Book talk

Anna Karenina

‘I shall get angry with Ivan the coachman in the same way, shall dispute in the same way, shall inopportunely express my thoughts; there will still be a wall between my soul’s holy of holies and other people; even my wife I shall blame for my own fears and shall repent it. My reason will still not understand why I pray, but I shall pray, and my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, is every moment of it no longer meaningless as it was before but has an unquestionable meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it.’

I decided going into ankle surgery and a period of disability that I would attempt to read what is considered one of the greatest works of fiction of all time, Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. How would I know if it is the greatest? I cannot know any such thing, as I have not read enough of the classics. I should have more periods of disability, as a friend of ours in Bozeman, a wonderfully serene man and a Jewish physician, not only read Don Quixote, but when we knew him, was rereading it. There is something there. We have a copy upstairs, and I am tempted to give it a go.

The quotation above is from page 771, the last page of the English translation of the book. I am tempted, as I once subscribed to National Review when William F. Buckley ran it, to try to form a sentence from the opening and closing sentences of works of literature, to see if the author embedded deep meaning. The opening sentence of this book is “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It does not work for me.

That opening quote above is from the character Constantine Dmitrich Levin, or just Levin as he is referred to throughout the book. He is an overthinker, and accepts nothing at face, be it agriculture, the peasantry, religious faith, or romantic love. We are allowed to read his thoughts as he wrestles with life and its many challenges. He starts out a committed bachelor, as his favored love, Princess Kitty (Catherine Alexandrovna – dealing with Russian names is quite a task in this book so the translator often shortened them to Western equivalencies), has fallen for Vronsky, and Levin sees no alternative but to settle in and live his life alone.

Levin and Kitty are very much aware of one another, and Vronsky, a very shallow man at first, has fallen in love with Anna Karenina. They have an affair, and Anna gets pregnant. Unforutnately, Anna is married to Karenin, and she foolishly upbraids him, as she does not love him. It appears to have been an arranged marriage. She leaves him and she and Vronsky live together without benefit of marriage, and throughout the course of the book there is the trail of being exorcised from proper society, and learning to live with it. One of the major characters, Oblonsky, married to Princess Dolly, is openly consorting with other women, as Dolly has become matronly and unattractive to him. He faces no consequences.

Levin and Kitty fall in love and get married, while Vronsky and Anna cohabit. Throughout the book, various individuals appeal to Karenin to grant Anna a divorce, and he considers it but eventually refuses it. Anna gives birth to Vronsky’s child, and that child legally belongs to Karenin. This is the central feature of the book, a treatment of the state of womanhood in Russia in the nineteenth century. They have some privileges, but no rights. Most are content with this but Anna, having fallen truly in love with Vronsky and being truly appalled by Karenin, is not.

We follow Anna down a path, and I was so surprised and saddened when she committed suicide. She was convinced in her mind that Vronsky was having affairs with other women (as far as I could tell, he remained faithful to her), and that she could not be with her son by Karenin or her daughter by Vronsky. Hers was a downward spiral that ended with her throwing herself under a train, instant death. Vronsky returns their daughter to Karenin and goes off to war (the ‘slavic question’), and it is understood he will die there.

Levin and Kitty do not live happily every after, as in a fairy tale, but move on to real love without the deep infatuation that brought them together.

The book was published in serial form between 1875 and 1877, so we can see that the question of women’s rights was at issue even then. It has been made into a 2012 movie starring Keira Knightly and Jude Law, directed by Joe Wright. I intend to watch it, as I am curious how a massive novel like this is reduced to a two hour screenplay by Tom Stoppard. A movie can never do justice to a book like this, but at the same time should hit the high points, and leave us with the same sense of loss that the book brings.

Breaking Point

Breaking Point is a Joe Pickett Novel by C.J. Box. Like all of his Pickett stuff, the book is full of plot weaving and tension and lots of violence. I know, in going from Anna Karenina to Breaking Point, I am going from serious and sublime to trashy and predictable, as Joe Pickett always survives even as he is surrounded by evil characters. But I have a reason.

