I hate long novels.
I am aware that this dislike is enough to place me outside the pale of distinguished critics and in the company of the dolts who buy, borrow, or steal copies of Cliff’s Notes. But I can’t help it. Sitting down for a month of evenings to read halfway through an acclaimed 1000-page “classic” such as The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), then to abandon it with the sudden realization that your aesthetic pocket has been picked, will do that for a reader.
There are exceptions. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina comes to mind. I’m also told that his War and Peace is a fair read, an opinion I take as an opinion about which I have none.
Life is short. It is not meant to be wasted by toiling through Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason for the third time. I leave that to the professors who attain the blessed land of a named professorship by writing ten 2500-word articles on one or another of the great philosopher’s longest paragraphs. (Studies have shown that the average professorial article is read by .37 persons, not including the editor—often as not a close friend—who accepts it for publication.)
As the renowned but otherwise unknown wit Steven Wright put it, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”
Michelangelo would have saved a lot of time if he wouldn’t have signed that contract to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while looking up at the ceiling. He also would have lived longer.
But I digress. Back to the book to avoid at all costs. It has a cast of thousands, though no one who has ever read it at least halfway through can remember the names of more than five: the old man Karamazov, his three sons—Dmitri (a lecher), Ivan (a philosopher), and Alyosha (a saint)—and Grushenka (a woman of charm). According to the relevant Cliff’s Notes, papa bear gets killed by one of his cubs. The philosophical cub comes up with the banality that “if there is no God, everything is allowed.” The saintly cub probably agrees but gives the thought an opposing interpretation. Guess who the murderer is.
I was pleased to learn, forty years after digging through half the muck of this bad “classic,” that Vladimir Nabokov, as great a critic as he was a novelist, would have approved of my use of Cliff’s Notes in lieu of the novel itself. “Dostoevski is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one—with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between.”
Read the relevant portions of his Lectures on Russian Literature for examples.
Life is short, and I am done.