Anna Ks All Around!, Ep. 212

By NYPL Podcasts
March 10, 2022

Welcome to The Librarian Is In, The New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next.

Statue of Leo Tolstoy, from Wikipedia CC BY-NC 2.0.

Hello! We're happy to have you join us for another episode!

Frank updated us on his Anna Karenina journey!

Crystal surprised Frank with a last-minute reading pick! Instead of reading along with Frank, Crystal will be reading a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina

And Crystal's prepared reading pick for this week is...

And our producer makes an appearance to pull this week's tarot card!

Tell us what everybody's talking about in your world of books and libraries! Suggest Hot Topix(TM)! Send an email or voice memo to podcasts[at]


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[ Music ]

[Frank:] Hello and welcome to The Librarian Is In, the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next. I'm Frank.

[Crystal:] And I'm Crystal.

[Frank:] And here we are, darling. How are you?

[Crystal:] I'm good, Frank why can I only see your eyes?

[Frank:] Because the computer is raised high.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Frank:] All you need to see is my eyes my darling. I'll tell you everything you need to know.

[Crystal:] Yes.

[Frank:] My crazy eyes. I know I'm still under construction. So I'm in a little closet under the stairs, again, with a little laptop that has bad audio, and I'm trying to make everything happen. But soon we shall hopefully meet in-person. Very soon.

[Crystal:] Yeah, hopefully.

[Frank:] Yeah. So just remember to speak up, my stupid audio is --

[Crystal:] Yeah, let me bring the computer closer to me again.

[Frank:] I know. I want to hear every delicious word you have to share with me about what you've been reading, what you've been doing and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

[Crystal:] I mean, I feel like I've mostly just been doomscrolling because of obviously what's happening in the world right now.

[Frank:] Doomscrolling?

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] Is that a thing?

[Crystal:] Yeah. It's just like scrolling through news articles of like, really terrible things that are happening. And I feel like I can't stop in some ways because it's changing so quickly with like Ukraine and the invasion there. And, you know, it's like a really scary time. It feels like --

[Frank:] Did you freeze?

[Crystal:] No.

[Frank:] Oh, you were very still, it was a very scary time. And I thought you were going to complete that sentence.

[Crystal:] No, that was it. It's a very scary time.

[Frank:] I guess that's all you need said. Yeah. I mean, I can go down that conversational hole, because of course, I could think about -- well, it's hard to even to remember anymore. But like, when you would get the newspaper and read an article or a couple of articles about what's happening, and you get that particular newspaper's point of view for as the best reporting they could provide. And then you would think about it or not or talk to your friends about it or not. And now it's just endless. I mean, you can find points of view of every sort about any issue that's happening. And that's definitely I've learned over this lockdown that I've since used the phone more and stuff like that. And now you'll never really land anywhere you just keep going and going until you're exhausted or haven't had enough or get distracted by something else, I guess.

[Crystal:] I think that's very true. That feeling of like, you just -- you're going in circles until you just get tired and then.

[Frank:] I mean, you know, all right, everyone knows who listens to this podcast that I'm going to -- I repeat myself all the time. And I'm going to do it again. Like I just -- I keep coming back to my themes. The great themes of Frank's life. And I was talking to a colleague about the book I'm actually going to talk to you about, and it was this sense of reading the book. Here I go again, but reading the paper book, reading the book itself was a focusing agent for me, like, and to be honest, for the first time I had an experience, because I'm reading a very long book right now. I had the experience of anticipating an intrusion as I was reading it, like I subconsciously was wondering why I wasn't getting alerts from something else. And I said, you're reading a book Frank, you're reading a printed book. There are no alerts here, which is exactly why you like doing it. But I had that for the first time where I had a sense of vibration inside of me that sort of made me think, oh, I should be getting an email or something. And it's like, oh, no, but that made me appreciate even more. And I say that all the time. And I guess I say it's a focusing agent, but it's obviously not always because the distractions are real, but I really do appreciate them more and more. And it also, you know, brought up for me about reading very long form books. Like the book I'm reading is 800 pages and I'm going to talk about it in installments. I teased you with this before, but we'll get there, but I don't know.

[Crystal:] When you're usually reading these prep books, do you tend to read it in like, one long session? Or you normally break it up into smaller sessions?

[Frank:] It depends. It depends, like, I was thinking about it. And of course, I think with a long book, you feel, or at least I do, like sort of anxious about it, like, I'll have to give it all my attention. And also, it's, you know, how am I going to manage it like, you know, reading a book, like over a couple of days or overnight or something that's quick, and you could just launch into talking about it, this actually takes a lot more time. And I haven't really done that in a while. I think I could do either, at first I was like, reading a small like little bit each time, was working really well. But then I really wanted to read a long, long part of it, because I wanted to really get immersed into it. So I was doing both really, I mean, there really aren't any rules. And it's just interesting in the anxiety around, or at least about the things we care about, like reading and understanding and then knowing how to talk about it makes me anxious, because I want to be able to be coherent, and interesting and get across things I might have thought of, or the love of the experience. So sometimes, like, my concentration though has been so crazy. And we just talked about issues of concentration with like, you know, phones and social media, and stuff like that. But the renovation at Jefferson Market really is on my mind all the time. It's getting closer, and it's just so much to do that I find those thoughts intruding, because I care very much about this physical building, and I want to get done when I want to get done. But that's life, you know, all right, it happens. But I sort of fantasize about when I could be back in my own office and have the space ready. I mean, the cleaner it gets the more alive it feels and it's very exciting. So distractions right now. I mean, this fire alarm's going off behind me. Audio is not that great on this laptop. The construction guys were singing before and they were listening to the Bee Gees, like, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

[Crystal:] Okay, I'm sad I missed that.

