Monday, June 10, 2013

WISHR Challenge: The Death of Ivan Ilych

On April 16th, 2007, Canadian Author Yann Martel started a "guerrilla book club" with the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. Martel, known for the recently-movie-adapted novel Life of Pi , sent Harper a book every two weeks for nearly four years. Along with each book, he sent a letter explaining why he was recommending it. He published the letters on a now-defunct website*, and in a book by the same name: What is Stephen Harper Reading?
Now, as part of my 101 goals in 1001 challenge, I'm going to read and review the first five by the end of the summer (and hopefully I'll enjoy it enough to continue through all 100). I'm calling it the WISHR challenge!

First up: The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

Thoughts before reading: I'd heard of this book before, in the 'it's famous and good literature' way, which rarely bodes well for me liking it, so I wasn't that interested. But Martel's letter sold the story well, and got my hopes up. I also consoled myself with the reminder that it's short (only about 60 pgs).

Here's the best part of the letter - about making time to read:
I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. Meditating monks in their cells are busy. That’s adult life, filled to the ceiling with things that need doing. (It seems only children and the elderly aren’t plagued by lack of time—and notice how they enjoy their books, how their lives fill their eyes.) But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep. And there are other possibilities, too. Sherwood Anderson, the American writer best known for his collection of stories Winesburg, Ohio, wrote his first stories while commuting by train to work. Stephen King apparently never goes to his beloved baseball games without a book that he reads during breaks. So it’s a question of choice. 
^isn't that great?

Thoughts after reading: Wow. Tolstoy can write! But the story he wrote was a tragedy (which I almost uniformly despise), and in the end the story is rather boring. I'm glad it was short enough so I had just enough time to appreciate the craft and not enough to force me to give up in sheer boredom (it only took me about half an hour to read).

So that's that. Book one is done! I'm not going to review this story (although I might some later ones), because let's be honest: if you want a review of Ivan Ilych you can definitely find one online. 

Overall, I'm a bit disappointed by this first read, but not discouraged about my challenge. The story was well-written, just not my cup of tea.

Next up: Animal Farm, by George Orwell

*If you want to read the letters without acquiring the book, you can access the website:, using the Wayback Machine. Basically, this link should take you to the first letter, and you can adjust the date at the top of the screen to see other letters. If that doesn't work, just put the URL into the Wayback Machine, found here.

1 comment:

  1. Summary of Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich