I'm a GoodReads user testing new waters after the serious website changes. I mostly read fiction, usually Anglophone classics/ modern classics; I like nonfiction (mostly social and cultural history), good fantasy and graphic novels. For guilty pleasure, I read advice and how-to books. I made at least two reading resolutions recently; 1. read less, live more; 2. read books which give me more pleasure. I have poor filters, and books I find stylistically pleasing tend to be depressing, so I need to do something about that; if you think you know a book that is very well written, but won't make me weep, please drop me a line.


Oblomov - Ivan Goncharov, Stephen Pearl, Galya Diment There are some very good reviews here explaining the importance of Oblomov and its message: this is Russia on the eve of modernity, and Goncharov presents the evil of the old ways: inertia, reluctance to change, or learn from travel, or – perhaps the most difficult – spend in order to prosper. In the world in which the minimal requirement for respectability is to read a lot, Oblomov struggles to read more than a few pages of a yellowed travel book on Africa, whereas his friends travel, significantly, to England and France.

Mobility – around town, country, continent - becomes in Oblomov a prerequisite for development, personal, social, and economical; Oblomov himself is sedentary to the extreme, a man who literally lives, dozes, and daydreams in his nightgown, always choosing the course of action that requires none of it. (His friend characterizes him, at some point, saying: “[when] one is with him he is ready to take any steps desired; but directly one's back is turned he relapses into slumber.”)

Despite the psychological truth the novel conveys, my response to it was rather negative, for a variety of reasons:

1. Length. It was, initially, a short story, which grew into a short novel, and I think it would be more successful if it remained short. There are moments which could be quite subtle, if the author refrained from hammering his point home – instead, nearly everything is conveyed thrice when once would suffice (the chapter tracing the origins of Oblomov's passivity, "laziness, … simplicity of morals, … inertia, and ... immobility" to his chidhood was almost unbearable in this respect).

2. Language. Maybe it's the translation (an old one by C. J. Hogarth), but I think the author is to blame here. This is a progressive husband speaking to his mildly depressed wife:
Yes; such is the payment exacted for the Promethean fire. You must not only endure, you must even love and respect, the sorrow and the doubts and the self-questionings of which you have spoken: for they constitute the excess, the luxury, of life, and show themselves most when happiness is at its zenith, and has alloyed with it no gross desires.
3. Formulaic structure. In the beginning, three or four different characters come to Oblomov’s flat, trying to lure him out of his bedroom and into the world of social interactions; these characters seem to represent different ways of life only, all of them repulsive to Oblomov, and at least two of them never reappear.

4. Capital D didacticism. I really dislike the doom-gloom idea of a ‘curse’, hereditary sloth passed from generation to generation; Oblomov’s energetic friend, Schtolz, is a son of a discipline-loving German educator; Oblomov’s ruin seems to have been brought about by his being a son of an impoverished landed gentry.
"Why has everything thus come to rack and ruin?" she cried. "Who has put a curse upon you, Ilya? Why have you done this? You are clever and kind and good and noble; yet you can wreck our lives in this way! What nameless evil has undone you?"
"It has a name," he said almost inaudibly. She looked at him questioningly with tearfilled eyes. "That name," he added, "is 'The Disease of Oblomovka."
The only moment I found myself touched was when Olga, the female protagonist and Oblomov’s one-time fiancée, starts to fear depression, probably because I could relate to her fear of unhappiness amidst happiness. On the whole, this is The Sorrows of Young Werther for more or less functional adults. Meh.

Currently reading

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
Zuleika Dobson
Max Beerbohm
How to Be a Victorian
Ruth Goodman