Any reader worth their salt knows that books are always better than the movies. Movies have a budget and a time limit. They also can’t tell us what a character is thinking or feeling. We are given great detail in a book on every aspect of a scene that movies can miss. Books can hit us with powerful emotions as we slowly read through a phenomenal scene. All these ways are why books can win over media.
It is more work to read, sure, I get it. Isn’t making our brain work harder the goal? It is a muscle to keep practicing and it will get easier and easier. A rich and meaningful life takes work. Reading worthwhile books will elevate our thinking and change our lives. We will find the reward as we put forth the effort.
When our children realize that other people get scared, or lonely, or make mistakes, they will realize they are not alone in the world. We can reread a significant passage again and again. We can reread an exciting scene if we didn’t fully understand what happened. We can be alone somewhere and be in a completely different world for hours and hours at a time. Reading good books where there is difficulty and conflict helps our children learn how to manage that. New research even shows that reading literary fiction–meaning books that are considered an art form, like classic novels– improves adults’ ability to have empathy for other people’s emotions.
This means that well written books that have stood the test of time can help our characters become better because the book can lay out a complex scenario and show how the characters navigated through it. We can be inspired by their good choices.
I recently read the classic Russian novel, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. When you read classics sometimes it takes 200 pages to get into the story. Don’t give up, you will be richly rewarded.
One particular scene was very poignant for me. It made me wonder at how skillfully Tolstoy was able to capture the elation I feel when I can overcome my pride and defensiveness and can be forgiving when someone wounds me. He describes so beautifully how good we feel when we can forgive.
In this scene, Anna Karenina is dying. She married an older man, Alexei Karenin, who is one of the most important people in Moscow. He is proper and scandalized over his wife’s public affair with a much younger, handsome officer, Count Alexei Vronsky, in the Imperial Army. She has asked on her deathbed for her husband’s forgiveness. Karenin initially doesn’t want to come into her bedroom. Ever since the news of her affair it has been painful to interact with her, to even look at her:
[Karenin:] “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
Karenin then says to Vronsky:
“You may trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of society, I will not abandon her, I will never say a word of reproach to you.”
His “bliss of forgiveness” resonated deeply with me. That is what happens when we overcome our human weakness and do the right thing. We are rewarded with incredible peace and relief. Throughout this book Tolstoy illuminates these characters with divine feelings and a wish to live a better version of themselves. Every time someone had a breakthrough and struggled to become a better person, I would stop and reread the section. Tolstoy is teaching me why happiness hinges on doing the right and honorable thing. He also showed how selfishness and living for the moment can ruin a person’s life. Watching the movie Anna Karenina had none of the same effect on me. All the nuance was gone and just the main story was fleshed out, with some hints of despair and grief by the main characters. Decide to drink deeply. Do the work and read the book!