed in an alien culture.
Alexandre Dumas was a genius!
Published in 1846 as a serial novel, the end product has 117 chapters and 1,200 pages, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is truly an epic tale. Translated from the original French, and set primarily in post-Napoleonic France, it tells the story of Edmond Dantes.
We witness Edmond’s transformation from wide-eyed 19-year old sailor, about to become captain of his own ship and marry beautiful Mercedes, the girl of his dreams, to a prisoner, a victim of treachery forgotten in a dungeons of the infamous Chateau d’If, to one of the most enigmatic and multi-layered characters ever written – fabulously wealthy, awesomely powerful and patiently bent on the cleverest, darkest revenge.
Spanning the course of 24 years, this is a saga so rich, so intricate and so enveloping, it makes movies’ attempts to capture masterpieces in the space of a few hours laughable. The reader is mesmerized from the very first chapter. We are sickened by the plots of Edmond’s jealous friends and colleagues plotting his demise. We sense the imminent danger that our guilelessly lovable protagonist is in, but we read on, because we know things will not end well for those who have done wrong as they are steered unknowingly along the inexorable course of fate.
With brilliantly rich characters and surprisingly interconnected events, the masterful plot develops seamlessly and with great eloquence and beauty. Dumas weaves a timelessly brilliant work that captures every facet of human nature and life; it is a story of intrigue, greed and revenge, but also of generosity and determination, self-examination and forgiveness, restoration, redemption and love. A masterpiece.
In 1984 - when my parents were one of the first cable subscribers on a tiny Caribbean island - I had no idea that CNN was a fledgling cable network. I have always known the name of Ted Turner. I guess that it is easy to assume that rich, powerful, outspoken Southern billionaires have always been so. Not quite.
Ted Turner was once a rambunctious, badly-behaved boy who was chucked off to boarding schools at a very tender age, expelled from several schools and repeatedly physically abused by a controlling alcoholic father. Despite his harsh childhood, there is no pity party in the book. Ted tells the story of his troubled childhood with brevity and a matter of fact quality. He continued his career of academic delinquency through military school, where he learned some discipline but eventually dropped out of University, never earning a college degree.
And then come the details of his staggering accomplishments. The trajectory goes like this: troubled child - college dropout - multi-billionaire. He was forced to eat humble pie by joining his father's billboard business, but then went on to win the America's Cup, start a cable net work and eventually CNN, own the Atlanta Braves, become an exceedingly wealthy person and the largest single landowner in the United States. He even gave a billion dollars to the United Nations.
The story is so astounding that, like a work of poor fiction, it is almost unbelievable. He is passionate, outspoken and in many ways a stubborn brat. How did he do it? Vision, belief in his dream and hard work. It makes your head spin, but the failures and frailties are candidly presented too. An important component of the book is the space given to key persons in his life, including ex-wife Jane Fonda and arch-enemies to share their uncensored thoughts on him and experiences they shared. The book is so much richer for it.
I now have both a healthy respect and deep admiration for this extraordinary man - entrepreneur, visionary, humanitarian. Ted Turner is truly a living legend.
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