I didn’t study much literature in school, so I only heard people say these names in a tone which conveyed a sense of intimidation and necessary distance, it was clear these books were not for the faint of heart.
Generally, we were offered alternatives: perhaps something newer, shorter? An excerpt?
To be fair, I’m not sure I would have appreciated anything else at that time. I was much more interested in horsing around than in paying attention to my teachers. It was very unfortunate.
When I got to university, I needed distractions. I was disoriented, stressed-out, frankly, miserable. I turned to quiet places and books. I became an expert on quiet places. I tried new kinds of books.
One was this one:
This very copy. I expected to hate it. I expected to not be able to understand it, and certainly never to finish it. I had the urge to try, though. I needed something different.
It wasn’t hard to understand! It was absorbing, and funny, and it felt like listening to a clever friend.
It was the first time I chose a well-known work of literature for myself, and, rather than being heavy and dull, it was completely accessible and opened the door to a new world. It gave me the confidence to try more.
I haven’t read Austen in a while, I’m not sure if I would still enjoy her books, but they will always be important to me because they welcomed me so warmly.
Tolstoy. The books have great storytelling and images, though they’re more about people, their deep insides. I get the impression of profound stillness from Tolstoy. The writing is beautiful, and even more beautiful in the original language, I’m told by a Russian friend who, when she talks about him, sounds like she’s in love.
A bonus point is that, due to a generous impulse on the part of the author, everyone in Russia is included in the longer novels. I’m teasing, but, yes, there are many characters. Don’t be put off, there are cheat sheets in the front of the books, and it’s easy enough to bookmark them to consult as needed.
Proust. Just this one, here, because I have more reading to do. It was another book I thought I might not be able to understand or finish.
What I love about Proust, other than vibes, is the way he talks about the complicated nature of emotions, people, relationships, scenarios, as integral. It is like this, it must be like this, and he describes it perfectly . There is tension inherent always, but also exquisite beauty. He helps you understand.
So, three authors who are important for good reason, and who are special to me.