[Frank:] What?

[Crystal:] I said I'm sad I missed hearing them singing I would have liked to hear that.

[ Singing ]

[Crystal:] Listeners can't see, but Frank brought out the invisible mic, which is always a good sign.

[Frank:] I did that.

[Crystal:] Yes.

[Frank:] You know; I was thinking I was going to sing a Go-Go's song because I've been listening to them lately. But here we go Bee Gees, hey.

[Crystal:] I do feel like what you were saying about the space of Jefferson Market, being in the sort of transitional period, something that really resonates, because I do feel sometimes, like the space around you is a mess. It feels like my mind is a mess, too. You know, and it's hard to not be distracted by that and having like, a nice space like my workspace, I put everything into the drawers as much as I can. Because I feel like that cleaned off space keeps my mind clear and like better able to focus on work, which is partially why sometimes I hate working from home because it's a cluttered mess. Yeah.

[Frank:] Yeah. And, yeah, quality and attention it's a struggle for sure. You know, I guess I should -- but I got to admit, you know, there are other places I suppose I could go. I sort of insist on coming here even with the trouble.

[Crystal:] Because that's Jefferson Market.

[Frank:] Clients to the audience. To get psychologically, you know, drilled down a little bit. It's like a defiant thing. I'm like, this is my library I'm going to my library and I'm doing what I have to do this is important, this is what we do. But yet really, the renovation takes precedence right now. And so I do stay out of the way and I don't want to, you know, impinge on myself. Like I found this little closet and I was like, thank God the Wi-Fi is here and I can do it here. You know, people are psychologically all over. I mean, if you really think about it, which is of course [inaudible], because my themes -- that part of an interesting issue, it's about, like reading a book that you connect with, and then you think, oh, I know what it's about. And then, for me, I realize, I go great. I know what it's about and it feels great. And then I suddenly think or thought with this book, am I forcing my preferred themes onto this book? Or is this book really -- just happens to be about the stuff that I like to read by luck? Because I always -- when I get excited about books, which is most of them I've talked to you about, like, I feel like am I forcing my own needs onto the book?

[Crystal:] And I think that is the fun part of reading sometimes, like it's hard to not project some of our thoughts and wants and desires onto the books themselves.

[Frank:] Well, because I read, I'm reading Anna Karenina, like I told you by Tolstoy, which is a Russian book. Written in 1878. And, you know, obviously, if you're aware of it, it's considered a classic. It's 800 pages of love, life, and laughter that's for sure. And I wanted to really read it, I've never read it before. [inaudible] what the hubbub was about. And it's really good. I'm really [multiple speakers].

[Crystal:] What page are you on currently?

[Frank:] Well, that's a great question. Because I'm, like a third of the way through.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Frank:] It's actually called Anna Karenina: A Novel in Eight Parts. So it's kind of like, you know, part three.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Frank:] And it's, you know, it's too much to tell and in like, one sitting, I think, because, I mean, it brings up so many interesting questions, story of love contemplated by classics, like, the length of it, like I always think, you know, books, I always say, oh, books were longer then because in 1878, let's say there was no radio, no TV, there was like, the books, if you didn't get to a theater, if you could get to a theater was everything. So you'd have -- my interpretation is that you need to -- for an author to create a world really vividly and interestingly, it would be a long deep dive into it, maybe now, when we read books, we have more of a shorthand than the author, shorthand sort of thing, because we're so visually sophisticated. Being told stories, stories, stories, from streaming shows, and multiple episode shows, and movies, movies, movies. So it requires a patience, but the writing is so good, and you can sort of see like, early manifestations of, like, soap opera tropes, and the triangulated love stories that we've become used to or have seen several times, which maybe people reading this book can. And also like with Dickens, it's like some books were written in installments in magazines that were published over a year. So they were collected into a book, they were super long. So that's that. And then it also brings to mind like, what is this soap opera? Why is it to have a slightly negative connotation? Or does it? Because Ann Karenina, you know, has been considered high tragedy. Some people call it a trashy soap opera, like, you know, at its core has a -- those of you -- let me ask you without you saying it do you know how Anna Karenina ends basically or do you think you know?

[Crystal:] I think I know.

[Frank:] Right. I think a lot of us think we know.

[Crystal:] Okay, but am I wrong? I'm probably wrong? [Frank] I mean; I guess we could say it. Spoiler alert. Shoot. Well, should we?

[Crystal:] Okay, yeah still spoiler, yes.

[Frank:] And I think in the culture that Anna Karenina kills herself.

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] Throws herself under a train.

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] You knew that.

[Crystal:] That part I knew.

[Frank:] Huh?

[Crystal:] That part I knew. I think I only knew that because like, visually my head I think I see the actress in the movie.

