Each friend’s recommendation and each review adds another book to our pile. I make lists and I add more to the Kindle. The books pile up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and the 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. And then there are all those recovery memoirs. What’s the story with women and men and addiction?
I have a suggestion. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything. There is one book for the boat and tote, the chaise lounge, the blanket and the bed. There is one, beautifully written book that illustrates the insidious connection between women and men and appearance and addiction.
Hands-down, the single best, summer book is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. With Tolstoy’s tale you get everything: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you’ll ever read. You’ll see how tiny choices add up to good lives and how tiny choices also add up to disaster. You’ll see a woman, a complex, decent woman—like you or me—undone by a subtle combination of pride, fear, ego, and restlessness. Don’t we know restlessness?
Don’t balk at the bulk. Yes, it’s a big book but every kid and maybe you too—have just knocked off the three Hunger Games books and/or Shades of Grey. Believe me you can do better! 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. And he shows us how it’s not the big obvious decisions that are our undoing, it’s the small almost casual ones.
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 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.
And addiction. It’s amazing how many years Anna has been dissected and most literary critics miss the fact that she is addicted. To meds and alcohol. And then her codependence. And the people that try to help her. It’s all here. Tolstoy knew.
But, you may insist, fiction can’t help your real life. With all due respect, you’re wrong. 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.