The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 780 pages.
Re-read from April 28, 2021 to May 25, 2021.
First read December 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010.

I never imagined that I would be rereading this classic novel 10 years down the road, however, reading this novel the second time around and with a book club gave me even more appreciation for the author and the story.

Small crew to discuss this book but the group leader got us some great mugs with which I then proceeded to drink my beer out of.

First published in 1869, the English translation wasn’t available for this book until the early 20th century. The Idiot begins with the protagonist Myshkin arriving back in Russia after a stint at a Swiss sanitorium. Perceived as an ‘idiot’ for both his epilepsy, honesty, kindness, and naivety Myshkin attempts to navigate Russia high society. Surrounded by greed, lust, drama, and power-hungry individuals, it’s no wonder Myshkin is perceived as an idiot by his peers. However, his otherworldly perspective and kindness do not go unnoticed, drawing his attention to two very different women with which, he will falls in love with them both.

The question that seems to be raised by Dostoevsky is that is it possible for someone to be completely authentic, honest, genuine, and kind without bringing ruin to others and specifically themselves? The Idiot appears to hold a mirror up to Russian society in the late 19th century which, as an exceptional realist writer, Dostoevsky pulls off beautifully. The highlights of the book come from Myshkin’s interactions with the female characters and antagonist, it’s where you feel the most invested in the book. The faults with this book are its length and an extensive cast of characters that, due to Russian naming, makes them difficult to keep track of. Each character serves a purpose in showing the faults and varying virtues of Russian society to give a deeper idea of Myshkin and his ideals. The story also makes extensive references to Christianity and Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. The novel itself ends tragically which, is no surprise there as many Russian novels do, especially Dostoevsky’s.

While The Idiot made less of an impact on me than Crime and Punishment it is still a unique piece of Dostoevsky’s work that appears to be more personal than his other writings. While the length of the book is somewhat off-putting it made for an exceptional book club discussion. It may not be a book for your average reader but if you enjoy classics, Russian literature, or historical fiction you will find value in this book.

Circe by Madeline Miller

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 419 pages.
Read from June 15, 2020 to June 17, 2020.

This book was on my library waiting list for such a long time but let me tell you, it was worth the wait. This book popped up on my radar on Goodreads and a few book sites I follow with raving reviews for its unique and accessible approach to some classic characters of Greek mythology. Madeline Miller holds an MA in Classics and teaches high school ages students Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare. A feat, that is is no easy task. I would not call Circe a young adult novel because it’s truly a piece of literature that is accessible to all ages.

Circe is the daughter of the titan, Helios. She is considered unremarkable in comparison to her family as she bares no talents, powers or abilities worthy of her heritage. Always under the watchful and wrathful eye of the gods, Circe finds herself interested in and drawn to mortals, and even falls in love with one. Her love allowed her to do something not even the Gods thought was possible as she turned her lover into a god. Circe soon learns that she is actually a sorceress with remarkable transformative abilities that are capable of feats that make even the gods uncomfortable. After a regretful transformation made out of jealousy, Zeus banishes Circe to a remote island near the mortal realm for eternity. On this island, Circe comes of age, as grows and hones her skill as a witch. She sees the unfairness of her sex and the treatment she endures as a result. She also comes to distance herself further from the gods as she cannot understand the lack of empathy the immortal and powerful gods have towards mortals. During her time on the island, she encounters some of the most famous figures mentioned in Greek mythology.  Unfortunately for Circe, a woman alone, especially one of power with disdain for the gods will not go unnoticed for long.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

Circe is a story of choice, accountability, and empowerment. Circe starts a naive and passive woman who grows and comes into her own. She makes mistakes but owns them and stands for what she believes in against immeasurable odds. Circe’s struggle is relatable and it brings to life classic stories and characters from mythology whose original publications may feel unattainable or unenjoyable for the average reader. Circe also gives a different perspective on these characters as well as interesting interpretations for some of the things that each character did in the original Greek stories.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

The writing is gorgeous and intelligent, showcasing Madeline Miller’s feats as an accomplished academic and storyteller. I’m thrilled that she has published other books meaning I have a chance to enjoy more of her thoughtful writing style and character work. I can 100% say, that this book is absolutely worth all the hype and accolades. If you enjoy historical fiction, mythology, fantasy, classics, or feminism I think you will absolutely devour this book.

Ulysses by James Joyce

“To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher.”

Read from March 21, 2018 – June 22, 2018 and DNF
Read/Listened – Restarted from the beginning on November 6, 2018 and finished Oct 28, 2019.

Ulysses isn’t a book that shouldn’t be reviewed and rated. This is a novel that needs to be absorbed and taken in slowly and then discussed for its insights and absurdity. It is an accomplishment to finish this complex and behemoth of a novel. It’s too much, of well, everything. There is so much to comprehend about this book that would likely take a PhD speciality to truly appreciate. Does that mean this book was entirely enjoyable for its near 1000 pages? Nope. Was it still worth reading? Absolutely.

When I first attempted to read this novel I approached it like any other novel and got a physical copy to read. While enjoyed sections of the book this way I found myself easily distracted from the book and couldn’t stay focused and ended up stopping a quarter of the way in. I was determined to read this novel so I thought I would try an audio accompaniment while also reading it physically. This was a strange step for me as I don’t really do audiobooks but it, however, proved to be key in finishing the novel. Not only did I enjoy more of the book but I also retained more.

On top of that, I also looked up summaries of each section before listening/reading it so that I could have a better understanding of the references, metaphors, and meaning behind some of the most difficult areas of the book. Doing this deepened my appreciation for the writing as well as my enjoyment.

While it took me over a year to finish this novel, I feel that it how it is is meant to be read as there is just too much to take and in and consider if not taken in methodically.

For those that would like to try my approach you can get audio and e-versions of Ulysses completely free from these websites:

  • Librivox – Two different audio versions. I would recommend the second.
  • Gutenberg.org – A variety of PDF and Ebook downloads

Librivox is amazing. The whole book has been read by volunteers from all of over the world and while some sections read better than others, it’s still wonderful that this resource exists and would strongly recommend that you check them out for other great recordings if you like audiobooks.

All and all, I’m proud I busted through this classic piece of literature and stand on my position on not rating it. I am curious about other people’s experiences reading this book, like how did you manage to finish it? Did you enjoy it? Or has gone to your DNF shelf? Shoot me a comment below!

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