I wanted to read this book next because I just read The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It’s about a small community of people dealing with this one guy who comes in to town and just turns everything upside down. Like people die and stuff. It was great. Anyway I love books about books and knew that Elif Batuman‘s book by the same name would be relevant.
This The Possessed is about Batuman’s grad school experience. She’s picking out a program, going to conferences, and getting travel grants. It’s really about her ongoing decision to study literature. In the opening, she’s wondering if she want to write a novel or study novels. She ends up finding that studying books and the writers and the culture makes you a better writer and thinker anyway.
So the book is her doing literary analysis of different books as she experiences them. Whatever she’s doing or when she first read something versus now, plus where the writer wrote the book or what was going on in their personal life. It was insightful, even if you don’t know all the books first-hand. She’s out traveling here and there, presenting and hearing papers, and learning other languages. She goes to Russia finally because she wanted to finally read a Russian book straight through.
Anyway it’s just great reading writing done by a student who really cares about the material. Relate.
Best line: “Why am I here? I thought, looking at a vodka bottle that lay on the ground. It’s because of Chekhov, I answered myself” (Batuman 132).