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One evening back in September, I waited in line with the wonderful writers Nicole M. and Ella B. for a brief audience with Lorrie Moore. We clutched our books (I’d narrowed my exhaustive library of her work down to only two: the new one, A Gate at the Stairs, and one of my copies of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?.) and crept toward the front of the line at a pace that could be described only as painful. We, we were fine, chatting away, but there was Ms. Moore, on stage, signing book after book after book, her hand clearly aching, her energy, though not her graciousness, clearly waning. After approximately an hour, we got to the front of the line. Thanks to the business-like bookstore staff, our names were written on post-its, so Ms. Moore did not have to even look up or speak to us if she did not so choose. I didn’t want to delay the process–there were still more people waiting behind me–so I came up with one line to spit out once my turn came. Thrusting my copy of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? forward, I said, “I used to have pages of this book photocopied and pasted to my bedroom wall.”

Ms. Moore froze. She looked up from my book, on which she had scrawled her name, and studied my face. She said, after a moment, “Really?”

Really.

But this post isn’t about Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?. It is about the book Ms. Moore was promoting that night: A Gate at the Stairs–a book on which she took the time to scrawl, after my modest confession, this:

a gate at the stairsOk, that’s a terrible scan but I sort of like it. She wrote, “For Nicole– Here in NY. All best to you. Lorrie Moore Sept. 09” Good enough for me!!!

A Gate at the Stairs is a novel oft-described as long-awaited. I can’t say I’ve been waiting this whole time, these last eleven years between her last publication and this one–I’ve just been re-reading her other books, uncovering new layers, new puns, new joys–I’ve had plenty of new Lorrie Moore to read. Which is not to say I didn’t pre-order A Gate at the Stairs and use it as self-bribery, my dangling carrot, to finish Anna Karenina. I stared at the cover a lot, imagining what lay inside. When I finally allowed myself to read it, I really went for it, barely pausing, finishing it in a weekend. My reading experience culminated last night–I stayed up late reading it, and then even later when finished, too upset to sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

My friends, family, coworkers, readers and probably everyone I’ve encountered on the subway in the past six weeks will be happy to know that I finally finished Anna Karenina. I started it because of impassioned recommendations from Katherine (years ago) and from Lindsay (at the beach this summer), because I was haunted by my failed attempt to read it when I last assigned it to myself during grad school, and because I couldn’t stop imagining a future job interview in which I’d have to admit to not having read it.

PP_AnnaKarenina

The first two hundred pages were rough going, despite the introduction of the evocative phrase ‘Things will shape themselves,’ which I quickly became obsessed with repeating in my head (Tolstoy 5). I was a little bored, though, and quite confused by the fact that each character had at least sixty-seven different names. That aspect of Russian literature is one that my father used to make fun of throughout my childhood, instilling in me an early bias against Russian writing. When he heard I was nearly done with the book a couple of weeks ago, he offered that I should be awarded a medal if I managed to finish. (Dad? Do I get to collect on that?)

My reading experience with Anna Karenina, though, was that the book improved exponentially with each hundred pages. I read the last six hundred or so in the time it took me to make it through the first two hundred, even with the slow-down of dog-earring passages, pausing to cry, re-reading scenes for maximum effect, etc.

Thematically and character-wise, there is so much to say and that I want to say about this book, but I am going to really restrict myself and concentrate only on a passage I encountered on pages 603-604 and how it relates to the rest of the novel. Read the rest of this entry »