The summer of 1995, after my last year of high school, I discovered a 1970s Penguin edition ofAnna Karenina in my grandmother’s apartment in Ankara, Turkey. I had run out of English books, and was especially happy to find one that was so long. Think of the time it must have taken for Tolstoy to write it! He hadn’t been ashamed to spend his time that way, rather than relaxing by playing Frisbee or attending a barbecue. Nobody in Anna Karenina was oppressed, as I was, by the tyranny of leisure.
I spent the next two weeks flopped on my grandmother’s super-bourgeois rose-colored velvet sofa, consuming massive quantities of grapes, reading obsessively. Anna Karenina was a perfect book, with an otherworldly perfection: unthinkable, monolithic, occupying a supercharged gray zone between nature and culture. How had any human being ever managed to write something simultaneously so big and so small—so serious and so light—so strange and so natural?
And yet another Thomas Benton column on a…not so good accident, aka grad school in the humanities. Yikes: