Reading at even a slow pace also exposes us to more sentences per minute that the average movie or TV show. Just think of all the pauses, transitions, and action scenes where characters are not speaking! This is exactly the reason why heavy readers of just English tend to speak more articulately that average English speakers, despite theoretically having had the same number of years of exposure to the language. Being exposed to a larger “brain feed” of vocabulary and grammar simply trains you to use your language better in your own speech.
1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov’s devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime. Combining two distinct yet interwoven parts—one set in ancient Jerusalem, one in contemporary Moscow—the novel veers from moods of wild theatricality with violent storms, vampire attacks, and a Satanic ball; to such somber scenes as the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, and the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of Gethsemane; to the substance less, circus-like reality of Moscow. Its central characters, Woland (Satan) and his retinue—including the vodka-drinking black cat, Behemoth; the poet, Ivan Homeless; Pontius Pilate; and a writer known only as The Master, and his passionate companion, Margarita—exist in a world that blends fantasy and chilling realism, an artful collage of grotesqueries, dark comedy, and timeless ethical questions.
2. Eugene Onegin
In the 1820s, Eugene Onegin is a bored Saint Petersburg dandy, whose life consists of balls, concerts, parties and nothing more. One day he inherits a landed estate from his uncle. When he moves to the country, he strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, a starry-eyed young poet named Vladimir Lensky. One day, Lensky takes Onegin to dine with the family of his fiancée, the sociable but rather thoughtless Olga Larina. At this meeting he also catches a glimpse of Olga’s sister Tatyana. A quiet, precocious romantic and the exact opposite of Olga, Tatyana becomes intensely drawn to Onegin. Soon after, she bares her soul to Onegin in a letter professing her love. Contrary to her expectations, Onegin does not write back. When they meet in person, he rejects her advances politely but dismissively and condescendingly. This famous speech is often referred to as Onegin’s Sermon: he admits that the letter was touching, but says that he would quickly grow bored with marriage and can only offer Tatyana friendship; he coldly advises more emotional control in the future, lest another man take advantage of her innocence.
3. Anna Karenina
Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Karenin provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfill her passionate nature — with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.
Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.
4. The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th-century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, judgment, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia, with a plot which revolves around the subject of patricide. Dostoyevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which inspired the main setting. Since its publication, it has been acclaimed as one of the supreme achievements in world literature.
The novel evolved and expanded from an 1849 short story or sketch entitled «Oblomov’s Dream». The novel focuses on the midlife crisis of the main character, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, an upper middle class son of a member of Russia’s nineteenth
century landed gentry. Oblomov’s distinguishing characteristic is his slothful attitude towards life. While a common negative characteristic, Oblomov raises this trait to an art form, conducting his little daily business apathetically from his bed.
While clearly comedic, the novel also seriously examines many critical issues that faced Russian society in the nineteenth century. Some of these problems included the uselessness of landowners and gentry in a feudal society that did not encourage innovation or reform, the complex relations between members of different classes of society such as Oblomov’s relationship with his servant Zakhar, and courtship and matrimony by the elite.
6. A hero of our time
In its adventurous happenings, its abductions, duels, and sexual intrigues, A Hero of Our Time looks backward to the tales of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, so beloved by Russian society in the 1820s and ’30s. In the character of its protagonist, Pechorin, the archetypal Russian antihero, Lermontov’s novel looks forward to the subsequent glories of a Russian literature that it helped, in great measure, to make possible.
7. Who is happy in Russia?
Who is Happy in Russia? tells the story of seven peasants who set out to ask various elements of the rural population if they are happy, to which the answer is never satisfactory. The poem is noted for its rhyme scheme: «several unrhymed iambic tetrameters ending in a Pyrrhic are succeeded by a clausule in iambic trimeter» (Terras 319). This rhyme resembles a traditional Russian folk song.
8. A fate of a man
There is restraint and a trace of sadness in the way Mikhail Sholokov begins his story, as if to warn the reader that it is not an easy tale he has to tell. One postwar spring the author met a tall man with stooping shoulders and big rugged hands. And perhaps for the first and last time soldier Andrei Sokolov told a chance acquaintance the story of his life, told how he endured tortures and sufferings that would have broken many a man of weaker nature… But Sokolov’s torn and wounded heart is still eager for life and eager to share life with his little Vanya, orphaned by the war like himself. Sholokov’s The Fate of a Man ends on a stern note. Yet as one closes the book one believes that Andrei Sokolov will give all the strength of his generous Russian soul to his adopted son and that the boy will grow at his father’s side into another man who can overcome any obstacle if his country calls upon him to do so.
9. Doctor Zhivago
During the Russian Revolution, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif), is a young doctor who has been raised by his aunt and uncle following his father’s suicide. Yuri falls in love with beautiful Lara Guishar (Julie Christie), who has been having an affair with her mother’s lover, Victor Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), an unscrupulous businessman. Yuri, however, ends up marrying his cousin, Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). But when he and Lara meet again years later, the spark of love reignites.
The plot of Doctor Zhivago is long and intricate. It can be difficult to follow for two main reasons: first, Pasternak employs many characters, who interact with each other throughout the book in unpredictable ways, and second, he frequently introduces a character by one of his/her three names, then subsequently refers to that character by another of the three names or a nickname, without expressly stating that he is referring to the same character. To avoid this confusion, the summary below uses a character’s full name when the character is first introduced.
10. The twelve chairs
Ostap Bender is an unemployed con artist living by his wits in postrevolutionary Soviet Russia. He joins forces with Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, a former nobleman who has returned to his hometown to find a cache of missing jewels which were hidden in some chairs that have been appropriated by the Soviet authorities. The search for the bejeweled chairs takes these unlikely heroes from the provinces to Moscow to the wilds of Soviet Georgia and the Trans-caucasus mountains; on their quest they encounter a wide variety of characters: from opportunistic Soviet bureaucrats to aging survivors of the prerevolutionary propertied classes, each one more selfish, venal, and ineffective than the one before.