Me and Anna Karenina

I first wrote this post for our work blog.

Some people go to the kind of high school where Latin is taught and where students read their way through the classics: Jane EyreWuthering HeightsAdventures of Huckleberry Finn,Don Quixote.

I didn’t. My central Southland high school English classes focused more on New Zealand writing: Once Were WarriorsOracles & Miracles and The Pohutakawa Tree. The only Latin about the place was the school motto: Ad Summum (reach for the heights).

That never bothered me but it did mean that until last week – and at the age of 33 – I’d never read a classic.

This year I decided to read Anna Karenina, which I finished last Friday, having carted it around with me for the last two months. Anna Karenina has been my constant companion: a dense book that I found incredibly detailed but with a lightness and spirit that I thoroughly enjoyed (I skimmed a lot of the Russian politics).

The most ordinary, everyday tasks and occasional events in Anna Karenina became masterpieces: a steeplechase (my favourite scene overall), feeding a baby, men out shooting and peasants harvesting their crops managed to become far and away much more dramatic than a wedding.

The image below – from this marvellous series – is exactly how I pictured the fantastic countryside scenes with the peasants and Levin.

For me there are certain scenes in the book that make it unforgettable. The family life of the characters and their everyday comings and goings – and the detail of the writing and the images that were evoked far outweighed any of the parts I didn’t connect with.

My memorable scenes/moments (unordered):

  • The opening line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  • Levin at the skating rink
  • The steeplechase
  • Anna and Vronksy at the railway station in the snow
  • The ball – with the men in their swallow tail coats
  • Levin harvesting with the peasants

[And four others that I’ll hide at the end of this article so not to spoil it for people still reading].

Now that I’ve marked one classic off the list – what next? I usually read contemporary fiction with a preference for the literary but maybe I could do more classics?

I definitely think the Booksellers NZ winter read could become a regular thing so I’ll happily take nominations for what we should read as a group in 2012. I found it a great way to spur myself through winter and really enjoyed talking about the book online with others. Although, I will say that things get weird when the weather in Anna Karenina is better than the weather in Wellington.

For those people still reading Anna Karenina, there’s a good discussion happening on Good Reads that manages to go into details without giving plot spoilers.

And some questions for you:

  • Do you think it’s important to read the classics?
  • What classics do you rate most highly? Be honest – I want to hear about the ones you loved not the ones people say you *should* read.
  • What classic should I read next?


If you click ‘read the rest of this entry’ you’ll see the other four scenes I loved, which may tell you information that you’re not ready to know….

My other top four scenes:

  • Levin and Kitty together with the letters on the table
  • Kitty giving birth
  • Kitty feeding her baby
  • Anna’s death at the train station

By Emma McCleary, Web Editor at Booksellers NZ


4 Responses to Me and Anna Karenina

  1. helen says:

    Great post, Em! I still have 100 pages to go so skipped your spoilers. I’ve loved it, too.

  2. Snaylor says:

    My current project is to read the BBC top 100 books. I have yet to read Anna Karenina, currently working my way through Tess of the DÚrbervilles.

  3. tomandemma says:

    Oh great! Let me know Tess of the DÚrbervilles goes – for some reason that really appeals (I know nothing about it) but Tess seems like she might spend all her time romping around the countryside. I’m going to look up that list now.

  4. […] book. I actually had to start it twice because I read to about page 80 then read a few other books (Anna Karenina among them) then came back to […]

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