Accessibility and Exclusivity: Turgenev’s Home of the Gentry

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Listen. I promise Turgenev isn’t that bad. I know you don’t believe me, but if you ever find yourself with a gun to your temple and a command to pick a Russian author that won’t bore you to tears (wait, who wouldn’t cry? There’s a gun to your head), pray it is Turgenev.

Classic texts can be intimidating due to the immense amount of mental attention they require, and anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is totally bogus and not deserving of your trust. Russian texts are particularly challenging, and that’s coming from someone with a pretty hot and heavy Slavic background.

Like a text from any part of the globe, there are a lot of foreign elements at play that the reader must decode, and Ivan Turgenev’s second novel, 1859’s Home of the Gentry, is the perfect definition of this.

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Home of the Gentry depicts the homecoming of Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky (spoiler alert, all Russians have 2-3 names, and this text is no exception) who returns to Russia a disillusioned, broken man after he catches his wife in the throes of an affair.

He returns to visit his cousin, Marya Dimitrievna Kalitina, who has two daughters, Lenochka and Liza. Lavretsky, scorned and jaded from hurt by his cheating wife Varvara Pavlovna, is immediately drawn to the young, beautiful Liza, who lives her life in a quiet seriousness and devout religious devotion- but no qualms appear to surface about being attracted to your cousin, no matter how distantly related, so that’s a thing.

The two can’t fight the feeling anymore and confess their love for each other, despite all of Liza’s trepidations about Lavrestky’s leaving his wife. What progresses in this little novella only goes to support the idea that life is not fair and, without spoiling the ending, in true Russian style, everyone is smarter in the end but just as miserable.

The nice thing about this text, however, is that it is quick and easy to read, even with the antiquated language. Turgenev’s style is fairly accessible, making him a top choice of Russian authors to read in the aforementioned gun crisis.

What make this text a bit more challenging is the cultural context behind it, especially the identity crisis for young Russians in the late 1800s with the opening of European culture that was incredibly trendy. While reading, I imagined the Europeanized Russians like a bunch of hipsters, people who saw the light and began writing their screenplays in coffee shops with soy lattes and having vinyl parties with their parents’ record players. Even for 1800s Russians, these people were pests.

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Chloe agrees!

However, what makes Home of the Gentry so beautiful is the weaving together of this accessibility and this exclusivity; it’s easy to understand and enjoy the text while having to do just a bit of research to keep your head above water in terms of context. While it’s not a particularly uplifting book, it ain’t no Little Life, so you won’t need to worry about bawling your eyes out.

But just to be on the safe side, keep some tissues ready.

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On Grief: Reflections from Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking

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The universe works in very strange ways.

I should learn to trust it perhaps more so than I have permitted myself to in the past, especially when it always seems like people or things show up randomly, totally unannounced, but always when you need them the most.

Such was the case with the sudden appearance of Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking within my life.

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The Mothman Prophecies: A Supernatural Nuisance

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I come from a moderately superstitious family; realistically bordering on the lower end of the moderate spectrum.

Being of Eastern European descent, my siblings and I were instilled with the number one archetypal Slavic fear ingrained by all good Slavic grandparents:  do not fuck with ghosts.

Do not try to contact them. Do not go looking for them. Do not go bringing Ouija boards into the house and certainly do not get pissed off when you have a supernatural nuisance on your hands because we told you so. Just listen to this one thing, and don’t fuck with the ghosts.

So I never did, and I probably never will because my Baba taught me real good. But I absolutely adore horror books and films, especially ones that take a ghostly approach, probably because it is as far as my supernatural flirtations will ever go.

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A Whirlwind and a Mirror: the Anti-Literary Struggle of Bolaño

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Roberto Bolaño and I are one in the same in that the sifting through our second, third, and fourth drafts of scratched up manuscripts, mortally wounded by red ink, mismatched combinations of chicken-scratched and robotically processed words would be a quick descent into pure absurdity.

Naturally, I have some notebooks reserved exclusively for poems, for work scribbles, or for story ideas. But largely, I am a shockingly unorganized writer, and every few weeks, I’ll stumble across an orphaned piece of writing that I had entirely forgotten about, hidden in the dark crevices of a notebook shoved hastily under my bed.

The writing and I exchange words and tears; it mournfully wails that it has long been forgotten, and I get down on my knees to beg absolution. Like most things in life, organization is a game I am slowly learning to play.

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Throwback: Whom Do We Still Count? The Strange Political Relevancy of Viva la Libertà

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*originally published September 2015

There are clear distinctions between being a news junkie and a political fiend, and I will wholeheartedly admit I am the former rather than the latter.

I have a bad habit of turning CNN on for background noise while gussying up in the morning or for background noise when I’m puttering around the house. To make matters worse, I’ll typically put the news back on after I return from work, keeping it on while I’m eating dinner. Usually, after an hour, I’ve had enough of death, decay, and destruction that spews out into the world around us (and I wonder why at times I am so melancholic, really!). But the news has become a bad habit for me.

At this stage of the game with the 2016 election approaching, my news junkie comrades and myself are constantly bombarded with political news all day, everyday. And even though I am a news junkie, I find politics so incredibly boring that I want to go to sleep before finishing this sentence. I keep up; I dip a toe in the giant pool that is the nonsense of Washington because it’s important to keep tabs on what’s happening, but Lord, I just find it so boring.

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The Nonessential for the Essential

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I’m not sure whether I should be more concerned about the American public who found it necessary to read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less or the fact that Greg McKeown thought it was necessary to write about such common sense topics in the first place.

Essentialism is essentially nonessential. McKeown has spent the better part of 250+ pages writing about concepts of self and time management that are so routine to human existence that a kindergartner could have saved me time by telling me what McKeown has listed in this book.

Essentially (all right, I’ll stop), according to McKeown, we try to fit too much into our lives. We make ourselves unhappy by not accomplishing our goals and spending time with our families because we are absolutely dreadful at the work-personal life balance.

Everything in life can be separated into the realm of the essential, what is vital and absolutely necessary, and the nonessential, everything else, including dicking around on the internet. But because we humans have largely developed the psychological phenomenon known as learned helplessness, we struggle to be able to differentiate between to the essential and the nonessential, further complicating our lives. Ergo, we need Greg McKeown, a leadership researcher from England, to show us the light.

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In Which I Read Mario Puzo’s The Godfather

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Full disclosure: I have never seen any of The Godfather movies.

I own nearly all of Béla Tarr and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s filmographies. . . but I have never seen any of The Godfather films, at least not in their entirety. This is a problem, a problem I have set out to solve. But like any good former English major, I have to read the book first, even if it proves to be 400+ pages of nothing but very creative ways to die before I can watch the three movies, each which are about three hours long of even more creative ways to die.

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