The Happy Journey of the Classics Rudely Interrupted
“I would like to read you on a complete disaster of a book and why it should be buried!!”
My eccentric Scottish friend sent me these words well over a year ago – and how I have wondered if I would fulfill that request at some point. Well Alastair, you get your wish. This one is for you! Here is why I think Crime and Punishment should be “buried”!
Enough already with the wonderful, incredible, inspiring book reviews! Could I really write a review of a book I loathed, of an author that I could neither comprehend nor appreciate on any level, and could this book even be considered (gasp) a classic?
Yes on all accounts and then some. I will tell you in this post why I found “Crime and Punishment” to be a miserable read and yet how reading such a book can shape our attitude towards the differences of opinion and style.
I write deeply personal reviews of every book I read and as of late, I have been immersed in the world of classics. In the self-improvement and personal development world, I have found few techniques can enrich our knowledge faster than reading a classic. It is imperative to read to keep our minds active and sharp and reading a classic is the best means to that end. It is all the more reason to read them at a later and sweeter time in life because through a classic, we see more in ourselves after we have aged a little and experienced a lot.
Ah I had such a sweet journey for a while. A hidden world of treasures opened its doors to me when I would stumble upon new, yet ageless works of literature by brilliant minds such as Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Dumas, Henry James or the BrontÃ« sisters. Authors who told the greatest stories, plots which thickened with every chapter, writing which fed my deepest desires for hearing the beauty in the English language – I was in heaven! I had found the invincible way to consistently read great books, or so I presumed – quite wrongly as you shall see. The journey was promising until just a few weeks ago when I decided to read the much anticipated “Crime and Punishment”on my list – and my perfect romance with the classics was thus severely scarred.
Why I Loathed Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”
Not all classics are created equal and call me crazy but I hardly consider Dostoevsky altogether an author, much less one of the prestigious classical breed!
The plot – a young student murdering an old, unpleasant pawn-broker and having to deal with the psychological aftermath – could have been promising, if not for the story telling, the writing style, the character depiction. In short, if not written by Dostoevsky.
He goes into monstrous proportions of expressing everything in the characters’ minds without relating any one thing to another or tying any of it to the overall plot in even a remotely tangible way. He – the author – is nearly as disturbed and as much on the verge of insanity as his protagonist, Rascolnikov, and while it may sound fascinating, it does not bode well for story-telling of any kind. He subjects us to every unfinished thought, every draft of an idea, every whim and notion, every passing fancy, fantasy and delusion in Rascolnikov’s head and yet does not allow us to arrive at any possible sensible conclusion. Following either a conversation or a monologue anywhere in the book is akin to going on a winding roller coaster ride without the remotest thrill – and repeating that cycle a few hundred times until the last page of the book.
It is this miserable style of Dostoevsky’s story telling which numbed my interest and robbed me of any compassion toward any character whatsoever, for how could an author inspire our compassion or interest when he insists on not telling the story and on not communicating with the reader and instead on leading us on a path which ends in utter incoherence and confusion?
“Crime and Punishment” is a meaningless, maddening maze with no point, no beginning and no end, no purpose, no plot and especially, no prose.
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
Going Against the Current: Always Follow Your Heart
This all begs the question, why did I insist on reading – and more importantly, on finishing – the book?
Despite my obsession to finish that which I start, I have left books half-finished before, some for sheer difficulty (“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawkins and “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene), some for lack of interest. For those books, I felt comfortable to leave them unread (at least for the moment). This time though, I had motives to finish reading. I wanted to understand how such a book could be considered a classic. I wanted to know the plot and the characters behind a popular work of literature. I wanted to see why a few friends considered this a powerful read which could have shifted my perspective on certain subjects. And I wanted to give Dostoevsky a full chance.
Now I have done all that and have achieved none of my objectives. I remain clueless as to why this miserable writing can be anywhere on the similar scale as the masters of literature and why it is admired by many.
Then I realized, it is not necessary to understand all of that. Instead, I arrived at this conclusion:
- We must respect the differences opinion in taste and style in all things.
- We must not expect ourselves to necessarily love the acclaimed works of art or literature.
- We must not try to convince others to appreciate a work of art or literature we happen to love.
- We must pave our own path to exactly what we love.
In his biography of Colin Powell, Oren Harari describes in great detail the General’s leadership style, a brilliant strategy that should be a personal leadership style for smart living. During the information-gathering phase for a decision, Powell would gather his teams and advisers, listen carefully to every intellect and opinion on the matter, and welcome every word of wisdom and weigh in every bit of advice — but in the end, the final decision, he would tell us, always rested with the leader.
We are the leaders of our own lives. Our decisions — our likes, our desires, our choices – should not necessarily reflect popular opinion, social media trends, pop culture, or the judgment calls of even those closest to us. We should gather intellectual data, listen carefully, consider all options, learn and educate ourselves but in the end, let the final decisions on what we enjoy float to the surface from within our own heart.
This review is my opinion of “Crime and Punishment”. Yours may be different. I can respect and appreciate it even if I do not understand it. By the same token, I should practice less defensiveness and more detachment next time someone tosses aside my most beloved novels or movies. We are unique individuals and the only thing that matters is that we always be true to what we like without predisposed notion, peer pressure, and outside influences.
After all, reading this book was not in vain — and indeed reading a classic does result in the best personal development lessons.
Penny for your Thoughts
Love to hear your thoughts on this Russian classic, on other works by Dostoevsky – if you can convince me to give him another try! – and on embracing our different nature when it goes against main stream. Or on any similar topics so long as you wish to share your thoughts! Thank you for reading!