This summer, try a little heavy reading

August 06, 2007|By Diane Cameron

We are sliding into the final third of summer. From here, we push on to the finish line at Labor Day. The wish lists we made in June weigh on us: the outings, the visitors, trips, chores, projects - and for many, the pile of books we promised we'd 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 stack up on the coffee table and the bed stand, and our library list is dog-eared and scribbled.

Even worse, there are new categories. There's more "chick lit" and new graphic novels, each offering more literary ways of seeing the world. Then, too, many of us have our ongoing side list of "issues" we're working on: parenting or relationship skills. That comes with more books to read.

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, these days, you want a better understanding of politics and economics. But then there is also that stack of business books you saved all year; you want some new ideas about management and how to think about work differently.

But with four weeks to go, is it worth trying to dig into all that? Maybe you should just throw up your hands and go to the movies. There's not going to be enough time to read it all anyway. So how to choose?

I have the answer. There is one book that you can read now that will give you everything you're wishing and hoping for. 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.

With Leo Tolstoy's tale you get everything in one: romance, history, a relationship how-to book, and the best management advice you'll ever read.

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 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 improve 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 fall, there's always Tolstoy's other little book, War and Peace, which brings us right back to this day and our very, very real lives.

Diane Cameron lives in Guilderland, N.Y. Her e-mail is oklota@nycap.rr.com.

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