My Russian Year

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

–Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’m still not really sure why I decided to read Anna Karenina as one of my first books of 2023. Maybe it was because I’ve had the book sitting on my shelves for years but had never managed to read more than a few chapters. Maybe it was because my word for the year is “discipline,” and I wanted to test my New Year’s resolution against Tolstoy. Either way, I downloaded the audio version and prepared myself for forty plus hours of Russian patronymics and a sad story.

What I didn’t prepare myself for was the possibility that this time around, this massive Russian novel, a book that had defeated me so many times in the past, would captivate my imagination and set me on a crazy, year-long deep dive into Russian Literature, an area of study that I’ve never delved into with much confidence before. I guess it’s true what they say about the right books finding you at the right time!

When I finished Anna Karenina, my first instinct was to jump straight into all the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky I never read in college, but there were so many cultural and historical references I didn’t understand in the book that I knew I wanted to slow down and take my time. I also decided it would be helpful to have a guide, so I downloaded an audio course on Russian Literature, printed out the lecture notes, and sent myself back to school for a crazy self-guided tour of Russian Literature from Pushkin to Solzhenitsyn. I’ve waited until now to post anything because I wanted to see if my resolve would stick!

A stack of Russian novels and a set of Matryoshka nesting dolls.

The second half of this goal is to keep a record of my reading here. I’ve struggled to post in this space recently because of work, but these books, poems, and stories are so rich that I know if I don’t pause to reflect and document them somehow all of my thoughts will vanish. Plus, I’ll never be able to remember all the characters’ names if I don’t write something down!

My plan is to post about each author after I finish reading their major works. The course that I’m using as a guide goes in roughly chronological order, which means I’ve been working my way through Pushkin and Gogol first, and I’m currently moving on to Dostoevsky. I’ll post a list below of the books I’ve read, but check back to read more detailed thoughts on each author as I learn more about them!

Keep Reading!


Russian Texts
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (Audio)
Selected Poetry of Alexander Pushkin
Novels, Tales, Journeys: The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin
Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin (Audio)
“The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (Audio)

Supplemental Resources I’m Enjoying:

The Great Courses: Russian Literature (Audio)
The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes (Audio)






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