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A Coupla Brothers Read The Brothers Karamazov
Digest what you read
I’ve been wanting to reread this book for a while. Mike, my brother, had been wanting to read it for a while and had even started it a few times. When I asked him why, he said it’s sort of been a monkey on his back. He’s just been wanting to have done it. I think, it’s like a lot of books of this sort, I don’t know why I want to read it, it’s just one of those books. People talk about it. I feel like I need to read it. 🤷🏻 But more on this in another post.
When he said he wanted to read it around the new year I said, Great! Let’s both read it and then book time to have a little dialogue about it. Then it turned out I was going to be in Denver a few months hence which meant we’d be able to talk in person. Exciting.
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Over the few months we were reading I’d shoot him my page number and he’d be like, shit I’m behind. And then sometimes it’d be vice versa. Sometimes he’d be like, Geez this guy doesn’t like paragraphs does he? Or I’m deep in some tangent and I don’t know what’s going on. All very legit struggles with reading a book like this. Long. A bit obscure. Several asides tens of pages worth that have little to nothing to do with the main characters or the author’s professed “hero”. It’s easy to lose motivation, or to keep all the context in your head and feel like you need to start over.
It’s a big reason why reading with a time scheduled for digesting the book is so helpful. Otherwise you might not actually read the book you want to read. You might also not get that much out of it too. But more on that in a minute. First a quick who, what, when, where, why.
Who: Mike is my younger brother. He’s a reader. In undergrad he studied business. In grad, he studied international relations at Johns Hopkins. He’s a software engineer at a design agency and about to be a new dad! The next tome (monkey) he’s considering reading (getting off his back) is Herodotus’ Histories. He should have lots of reading time when the baby arrives. God bless him.
What: Some might not know wtf The Brothers Karamazov is or what a dialogue about a book is even for for that matter. The Brothers Karamazov is considered the last and greatest work by a beloved Russian author by the name of Fyodor Doestoevsky. It’s about a family residing in Russia around 1866 made up of 2 real? whole? brothers and, overall, 4 half brothers. Their father is killed and much of the book revolves around the whodunit of the father’s murder and the ensuing trial. Dialoguing about a book helped us to gather our thoughts and reactions to the work to digest it and form our own understanding of the work and internalize the message Doestoevsky was trying to share with his readers.
Where we talked: Mike picked a wee brewery in Denver down the street from his new bungalow by the name of Reverence. The place worked well. So well in fact that we felt at home when towards the end of our conversation someone walked in with 100 Years of Solitude a book I dialogued with some friends in one of my favorite digestion sessions ever. What are the odds.
How long we talked: We blocked out ~2 hours. I think it takes time, especially if the book is a tome like this one. It clocks in at 775 pages and there are just so many parts to unpack and think through together. We didn’t go the full 2 hours, but it felt like we bounced around quite a bit so if we’d had more time I think we could have pulled on some more threads.
Some of the questions we asked:
Why did you want to read or reread the book?
Why did Doestoevsky write it?
Similarly, what did Doestoevsky want to communicate to us readers?
Does this work of art help us to understand anything about current events?
Does this work of art help us to learn about ourselves and our leadership?
I don’t want to give away the ending nor dive to deep into our answers to these questions as I hope you read the book one day and digest it for yourself. Ultimately, you have to eat your own food, right? What I do want to share is Mike’s answers to my very informal anecdotal pre and post conversation survey:
What’d you get out of the book after reading it?
What’d you get out of the book after digesting it in this dialogue?
It turns out he is like me, he didn’t get that much out of reading the book. Both in terms of understanding and in terms of reward. But after the conversation he felt he got a lot out of it in both ways. I came back to the thoughts and feelings I had writing this post. For some books I don’t love the reading. And, for me it’s not about reading long or many books. The fun and understanding come (the edutainment is in) the digesting the books. Especially with someone else. Putting the puzzle together out loud with someone. I had a blast in this conversation. Let it be yet another inspiration to read and digest your reading with someone else for a much richer reading life.
What are you reading at the moment?