[Frank:] Well, Keira Knightley did a production of it, which I want to see after it. Because like I really, as I've said before, like to read without knowing a thing about the book I'm getting into and I actually felt like, when I thought of this book, I was like, "Well, I sort of knew what happened." And then I thought, let's even do pages you don't know everything that happens. You don't know how the author's writing and then you just think, you know, I haven't seen any movie versions of it. It's just in the culture. But I knew how it ended, so or how one character ends. The title character. So why did I bring that up? I was talking about soap opera, I guess. So it's been called multiple things like that. And it just made me think about soap operas and, like, on TV, and then certain movies that I love that are like high mellow drama. And I've talked about them, too. But like, what is the difference between melodrama and drama? Like something we say is oh, that's a very serious movie or a serious book. And then someone says, "Oh, it was fun," even though it deals the same issues, like a love story that's gone wrong, or I mean, and I guess. Do you have any thoughts on that?

[Crystal:] I don't know, like, when I think about soap operas and maybe I'm projecting too much onto it. I feel like there is this kind of element sometimes of like, the misogynistic culture or whatever, where it feels like maybe those are stories where that deal with a lot of dramatic things that women go through. Or it's like, for women, or whatever, and it's -- I can treat in a different way where I have read, you know, like thrillers like the Jack Reacher series, where it's a man at the forefront, but like there's similar levels of ridiculous drama, but they're not treated the same way. Do you know what I mean?

[Frank:] Yes.

[Crystal:] But I do wonder about the interplay.

[Frank:] I think you have a good point because I was thinking about that too. Like, I often think about, like, the two -- or at least in the years past, like the twin titans of television ratings are like the Super Bowl and the Oscars. And one is considered pretty male, and the other is sometimes considered female. And I think yet the Super Bowl is treated to me at least with so much more like cultural importance as, like, sort of the Oscars, like, you know. And I was thinking about that I can also have, like, you know. I was reading somewhere recently about a certain university and how it's very predominant how like -- I think it was a meme online about a university's -- they showed a picture of the of the university football locker room. And next side by side to one of the classrooms and the locker room was like lavish. And this classroom was like falling apart. And I think, you know, so much money goes into sports and how important sports are and how much money they do make, I guess. So to your point, I think it's interesting, it might be just a primal survival thing of watching, sort of, which, in essence is like war-like, you know, sports or like competition and who wins and can be physically challenging.

[Crystal:] And damaging yeah.

[Frank:] Where the women's province deals with emotions. And so why should emotions, soap operas and such, why should emotions be less interesting to us? Because we're human, and I was thinking, I think they scare us more. It's easier to punch someone's face than to sort of analyze how you feel or to work on how you feel. Well, in theory, it's easier. I mean, it wouldn't be easy for me, but you know, what I mean? And also, I think people are a little embarrassed by their emotions.

