As the Seasons change, so does my taste in reading, a taste that I developed from the early days of my boyhood, as I would lock myself in Winter to read and in Summer to be outdoor, observe. Nowadays when it comes to reading, I take on non-fiction works on Spring and Summer, and reading fictions on Autumn and Winter. Same is true when it comes to Film, I could only watch a Bergman, a Tarr, or a Tarkovksy film in Winter, the opposite is true for Ray, Hawks, Wilder and Peckinpah, they are for Summer viewing. As for Music, Spring and Summer are for Jazz, Techno and Rock, Autumn and Winter for the Classical music.
So, it is with this mood that I decided to take a shot at reading Classic Russian Literature this Autumn and Winter, the goal is (thanks to my e-book reader) to read and re-read the complete works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Ivan Turgenev. Putting aside their major novels (which I have read more than once), I have concluded that if I could read 150 page/per day (my e-book reader page, that is!), dedicate two hours of reading time a day, I could finish them off within a span of four month and a half. The reading is done chronologically, from the first to the last work of the author.
As I re-read these work; I could recall images, emotion and even sound of the times that I once read the works. Take the short paragraph below from Tolstoy’s Boyhood, I read the work on a rainy winter day in Dalton, Georgia. I was so obsessed with Tolstoy’s description of his boyhood (for it seemed so familiar with that of mine), that I could not help, but re-reading that short paragraph more than a dozen times, and I kept saying to myself, “I could have written that.”
For you see, in my boyhood, , I too felt that; “Death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future“, but I did not go and spend all my saving on “honey cakes”, rather, I spend them on a chewing gum that I was very fond of, for beside the gum, you would get a playing card of a Football player, each numbered to complete a set of collection. I spent all my money on the chewing gums; chewing them under the shadow of a tree one windy summer afternoon, sitting there, matching the card’s number one after another, care free of the world, living the moment. Thinking of it now, I could still taste that chewing gums, they were the best I ever had, and so many of them. As for the cards, I still have them, they are collector’s item now, a complete set of them, whenever I look at them, I remember that summer afternoon, so care free, then.
Boyhood by Leo Tolstoy: Ch. XIX
People will hardly believe what the favorite and most constant subjects of my thoughts were during the period of my boyhood, — for they were incompatible with my age and station. But, according to my opinion, the in-compatibility between a man’s position and his moral activity is the safest token of truth.
In the course of the year, during which I led a solitary, concentrated moral life, all abstract thoughts of man’s destiny, of the future life, of the immortality of the soul presented themselves to my mind, and my weak childish reason tried with all the fever inexperience to elucidate those questions, whose proposition marks the highest degree the human min d can reach, but the solution of which is not given to it.
It seems to me that the human mind in its evolution passes in every separate individual over the same path on which it evolves during whole generations ; that the ideas which have served for the basis of distinct philosophical theories form inseparable parts of mind; and that every man has more or less clearly been conscious of them long before he knew of the existence of philosophical theories.
These ideas presented themselves to my mind with such clearness and precision that I even tried to apply them to life, imagining that I was the first who had discovered such great and useful truths.
At one time it occurred to me that happiness did not depend on external causes, but on our relation to them; that a man who is accustomed to bear suffering could not be unhappy. To accustom myself to endurance, I would hold for five minutes at a time the dictionaries of Tatishchev in my outstretched hands, though that caused me unspeakable pain, or I would go into the lumber-room and strike my bare back so painfully with a rope that the tears would involuntarily appear in my eyes.
At another time, I happened to think that death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future. Under the influence of this thought, I abandoned my lessons for two or three days, and did nothing but lie on my bed and enjoy myself reading some novel and eating honey cakes which I bought with my last money.
At another time, as I was standing at the blackboard and drawing various figures upon it with a piece of chalk, I was suddenly struck by the idea: Why is symmetry pleasant to the eye ? What is symmetry ? It is an implanted feeling, I answered myself. What is it based upon ? Is symmetry to be found in everything in life ? Not at all. Here is life, — and I drew an oval figure on the board. After life the soul passes into eternity; here is eternity, — and I drew, on one side of the figure, a line to the very edge of the board. Why is there no such line on the other side of the figure ? Equally, what kind of an eternity is that which is only on one side ? We have no doubt existed before this life, although we have lost the recollection of it.
This consideration, which then appeared extremely novel and clear to me, but the connection of which I can barely make out now, gave me extreme pleasure, and I took a sheet of paper and intended to put my idea down in writing; but such a mass of ideas suddenly burst upon me that I was compelled to get up and walk about the room. As I walked up to the window, my attention was drawn to the horse which a driver was hitching to a water-cart, and all my thoughts centered on the solution of the question, into what animal or man the soul of that horse would pass after her death. Just then Volodya crossed the room and, seeing that I was deep in thought, smiled. This smile was enough to make me understand that all I had been thinking about was the merest bosh.
I have told this memorable incident only to give the reader an idea what my reasoning were like.
By none of these philosophical considerations was I so carried away as by skepticism, which at one time led me to a condition bordering on insanity. I imagined that nothing existed in the whole world outside of me, that objects were no objects, but only images which appeared whenever I turned my attention to them, and that these images would immediately disappear when I no longer thought of them. In short, I held the conviction with Schelhng that objects do not exist, but only my relation to them. There were moments when, under the influence of this fixed idea, I reached such a degree of absurdity that I sometimes suddenly turned in the opposite direction, hoping to take nothingness by surprise, where I was not.
What a miserable, insignificant mainspring of moral activities the human mind is!
My feeble reason could not penetrate the impenetrable, and in the labor which transcended its power, I lost, one after another, those convictions which, for the happiness of my life, I ought never to have presumed to touch.
From all that heavy moral labor I carried away nothing but agility of mind, which weakened my will-power, and a habit of constant moral analysis, which destroyed the freshness of my feeling and the clearness of my understanding.
Abstract ideas are formed in consequence of a man’s ability to grasp, consciously, the condition of his soul at a certain moment, and to transfer it to his memory. My inclination for abstract reasoning so unnaturally developed my consciousness that frequently, when I began to think of the simplest thing, I fell into the inextricable circle of the analysis of my thoughts, and I no longer thought of the question which occupied my attention, but I thought of the fact that I thought. If I asked myself: Of what am I thinking ? I answered: I am thinking of thinking. And what am I thinking of now ? I am thinking of thinking that I am thinking, and so on. Keason was lost in empty speculation.
However, the philosophical discoveries which I made flattered my vanity very much: I frequently imagined myself a great man who was discovering new truths for the good of mankind, and I looked upon all other mortals with a proud consciousness of my dignity. But, strange to say, whenever I came in contact with these mortals, I grew timid, and the higher I placed myself in my own opinion, the less I was able to express the consciousness of my own dignity before others, and could not even get accustomed to not being ashamed of every simplest word and motion of mine.