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Giving up on Goncharov

April 7, 2014


Ivan Goncharov

Ivan Goncharov

I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t finish Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov.

It was reading the chapter titled “Oblomov’s Dream” that did it. Five pages into it I thought: “Jesus Christ, Ivan, get on with your story. I don’t need all this minutae. It has nothing to do with the plot.”

I gave it one star on Goodreads, the only reader (I assume) to rate it so low because I didn’t read all the reviews, dozens and dozens of them judging by the number of pages devoted to reviews.

Reading should be fun if you’re reader but not also a writer; fun and instructive if you’re a writer hoping to learn something about how a novel is constructed. I struggled with it as far as  I got, but no book or short-story should ever be a struggle for a reader. Struggling is what we do the rest of the time when we’re not reading — or viewing TV or listening to music or watching a ballet. We need a break from reality, which a novel is supposed to give us.

And so I put Oblomov back in my bookshelf. I hated doing that because I’d been waiting to read it for years. I first learned of its existence in high school, when the book was mentioned in a novel by James Michener titled The Fires of Spring. The first paperback edition I bought eventually fell apart, unread, on my bookshelf. I bought a new edition in 1995. It was one of the books I intentionally keep on reserve, anticipating the pleasure I’ll enjoy by finally reading it. Oh, the disappointment of unfulfilled desire!

Graham Greene

Graham Greene

To assuage my pain I’ve begun re-reading Stamboul Train by Graham Greene, perhaps my favorite writer. I last read it 13 years ago. Greene never fails to delight, and I’m having fun reading it. As always, I’m learning about the craft of writing by someone who was truly amazing at it.


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