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] And so they denigrate them. And, you know, so it's like, let's talk about it, it's like, "What's to talk about?" It actually happens in Anna Karenina that very dramatic moment and one character and I wrote in my notes, like soap opera trope said, "Oh, it's late let's go to sleep," because they couldn't continue talking about what they were talking about because it was too difficult. And so I think maybe there's something there, because our emotions are all we have like how we feel and therefore -- and the language we use to discuss those emotions and turn that into reality. It's like too hard. And any soap opera is like in a heightened sense try to work those things out. I think maybe the difference between soap opera and like sort of high serious dramas that much much more happens in soap opera. Like you know, you can have eight husbands in the course of two years and you know, be abducted by aliens and all sorts of drama where in the real life you know, you could go two or three years without not a lot happening, so called, not a lot big stuff. And that's why like serious dramas are like very contemplative and like kitchen table at a window and moving through life and the day-to-day decisions we make. So, all right. So there's that and then so Anna Karenina, like, at the heart of it has this love triangle, Anna Karenina with Count Vronski. You might have heard that name is the lover and her husband, Alexei Karenin. There are a lot of other characters, probably at least five or six other major characters at least so far that follow through. I mean, Anna Karenina is like famous for its opening line, do you remember? You probably know. It's the all happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are very different. Like it's a famous opening line. Let me get it. Let me get it. Let's go get it. All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And it opens with Anna Karenina's brother who's married to Dolly, who are having a marital problem because Dolly found out that her husband Anna Karenina's brother had an affair with their ex-nanny. So you walk into this book in marital discord and love problems. And Anna is introduced by coming to town to sort of see if she can patch things up between her brother and his wife. So that's how we introduced to her. But what I realized this book has in it that I like, and this is what I said way back about, am I putting my own sort of themes onto it. Because I like emotional complexity, I like characters who don't do things you think they're going to do in a complex way or someone who set up as one thing reveals other things. And I'm like, that we all have a lot -- a huge range in us. And if we were fully like, present and honest and stuff, we would have that, like not just the good parts of us. And I think sometimes the good parts of us are language we've applied to emotions because we really can't handle the bad parts of us or don't want to admit them. And that's what I like what happens in books is, it definitely happens here, what I've realized is that the characters as written, like, you know, as I sort of just said it, it's like this love triangle. And you could say, Anna's husband is very businesslike and doesn't want to deal with his emotions. And Anna is like, wanting to express all the roiling passions inside of herself. And Vronski is this charming, possibly not -- maybe I'm not there yet, maybe not the nicest guy, but he's, well, yeah, he's very nice, very charming, very sweet and very actually open. But a little bit of a, you know, carouser, so you don't know where that's going to go. But what I'm saying is that you're getting these types, passionate woman, unhappy in her love and her marriage but sterile, cold business guy with this charming lover. There's the cliche. But then Tolstoy confounds a lot of that, he contradicts a lot of that. I mean, I wrote a note that said, let me go through my steno pad that has notes on it, let me see. Oh, all right. That's another point actually. Well, it's basically a contradiction that people contradict themselves and don't understand fully and I said this before too, happen. They don't understand fully what's happening to them, which is very human. All of us have probably had that feeling every day at least once a day, if we really think about it. Like how do I characterize what's happening to me, right this moment? Like, and you search for language, and you try to analyze your feelings, and then put language to it and see if you figure it out. And then even then it's like, is that true? And who can decide if it's true except me? Or the person feeling it, so it becomes a very confusing thing, especially when your emotions are truly ruffled. So there's lots of ways you can go, but I have to say one of my favorite parts have surprised me and this at least first third of it was getting inside the mind of Anna's husband, that cold visit. Like the person which you think would be, you know, oh, I get that character, a standard cardboard figure of like, sterile cold husband. That's why she's having an affair. You know, oh, that language I understand. I get it she's perfectly warranted to because they don't have a loving marriage. But there was a great part where Alexei, the husband, is contemplating what's happening because he goes, of course, it's society and they're aristocrat, so they go to some party and you know, Anna is sort of sitting on a sofa with Count Vronski tete-a-tete talking and society around them at the party are commenting and sort of looking and he's sort of like, whatever women talk to other men it's not a big deal. And then he thinks the party room, the people in the room itself were sort of like heightening what was happening, and he was like, "Oh, that concerns me that other people think there's something improprieties going on," like there's something wrong. And he leaves early from the party waiting for Anna to come back. And he, in his head, contemplates -- he can't get rid of this emotion, this is the thing. He's trying to do work. He's reading his books, he's going through his papers, but the emotions keep coming up and he doesn't like that feeling. Because he felt like, all right, it's okay. She can talk to other people, he said, but society around here were indicating there was something else there that could be embarrassing. That could be betrayal. And he can't let go of his feelings, even though he doesn't have words for them yet. And so his struggle is to deal with these feelings. He doesn't want to feel them. They're very uncomfortable. And so here, let me give you an idea. Alexei was not a jealous man. Jealousy, in his opinion, was insulting to a wife. And a man ought to have trust in his wife. Why he ought to have trust, that is complete assurance that his wife would always love him he never asked himself, but he felt no distrust, because he had trust and told himself that he had to have it. I love that, like when we believe in something about ourselves, whether it's illusionary or not. And we just have to believe it until our emotions, maybe tear that apart, but I love that description and that he just trusted her because he had to, what does that mean? But now there was conviction that jealousy was a shameful thing and that one ought to have trust was not destroyed, he thought that he stood face-to-face with something illogical and senseless, and he did not know what to do. And he continues going on thinking about it. And he eventually comes up, which I love this too, because we all do this, he comes up with, like, you know, her emotions of hers, there's really none of my business. Her emotions are actually her business, and religions business, like, anything that she's going through, she needs to take up with the priest or with religion or with God between -- communion between her and God, it has nothing to do with me. Which is a way of putting language on an experience, which we wouldn't do now, in a romance, possibly the other would say, would never say your emotions are your business, not my problem. Now, we'd be like, "Oh, tell me about it. Let's talk about it." If you could, but of course, that's hard, too. But I love how he thinks his way into a place he needs to be. He doesn't want to address his own emotions. He just doesn't want to do it. But he's feeling such emotion he can't stop it. So he says -- really what he's doing is trying to seek a way to get out of it. But yet feel like he's morally right or just in his decision. So when he's like, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, her emotions really are her business, not mine. I really don't have to ask her about them. And she should take it up with God. I mean, it's religious. It's something she has to handle herself. And then he's like, "Ha, great." And there's even a line that says, he felt relieved and that he found that he found a legitimate category for this newly arisen circumstance, meaning the possible romance his wife's having with Vronski, I love that. It's like, how many times I've gone through that where I'm like, oh, yeah, yeah. If I just do this, this, and I feel such relief, because I feel like I put it in a box, make sense and that is right. And then of course, three days later, four days later, five days later, it blows up in your face because it really wasn't the right place to put it in the first place. You weren't facing it [inaudible] humanity. So I guess, what they said about soap opera it's like, Anna's husband is not just this cardboard figure of stern on lovingness, he's like a hustling character with his own emotions and though you may not like him for it because there is a coldness to him. But clearly it's written as like he's feeling uncomfortable and unhappy because of his emotions, he doesn't really -- it's not that he doesn't know how to talk about them he doesn't want to, it's too much. Maybe there's more there, but as I move on -- but I don't know. But that's really just one thing, there's so much that goes on in this book, but it's the core of it and I love that these characters contradict themselves, or at least they struggle to find language to fit their emotions and we shall see. I mean, Anna herself I'll just say finally, and that she's interestingly portrayed because she is not given motives. I mean, I don't think she's being created as a cipher or a mystery to be like, sort of like feminine glamour. I think it's just to show our emotions come from places we don't even know. When you think about it there is no reason, you don't know explicitly why she embarks on an affair with this guy. She presented as very like loving and loved and pretty and nice and sort of like a cool girl and she's fine, and then suddenly she swirls into this like, relationship and you're really not all that, and that's an interesting thing, it's almost like she's possessed. And there is a line at the end of one chapter that said, you know, she was, when I said before, like let's go to bed we can't talk about this anymore," with her husband, she goes into bed but her eyes are wide open, she can't fall asleep. And it says her eyes shined in the darkness and almost as if she could see her own eyes, herself. Like, she was almost outside of her eyes looking at her passionate, shining eyes, and it suggested some sort of possession. And another character who loves her calls her something almost demonic in her energy, that there's something that exudes off of her sometimes that feels unexplainable and heightened. So it's almost like, maybe that's why her character's persisted, because you don't get reasons for why she does what she does. She's a almost pure emotion and without any kind of understanding like, herself or the reader. Like you're just like, why does she do this when you think about it? You want to believe in like passionate love, but then you realize she doesn't get an explanation yet. I didn't say that the way I wanted to. But there it is. So I -- jeez I've gone on forever as usual. So Anna Karenina. I'm going to talk about it more as I finish it on probably two more sessions maybe.