One of the essential features of this book is a massive forest fire in the Bighorn Mountains of north central Wyoming. Pickett and company are forced to run from the fire, and survive by going into a deep canyon known as “Savage Run,” as far as I can tell, fictional, a literary device. But that’s how stories are told, inventing both characters and places, but using real names of real places now and then. Pickett’s home town of Saddlestring does not exist, but the Bighorns do.

I bring this up because in the book a real event in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado is used as a plot device, that of massive pine beetle kill in the forests of those states. When we moved to Colorado in 2009, we were led to Highway 285 and the surrounding countryside, as this area was one of the few places not affected by beetle kill.

In the book, the beetle kill is presented as an immense danger, as it seems only logical that dry and dead timber will easily burn, especially when the needles are brown and dry. I wanted to give Mr. Box a dope slap, as nothing could be further from the truth. Once the initial kill is done, the needles drop, and we are left with dead trees, which are as important to an ecosystem as live ones, and less likely to burn. I will not say that beetle-killed forests are immune from fire, only that they are less susceptible than live forests that are dried out by drought.

In 1988 I witnessed the Yellowstone fires that burned over two million acres of our National Park. I was devastated. The reason for the fires was drought, and the live trees, devoid of moisture (as low as 2% moisture content in many areas) presented a massive threat to the area. Once started, the fires could not be put out, as there was simply too much fuel to burn. That fuel was not the wood of the trees, but rather the green and dry pine needles. We witnessed the tragedy (though perfectly natural) of “crowning” where a tree literally explodes, as its needles give off a gas that is combustible. Couple that with wind, and you have two millions acres of dead trees.

Yellowstone, 34 years later, is robust and healthy. The bulk of the fires consisted of Lodgepole Pine, a species that exists to burn. In fact, its pine cones are sealed by resin, and when heated in a fire, the resin melts and the seeds are released. If you have chance to drive from, say, West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, you will be greeted by what was known before the fires as the Lodgepole Jail, an ares so thick with growth that we cannot see but a few feet off the highway. Such forests are not convivial with wildlife – moose and elk cannot maneuver their antlers in them, and birds are not present in great numbers or numbers of species. Some day all that area will burn again, the difference now that it will be blamed on climate change.

I ran across a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, well, only “attributed” to him, but even so, if he did not say it, he should have.

This links us directly to so many hoaxes, the LOOT, or lies of our times. Climate Change is one of those gigantic lies, comparable in depth and breadth to Covid.

I urge all readers, if you want to know more about our forests and the natural phenomenon called beetle kill, to read the testimony of author and photographer George Wuerthner, which influenced me years ago to accept forest fires and beetles as a healthy aspect of our forests’ livelihood. The link here is to his testimony before a joint committee of Congress in June of 2009. In it he shoots down every myth perpetuated by politicians and the timber industry regarding fires, beetles, salvage logging, and “forest health,” a phrase used by the timber industry to attack healthy forests.

Alive and Killing

This last book is of little note, but I have a reason for offering up some words on it. It is written by Jeff Carson, and his major character is David Wolf. It is set in Colorado, in a made-up county called Sluice, where Wolf is sheriff.

Books like this, as with Box and his Joe Pickett, cannot exist with without some really  nasty charterers to challenge the hero, who will always survive, as he has to live on to be featured in future books. I counted 16 at the Carson site. Wolf is ex-military, in fact, an Army Ranger and possessed of great strength and exceptional skills.

So be it, that is popular fiction. The reason I am critical of Carson’s work is that just like Michael Connelly and his Bosch detective series, he treats the fake events of our times as real without question. In this work Carson has bad guys living in a cave in Afghanistan that was once occupied by … Osama bin Laden. Out went my willing suspicion of disbelief. It ruined the book for me.

