I finally finished "Anna Karenina" so now I will shut up about it. After this post.
This is a perfect example of a book I'm so glad I wasn't forced to read in high school or college. In all likelihood I would have speed-read it, kept turning the pages when I was distracted, totally missed all the subtle humor and some major plot twists, resorted to Cliff's Notes and finally concluded that I hated it. None of this happened when I read it at my own pace (although that did take me all summer).
As much as the storylines, I loved the book's social commentary. Politics, religion, family life, love and sex and (in)fidelity, business management principles, personal morality, keeping up with the Joneses ... it was all there. The thing that struck me over and over as I read was how human nature just doesn't change.
No doubt, it's worth reading, at least once. But if you want to give it a shot, I suggest borrowing my copy, not the library's. No renewal policy could have seen me all the way through AK.
Finally, it's a very quotable book. Here are a few that particularly rang true or made me stop and think:
"To Levin, as to any unbeliever who respects the beliefs of others, it was very irksome to attend and take part in all the church services. ... To be obliged to lie or commit sacrilege -- he felt incapable of doing either the one or the other." (He was required to confess and take communion before being married.)
"'It is a pleasure to work with his excellency,' the architect replied. ... 'It's not like having to do with local authorities. A matter they would use reams of paper writing about, I merely report to the count, we talk it over and in three words we settle the whole business.'
"'American fashion!' said Sviazhsky, with a smile.
"'Yes, there they build in a rational manner ...'" (Ironic.)
"[Karenin] saw nothing impossible and incongruous in the notion that death, though existing for unbelievers, did not exist for him, and that being in possession of the most perfect faith -- of the measure of which he was himself the judge -- his soul was free from sin, and he was already experiencing complete salvation here on earth.
"It is true that the shallowness and error of this conception of his faith were dimly felt by Karenin ... But for [him] it was a necessity to think thus: it was so essential to him in his humiliation to have some elevated standpoint, however imaginary, from which, looked down upon by all, he could look down on others, that he clung to this delusion of salvation as if it were the real thing."
"Vronsky, meanwhile, notwithstanding the complete fulfilment of what he had so long desired, was not entirely happy. He soon began to feel that the realization of his desires brought him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of bliss he had expected. It showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that happiness consists in the realization of their desires. ...
"Involuntarily he began to clutch at every fleeting caprice, mistaking it for a need and a purpose. Sixteen hours of the day must be filled somehow ... As a hungry animal seizes upon everything it can get hold of in the hope that it may be food, so Vronsky quite unconsciously clutched first at politics, then at new books, then pictures."
"[Vronsky] was away all day and when he returned late at night the maid told him that Anna had a headache and asked him not to go in to her. ...
"In the evening when she retired to her room, having left word for him that she had a headache, she said to herself, 'If he comes in spite of the maid's message, it means that he loves me still. If he doesn't, it means that all is over, and then I shall have to decide what to do ...'
"In the evening she ... heard his steps and his voice talking to the maid. He had taken the maid's word, did not care to find out more, and went to his room. So all was over!" (This led to her jumping in front of a train to get back at him. Classic crazy-woman logic.)