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] And I'm sure I'll be revisiting these things over and over. And over and over.

[Crystal:] I will say that listening to you talk about the book has, like, it makes me want to read it partially because I did read -- it's the same author, Tolstoy's War and Peace when I was really young. I believe I was like, bribed into reading it by my parents. Like they gave me money to do so. And I was like, all right, I'll do this.

[Frank:] Wow.

[Crystal:] Yeah, yeah. I do recall like some of the descriptions of the characters in particular as being like really fascinating. The war parts for me at the time, as a teen it was like very impenetrable. But I still recall, like the description of one of the female characters the way he like, described her like, now for the way it pulled down, all that kind of stuff. And so this seems like it would be interesting book for me to get into. I will say, I do want to mention that I have started a book. This is not the one I've prepared for the podcasts. But the book I did start reading last night is called Anna K.

[Frank:] What? Oh, wait, you did it because I was reading this or this is --?

[Crystal:] So I'm going to go on the parallel journey with you. In this book Anna K is a young adult retelling of Anna Karenina by Jenny Lee. It came out in 2020. So it's really fascinating to hear you describe some of the stuff because there are these equivalent characters. I'm very early on in the book right now. Like I have not gotten very far at all. It's set in Manhattan, by the way in Greenwich, I think, specifically, in contemporary times. And there's like the brother's name is Steven, his girlfriend, Lolly. And now you're talking about the --

[Frank:] Well, the brother's name is Stiva in Anna Karenina, and Dolly yeah.

[Crystal:] Yeah, this is like really dividing me because I was not familiar with the original novel at all, but like hear this I'm like, "Oh, this is like a really close following of it."

[Frank:] Wow.

[Crystal:] I'm only a few chapters in it's really interesting to me just because as this YA book Anna K, and then the second book came out, called Anna K Away. And I think the first book there's like three parts. I'm not sure about Anna K Away. So I wonder if it's like a trilogy possibly. But it's interesting because a lot of YA books that I have read, it's a very immediate connection with the protagonist. It's usually in first person sometimes there's like rotating POVs between like two main protagonists. And this one I think, is seems like it's true so far to the original and there's a very distant kind of narrative voice with Anna, right? Where she has not really shown up yet, it's focused on the brothers so far. And it's going to be very interesting I think to continue reading this as you read yours and kind of connected to the young adult genre where I feel like that distant narrative, their personal voices maybe like less common. And also I have no idea how they will do the ending maybe it'll change maybe it won't, how faithful it's going to be. So that's the adventure I'm looking forward to.

[Frank:] So when you reading about the brother because he does open the book in Tolstoy's original version and he's very much prominent. How is he presented? Because it's like, he's had the affair with the nanny and his wife, Dolly or Lolly in your version?

[Crystal:] Lolly, yeah.

[Frank:] And is very upset and like, "I can't be in this marriage and I have to leave it's betrayal." And they have kids and Stiva his and his brother who has the affair is just like, "Oh, oh darn it, it was just a nothing thing." And it's sort of just like this guy focusing on other things again, not on his emotions and stuff not really analyzing itself, just sort of like why is there such a kerfuffle for this?

[Crystal:] He has the same kind of feeling to him. I think like even the first page, it talks about how I don't know it was like Lolly and his anniversary, he sent her these like eggplant emojis looks like very current I don't know.

[Frank:] Eggplant emoji?

[Crystal:] Yeah.

[Frank:] Oh, [brief laughter] it was in present day and it's not in Russia.

[Crystal:] No, no it's set in present-day Manhattan. Yeah. So it also makes me think about what you said originally about how something about like, I guess like the maybe visual signifiers or something are different for us in present day. There's a lot of like, what's the word? Shorthand for us, right? Like for us eggplant emojis is shorthand for like all this other stuff, where I think it allows writers now to be in some ways, like less descriptive, because we kind of -- I don't know, anyway that was interesting.