During the 911 hoax, news media featured the above underground facility as bin Laden’s hideaway. It does not exist, and never existed. It is the product of a CIA graphic artist, used to cement in public opinion the idea that Osama bin Laden 1) existed, 2) was incredibly wealthy and resourceful, and 3) presented a danger to us.

None of that is true, and when I run across reference to those lies in dime novels, which I otherwise enjoy, I do as Dorothy Parker (or someone) suggested, not set it aside lightly, but toss it with great force.

I don’t know why writers never question official truth, but assume they are not so stupid as to believe in the LOOT, but smart enough to know that if they do not, they will not be published.

13 thoughts on “Book talk

  1. I imagine that a successful writer (meaning that its product generates Big Bux for the publishing house) such as Box, has a staff – an editor being one of the members. Big Bux probably means some big controllers are in play. I noted this before: Stephen King has completely sold out to propaganda – awful – I wanted to throw the book in the garbage, but it was from the library. Absent Controllers (unlikely, I think), the Editor, or team, would need to be informed well enough (on expansive truth) to tell the writer of the product: “Fix this, it’s inaccurate.” So, being diligent, the author must then verify the Editor correcting – because he is just so sure in his delusions (and it’s his work, his name). Is Box going to take time out of his formula to do such, or just run with the Editor’s word? King has not. Perhaps they are being paid to lie, rather than simply accepting the commands from above. King is being paid to lie AND he is a believer in many things government. Box may be sliding by as a lightweight fictional storyteller. I have noted inaccuracies in his weaponry. He supports law enforcement… his bad guys are usually international or Good Ol Boy politicians – harmless, and supportive of all things ‘mercun.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For fuck’s sake, you actually have good taste in books.

    I Never. Would. Have. Thought.


    As a coda, I have never subscribed to the unhappy family theorem: I have the BEST family ever. Not everyone is happy in the family, but the family as a whole is. Literally everyone in my family is fascinating and an effortless individual and kind.

    However. As an addendum to the coda: One cliche’ I do subscribe to? “If you don’t know who the Black Sheep in the family is….”.

    Although I don’t know why. Nobody in my family is a black sheep.


    1. I’ve got a book here recommended by a commenter, in line to read with my dime novels. It is called The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The WaY They Do, by Judith Rich Harris, 1998 and updated in 2009. I am certainly in need of education in that department, as my dad was just a little man, insignificant. I know he could get drunk and angry but beating up little boys? That was my brother Tommy’s thing … nine years older than me and free with his fists. Always more and better perspectives to grasp.


  3. As a young boy I was quite excited learning how to read. My parent’s library contained the book, “War & Peace,” which I promptly crayoned the inside cover. When I was 16, my dad’s war buddy, an Armenian catholic neurosurgeon, challenged me to read it. At the time, embroiled in the nightly news body counts of the Viet Nam fiasco, the book remained in its place; last row, bottom right. When my parents passed, my non-reader brother absconded with it, using it as decoration in his “book case.” To me the book was a lesson in titles–in context, they play sentry, or siren…


  4. This really isn’t anything new, though. I have enjoyed reading popular fiction from the 19th century, and it is as rife with absurd propaganda as today’s fiction is. Past conventions, cliches and tropes only seem silly to us now because we aren’t under the spell of the absurdities that the leaders back then were successfully selling to the masses. This is what makes old, outdated novels from other time periods fun to read… and it makes the propaganda in current fiction easier to recognize. I suspect it was going on in ancient times–that Euripides and Aristophanes were as corrupt and/or controlled as modern-day novelists and screenwriters are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The bin Laden cave complex seems silly indeed… OTOH, have you seen those underground complexes in Europe said to be from pre-modern times? It’s passed around fb as a meme, I think you can visit them… Though maybe not go entirely through them. Not up to code, you know..


      1. “have you seen those underground complexes in Europe said to be from pre-modern times? ”

        Can you expand on that, please?


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