We are sliding into summer this weekend. From here we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made weeks ago now weigh on us: the outings, the visitors, trips, chores, projects and for many of us--the pile of books we promise to read this summer.
Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. Our motivations are good; we want to grow and better understand ourselves and the world around us. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and our library list is dog-eared and scribbled.
So, where to begin? You’d like a good novel and a romance and some history too. You want some help with the relationship thing, and, now we certainly want a better understanding of politics and economics. But then there’s also that stack of business books you saved all year; you want some new ideas about management. You want to think about work differently.
But now we’re realizing it’s July—there are seven weekends left so is it worth trying to dig into all that? Maybe you should just go to the movies. There’s not going to be enough time to read so how to choose?
I have the answer. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything. There is only one book you need for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket or the bed.
Hands-down, the single best, summer book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. With Tolstoy’s tale you get everything in one: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you’ll ever read. Now, don’t balk at the bulk. Yes, it’s a big book but every kid you know has just knocked off the latest Harry Potter weighing in at 800-plus pages. If they can do it you can too. Besides by choosing Anna K. you only have to buy one book. Here’s why:
Anna K. is the best relationship book ever written. It’s got examples of how to make a marriage work and how to how to ruin one from the start. Worried about infidelity? This is the book that, well, wrote the book on that topic. Tolstoy shows how couples get into that terrain and how you can get back out. Robin Norwood’s famous, Women Who Love Too Much, doesn’t even come close to what Tolstoy writes about emotional dependency and the impact of addiction on a family.
As for new ideas about work: Tolstoy offers the most compelling and insightful analysis of why people work, and how to motivate them. Tom Peters has written half a dozen books trying to get at what Tolstoy packs into just a few scenes. Levin, Anna’s cousin, is the best management consultant you could hire; by showing us Levin in the field with his workers, Tolstoy articulates the subtleties of the relationship between worker and manager, and shows exactly how you can make a day’s work good or bad.
But, you may insist, fiction can’t help your real life. With all due respect, you’re wrong. When we read, “to escape”, it’s not from life but to life. Fiction gives us the assurance that the story that we love most—our own—is worthy.
Besides, if you finish Anna K. before August runs into September, there is always Tolstoy’s other little book, War and Peace, which will bring us right back to this day and our very, very real lives.