[Frank:] No, that's a good point that's what I was talking about before, about shorthand about how we're so saturated in visual imagery and storytelling, and so many different forms of media. And I was --

[Crystal:] Just a photography, yeah.

[Frank:] Even the writers themselves who want to write their thing is to write can feel they can do a shorthand, because we're so familiar cinematically with things and now social media one. Because sometimes you can glaze over -- well, you can always glaze over reading because reading requires concentration. But there's certain things like you said before a war in peace. Anna Karenina, like, you said the politics at the time, can elude you because they were so prominent then and now you might struggle to figure out what exactly what was happening. Because I figured out that, at one point, thanks to footnotes, actually, this is just after the serfs, like slaves of Russia were emancipated. So there was a lot of discussion about what work would look like now, which is a very interesting topic. I mean, that's a whole other thing that's happening in this book with another character named Levin, which I know will appear in your version too, because he's really prominent. And he's having his own romantic issues, which are actually very [inaudible], which I didn't even get to. But wait, so this Anna K was not even in the book you were going to talk about today or what?

[Crystal:] No, I wasn't. I can't even see it. Because my background is erasing it. Wait, hold on.

[Frank:] No. Is that the Anna K book?

[Crystal:] No, no, this is -- so the book I read is Either/Or by Ellis --

[Frank:] What's it? Wait. Say it again, I'm sorry.

[Crystal:] It's called Either/Or so Either/Or by Elif Batuman. Have you heard of that author?

[Frank:] Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. This is not YA, this is adult.

[Crystal:] This is an adult book. Yes, I actually feel like it's kind of weirdly connected because the protagonist is going to school and is going through her syllabus. And a lot of that involves like Russian literature as Anna Karenina. So this book is -- I don't think I was aware of at the time, but it is the sequel to The Idiot, which came out in 2017-ish is like a Pulitzer Prize nominee, women's prize for a fiction nominee, this one's going to come out in May of this year there is like -- it is in our collection where you can -- people can put themselves on hold for it. But it is a part two to The Idiot, which I again did not realize but I think it's totally fine as a standalone. So, let's see, I wrote a bunch of notes in it. So I'll give you like a quick summary of the first book of The Idiot set in 1995. Selin is a daughter of Turkish immigrants and is studying at Harvard, where she meets another student, Ivan, who's from Hungary. And at the end of the year, she goes to Hungary then France. And it's essentially like a journey of like self-discovery and self-invention, which again, I missed all that entire story, because I did not read Idiot. But in the second book, Selin's story continues, and then she's back in America at Harvard. It's a year later, and she's trying to make sense of her life and her experience in Hungary, which I think kind of relates to what you were saying too, about this idea of like the characters really trying to figure out like the meaning of life and their place in it. And oh, yeah, so she's trying to make sense for like her experience in Hungary and her relationship with Ivan. And throughout the book, she's drawing all these parallels to classical novels where women are often abandoned, right? And are working through those ideas, I think in kind of a defiance of that trope for herself. I will say this book is like really dense, I think it's 400 pages or so. And it's one where I feel like, as I gained distance from it, I like it more and more. Because it's so dense, I think sometimes, there are moments where I feel like disconnected from it and then there are other moments where it just like, pulls you back in. There's a lot of great sort of serious philosophical thinking as again Selin is kind of working through all of these ideas, but it's also like undercut with these moments of humor that kind of help, like break it up as well. And the other thing about this book and I think with my initial reading of it, I did kind of encounter maybe my own sort of, I want to say like, bias. Because the form of it I feel like is less traditional, right? And it reminds me of this book, I don't know if you've ever read it's called Meander, Spiral, Explodes: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison. It's an interesting book, it's a fun book, but in the book, the ideas presented that like the dominant narrative structure, right, is very -- as described by Alison, masculosexual.

[Frank:] Masculo?

[Crystal:] Masculosexual is a term that's used because it has this like exposition, rising action, you have a climax, falling action, and denouement, right? And I feel like there is this kind of meandering quality of this book, that is not something that I'm like, necessarily used to and I had to like, get out of that headspace because you're like, oh, it just kind of like wanders in some ways. But it is a book that I feel like it makes you have to slow down, right? Because I feel like I rushed through reading. You're, kind of racing towards this action, usually, right? Waiting for that climax to happen. And this book doesn't really do that. And so you have to go slower and sort of like meander with it. And that was challenging for me, but also ultimately, like worth it. I also think this is a book like we're the, you know, you get engrossed in it, because you get, like, I get like, really frustrated with the protagonist who's like sometimes really foolish, sometimes really naive, but you also find that person, especially the woman like really relatable to who's like trying to find her way in the world and maybe like really overthinking some things. A lot overthinking some things. And I also think this is a book too, especially with people who have a lot of experience with different like, classical literature, will get a lot out of. And I think for me the challenge was, there's so many books that had reference in it, there was a user on Goodreads who like listed all the books and it's a long list. It's like, Baudelaire to Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Ishiguro, like so many references. And I think it's a book that like if you are very familiar with that kind of classical literature, you will like absolutely watch for some love this book. I think my familiarity with it is a little bit more limited. So I can definitely see this book is like if I were to go and read Anna Karenina, I would want to come back and reread this book, because I think it will help inform my understanding of it even more. But overall, it was like super enjoyable, so I would definitely recommend it.

