A Few Notes from the Still Above Ground- Dostoyevsky Notes

A recurring delusion I have is that the act of reading books like The Brothers Karamazov, or any other serious classic literature, should be worth some monetary reward. That somehow someway, it’d be nice to get paid to read this kind of thing. And if not a monetary award, then it at least should have some sort of marketable value, a universally respected achievement. What I mean is, it’d be nice to live in a world where by putting my reading list on a resume, people would be banging on my door to hire me for fantastic positions. Alas, challenging yourself by reading this kind of stuff is of no more value on a resume than not ever reading a single book. I’ll read these books alone and be taking the experience to the grave, hardly any better or worse. The real-world value of reading classic literature is unfortunately not as I think it should be–a delusion perhaps brought on by a lifetime of escapist reading of classic literature.

A week ago my wife got laid off, her job being restructured redefined relocated. In my last post I mentioned reading The Brothers Karamazov as a cure for depression. I’m halfway through my “cure,” and her being laid off helps none of that. She’ll be fine and land on her feet. At least she got a nice severance and has more definable, marketable skills. But it is added pressure and worry to me. I realize now too that by  using the term “depression” in my last post, I should have specified “depression brought on by grief.” The reason is that my kind of depression, the I-really-need-to-get-off-my-butt-and-make-career-changes kind, is not helped by choosing to spend my time reading Dostoyevsky over looking for a job.

I hardly ever follow anything on Facebook but the other day I happened to click on a photo that was posted by George Thorton, the owner of The Homebrewer which is a beer home brewing supply shop that I get my brewing supplies from. The photo was taken four years ago. There’s George, beaming a smile as he pours a bag of grain into the bin. The photo’s caption mentions that was the first bag of grain poured into a bin—Day 1 of getting his business off the ground. Sickeningly envious, I haven’t stopped thinking about ditching my demoralizing job and starting my own retail business (of which I would hardly know step 1). Sure opening a business is hard work, but to physically have your hand in it, to grow it as you see fit, rather than be the cog in a monstrous machine right out of “Metropolis”… we’ll I’d like to take my chances. Ever drive around and pass by strip malls with tiny businesses you have no clue how they could possibly get any customers? I do that all the time and wonder, why not me? Hell, I couldn’t fail any worse in a career than I already am.

So there’s that, and thinking of starting a business throws a wrench into my job search energy. Why put energy into getting a different crappy job when I should put my energy into being my own boss? Probably because while I do have an idea for a business, the perceived amount of work and time to start said business vs. looking for a job is overwhelming… (sigh) I am truly the master of my own demise.

Now about Dostoyevsky. The main trick is to have a pen and paper handy. You’ll need it to keep track of the character names since each character seems to have no less than two names, and sometimes three or more. You have to know Dimitri is the same as Mitya. Grushenka is the same as Agrafena. And Pavel=Smerdyakov=Balaam’s Ass. On the paper, leave plenty of room between the names as you will also be drawing all kinds of arrows connecting this character with that one. Just a tip.

The primary issue most modern readers will have with Dostoyevsky is the injection of long philosophical passages, usually religious in nature, which stop the story in its tracks. So far in The Brothers Karamazov there’s a long section called “The Grand Inquisitor” to which I would add the subheading: “Optional Reading.” Because this is an intellectual novel pertaining to the question of morality (and other such heavy hitters) technically it belongs. As Marc Slonim states in the introduction of this edition, “A Dostoyevsky psychological novel… is actually a novel of ideas.” By ideas he means the deep ideas of crime, punishment, God, society… not “here’s an idea, we should go throw a party!”

I will say that I am enjoying the novel more than the first time reading it twenty some years ago. But my fantasy was that by taking such a long time to read the book, by the end I will have “woken up” into some new change in my life/career. I will have begun reading the book at one junction in my life, and upon finishing found myself at a different station. Dostoyevsky may assist that if you are in a state of grief, as they say, time heals all wounds. But time in and of itself does not magically send out resumes, write business plans, or complete TV pilots. That unfortunately is still up to you.