Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Doctor Is In

Before I moved to Illinois, when I was living with my sister and brother-in-law, I was looking for a job, and I wasn't very happy. I wish I could go back in time and tell my old self to live it up, considering that all my bills were paid for with freelance work that I was doing and I had already applied at the company that would eventually hire me. Instead, I spent a lot of my days sulking, looking for more jobs, which didn't exist, and watching Jeopardy! (and thus Michigan political commercials) over my "lunch break." I would have loved to read, but because I felt guilty engaging in a pleasure activity while I still lacked a full-time job, I relegated most of my reading time to the evenings.

Anyway, while I was living with my sister and brother-in-law, my brother-in-law saw me reading a book one night, and after going upstairs, he handed me a copy of Doctor Zhivago, the Reader's Digest version with a maroon cover. I assumed that his handing me this book was a recommendation, especially since he answered my questions about it, and while I didn't read it then, I filed it away in the back of my mind.

Fast-forward several months, and my friend came to visit me in Illinois. We have a Half Price Books here (I pity all of you who lack this store--it's fantastic), so we went there to spend an afternoon. The clearance shelf is almost always fantastic, and while we were searching its contents, my eyes lit up when I found Doctor Zhivago, the exact Reader's Digest copy that my brother-in-law had. I took it off the shelf and showed it to my friend, thinking he would share in my joy.

"Jon, you are never going to read that!"

"Yes I am!"

"No you're not. It's just going to sit on your shelf collecting dust, and you will never read it."

Well, my competitive nature kicked in, and we made a one-sided bet that if I ever finish Doctor Zhivago, I could throw the book in his face. The book is large enough that it could cause serious damage, but I probably won't throw it very hard when my opportunity arrives.

Yes, you've guessed it: three and a half years later, I still have not finished Doctor Zhivago. We added another side to the bet (my friend is immune to the flying tome if he completes The Brothers Karamazov before I read Doctor Zhivago--fat chance, says I), but Doctor Zhivago remains on my shelf, reminding me of the tower I haven't completed.

However, I saw on someone's list of best winter reads recently that they chose Doctor Zhivago, and I decided to give it another go. (I've tried a few times, but I didn't make it past the first page.) I saw that a new translation was released this year, so I offered to review it for a books review Web site. This has helped to give me new motivation to complete it, and complete it in a timely manner.

Still, I didn't realize how ill equipped I am at this time to be reading a longer book (the version I have is almost 500 small-type pages). My attention span is waning, I fear, and Russian names are blurring together. Still, it is the thought that I will one day hurl this doorstopper at my counterpart's face, more than the looming review deadline, that goads me on.

Oh, and one of the main reasons I haven't finished Doctor Zhivago before now is that I told my brother-in-law that I bought Doctor Zhivago because he recommended it to me, thinking this would cement the in-law relationship. He said, "Oh, I've never read it. I was just showing it to you."


  1. The biggest challenge to reading this book, for me, was I dislike rooting for an adulterer. Sorry for the spoiler.

  2. They're performing it in this year's Stratford Festival up in Ontario, too. :-)

  3. The Reader's Digest version is a bad translation (I also tried to read it and stopped). I am hoping to get the new translation soon, which is done by some very good translators. The movie was so good, and I love the storyline.

  4. The new translation is good, I'm just not as familiar with Russian history as I should be (and, while I am reading some of the endnotes, there's a lot of information to keep up with. Okay, no more excuses--I'm just lazy). I'm enjoying the book, but it's a slog. (This was my opinion of Les Miserables as well. It's one of the best books I've read, but I don't know if I'll read it again.)