[Frank:] Okay, you mentioned three books, the Anna K one that was that, and then the Meander one.

[Crystal:] Yep. But that was in support of this book.

[Frank:] Right. Okay, but it's also -- yeah, okay. No, it's just they're all bubbling in my head, because that's sort of interesting. The Meander one was about, like, literary criticism really. Kind of structure.

[Crystal:] Yeah. The structure of narratives.

[Frank:] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[Crystal:] It's a short book. It's kind of fun. I don't know if I like necessarily group like everything in it. But I think it was a book where I like have never thought about narrative forms in that way before as a lay person. And I appreciate how accessible it was. So I enjoyed it.

[Frank:] Well, that is interesting. I always think I hope to find out on my own about structure and stuff, but it's hard because I also tend to want to force every action that character does into meaning. Like that, you know, if a woman or a character walks into a thunderstorm then that thunderstorm has to represent and her place in it has to represent something emotional, you know. And which seems to me it could be very reductive in a way, just to sort of do like, oh, A equals B, like, you know, emotional Cataclysm is always represented by something external. And that's a very movie thing in some ways. And maybe I bring that to it, which I don't want to do. That's when I sort of tried to relax a little bit with Anna Karenina and I realized, oh, they are contradictory. And then I realized they're up to themselves, like their own emotions and analyses of same are contradictory and jump around. Like I had mentioned before that the husband, when he decided to like, oh, it's her business, her affair, her emotions, I'm just going to be a guide. I'm going to be the man and just say, "Darling, this didn't look well at the party, you need to pull it in and talk to clergy." But then later he gets really nervous about saying that, like, he feels like there's something else there. Like there's emotions there that are still forcing at him that he hasn't dealt with, and it impinges on that resolution. So he's conflicted. And I like that. I like it.

[ Singing ]

[Crystal:] After you read Anna Karenina, I feel like you should read this book.

[Frank:] After I read what -- Anna Karenina what?

[Crystal:] I feel like you should read this book.

[Frank:] I know it sounds so interesting.

[Crystal:] I can't even show it. Why is the Google Meet background [inaudible]?

[Frank:] It's all messed up. There is a character that was mentioned that I thought was going to loom larger but hasn't yet. But again, I'm only a third of the way through, named Varenka is like a companion to an older lady. And she seems very mysterious. She might just be dropped. I don't know. I mean, that happens in sagas with multiple characters but at first I was like, who is she? I don't know if I trust her. Anyway, we'll see.

[Crystal:] I'll have to see if there's an equivalence in Anna K.

[Frank:] Yeah, that's why I was bringing it up because I was like, I wonder if this author -- well, like we read the Vo book.

[Crystal:] The Vo --

[Frank:] The George Baker in Great Gatsby?

[Crystal:] Oh, yep, yep, yep.

[Frank:] The beautiful, what is it? The beautiful -- The Chosen and the Beautiful.

[Crystal:] The Chosen and the Beautiful.

[Frank:] And she took a supporting so called character from Great Gatsby central figure which -- that's why I was mentioning Varenka if it jarred something in your mind about -- you had just started reading this one.

[Crystal:] Oh, yeah, I just started it.

[Frank:] Okay.

[Crystal:] I just had that idea last night. It was like you know what, this will be great. Make it read along.

[Frank:] You're a sneaky lady. All right tarot card me.

[Crystal:] All right, Chrissy.

[Frank:] Are we going to have a producer pull a card like my jacket somewhere? Where is she? She's snoozing, she' taking a break.

[Chrissy:] No, definitely not snoozing.

[Frank:] She's going to pull a card for us and this is going to basically indicate all right, what do you think Crystal? This will be the --

[Crystal:] Our fortune for the next two weeks, right? Is that what?

[Frank:] Okay. I was going to say just for today.

[Chrissy:] Just for today.

[Crystal:] Just for today. Okay, we'll see.

[Frank:] This is basically going to determine the rest of our day Crystal on the --

[Chrissy:] Hold on. Hold on. Oh, my cards are a mess. Okay.

[Crystal:] Knock the cards.

[Chrissy:] Don't knock the cards or --

[Crystal:] You should knock the cards to clear it of bad energy.

[Chrissy:] All right, they're not all in the right direction.

[Frank:] That's okay.

[Chrissy:] All right. Somebody tell me -- give me a general direction. This is my left hand.

[Frank:] All right, all the way to your -- let's say as far right as you can pull a card. How's that Crystal is that all right?

[Crystal:] Yeah, that sounds good.

[Chrissy:] Okay. If we're pulling it for you guys it's the right side. Or correct facing seven of cups.

[Crystal:] So seven of the cups.

[Chrissy:] Hold on I have --

[Crystal:] I have it already. Did we like get seven of cups before?

[Chrissy:] Yeah, we've gotten cups before.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Chrissy:] Seven of cups says if it's upright my internet, yes, it was upright for you guys.

[Frank:] Okay.

[Chrissy:] Opportunities, choices, wishful thinking and illusion. So the seven of cups is a card of new opportunities, choices and at times illusion when the seven of cups appears in a tower reading, you have many options and opportunities from which you can choose but be careful, you're prone to illusion and unrealistic ideals, an opportunity with promises of more money, more fame or more power may sound appealing. But as you look deeper into what is on offer, you may realize it's not everything it's cracked up to be. Your ego may pull you in a specific direction, but it's important you check in with your higher self-first, evaluate your options and dig below the surface and discover what's involved with each choice. You may find that your ideas are not grounded in reality, your plans might sound fabulous in your imagination, but when it comes to implementing them, you may realize that you don't work in the real world.

[Frank:] I mean, I have fame and that's -- iPad's already taken care of. But that does -- totally relates to what I was saying before the frustration of the renovation and the decisions because one of my issues is like, I want total control. And I have to work with other people in terms of this renovation other departments who know more than I do, like facilities wise. But I feel like my vision is the one that should be manifested. And I do wonder if it's illusory like missing information that could be harming me and my ego certainly definitely playing a part.

[Chrissy:] That's it, it says that the seven of cups is a sign of shiny object syndrome when you keep finding the next big thing, but you fail to see any opportunities. This card is inviting you to move out of the ideas and options phase and to choose.

[Frank:] Yeah, choices, which is also Anna Karenina because people are tussling with her emotions and have to choose how they exactly feel on that stuff.

[Crystal:] Also that the husbands, we're talking about like that idea of like illusion and choice that he was facing. I think that's very relevant.

[Chrissy:] And that's the card, it's a modern deck. It's a woman choosing seven ice creams.

[Crystal:] I think I'm on the same website, Biddy Tarot?

[Chrissy:] Biddy Tarot, yeah.

[Crystal:] And this paragraph really resonated with me, you may find that your ideas are not grounded in reality. Your plans might sound fabulous in your imagination, but when it comes to implementing them, you may realize you do not work in the real world. And I will say in the past couple of weeks, I have thought about changing my career to being either an international DJ or a Bitcoin millionaire, and I'm like -- This is clearly telling me that those are not good ways to go.

[Chrissy:] Crystal, if you look lower, it says shiny object syndrome. Shiny object syndrome.

[Frank:] You know that can go multiple ways because like, I actually am thinking of Karenina and his husband in that there is a passage that I was going to read that actually describes how he really sort of creates an artificial life or artificial reality for himself because he cannot face -- he cannot handle his own emotions. And then it goes on to say how life itself and Tolstoy keeps saying life itself crashes into him. And that leaves him bewildered. And he wants to sort of create these delusions that can carry him through. Oh, dear, I was going to say, something --

[Crystal:] So are you calling me delusional?

[Frank:] No.

[Crystal:] Are you telling me that I should pursue international deejaying?

[Frank:] But in terms of me and my struggles with the renovation and manifesting my own ego, and then what Chrissy just read about making choices and also being careful the shiny object thing. Sometimes you've bought up against someone else's delusion, and someone else's illusory problem that can make one feel you're the one that has been having the illusion, almost gas lit to use the term that's used these days, you know what I mean? Like--

[Crystal:] Yes.

[Frank:] -- it might not be your illusory problem. It might be someone who's presenting themselves as real but is actually suffering from that illusion, which is also part of your own consciousness and your responsibility to make a choice to fight or to deal with. So that's really the struggle sometimes, it's like, am I being reasonable? Like am I being -- or see after my long experience in the library, my feeling is that anything can be done, and I feel like anything I want to do by definition is somewhat related to really pushing forward the mission of the library so I can't be wrong. I am not illusory. No.

[Crystal:] The switch [inaudible] quite a journey. Okay. Yes.

[Frank:] Maybe the producer darling should read the tarot thing that was sort of nice having an outside voice talk about --

[Chrissy:] I'm okay with delusions of grandeur and fame [inaudible] --

[Frank:] Exactly. I like --

[Chrissy:] I'm okay with this.

[Frank:] -- how she's stepping into the spotlight, nudging me aside, which is unacceptable. [multiple speakers] Crystal is not it.

[Chrissy:] I'm only trying to make --

[Crystal:] I accept this card was cautioning us against these delusions of grandeur and both of you all are just spooking right into it. [brief laughter].

[Frank:] I'm doubling down and brightening the spotlight.

[Crystal:] Okay. [Frank]: As I look into the life. Oh, dear, I need to take it down off the [inaudible]. Well, that was exciting. Anna Karenina all over the place. Crystal is like taking a moment. What are you doing? You're looking very almost judgy.

[Crystal:] I mean, I mean, this card is telling me I need to puncture all my delusions and that's a hard lesson.

[Frank:] Yeah, tell me about it. All right, the rest of the day let's just take a pin and puncture our illusions one by one, hopefully there's nothing and can't even function.

[Crystal:] Okay, great.

[Frank:] Thanks, Chrissy.

[Chrissy:] Anytime.

[Frank:] All right, let's cut this thing. Oh, thank you everybody for listening along with us. Listening along with us, listening to us.

[Chrissy:] Till the next time, thank you.

[Narrator:] Thanks for listening to the Librarian Is In, a podcast by the New York Public Library. Don't forget to subscribe and leave a review on Apple podcast or Google Play, or send us an email at For more information about the New York Public Library, please visit We're produced by Christine Ferrell. Your host are Frank Collerius and Crystal Chen.