Android Karenina

Functioning Robots are all alike; every malfunctioning robot malfunctions in its own way. (Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters, Android Karenina)

First, let me talk a little about this new-fangled genre of literary mash-up novels. I can easily imagine old-souled literature professors, in their stuffed up offices with their original editions of Tolstoy and Jane Austin, being completely mortified by this new literary fad. I can picture their faces when they realize that their beloved first line of Anna Karenina (All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way) has been changed into the previously mentioned abomination. Their hearts will race, their faces will contort and redden, and their upturned noses will flair with a newfound passion.

Against these hypothetical literature purists I will make three points:

1. I have noticed that my favorite books are the ones I can connect to in multiple ways. My top three got to their position because Pride and Prejudice (95) is also my favorite movie, Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter accompanies my every road trip, and I spent months talking and writing about Moby-Dick for my senior thesis. When I read a book, I may like it, may even really like it, but I don’t know if it’s true love until I talk about it, see it as a movie, read it to someone else, write about it, etc. In addition to these rather commonplace examples, I must now add to the list that a mash-up by Quirk Classics is also a prime way to truly imbibe a story. The more you experience a novel, in whatever way that might be, the easier it is to love it.

2.  Although the term ‘classic’ is meant to inspire a sense of reverence, for many it instead brings to mind the time they were forced to read Huckleberry Finn in High school English. The so-called classics are marvelous, but their title makes people think of old, stilted language and elite groups. If Anna Karenina were termed a best seller, perhaps people wouldn’t have a lingering, unidentifiable fear about reading it. And, as we have seen, if it were renamed Android Karenina and injected with absurd amounts of robots and aliens, it might just bring back a sense of fun and humor to those books which have been hijacked by college professors and irrevocably delegated to their dusty shelves.

3. Insofar as Android Karenina, as a specific book within the genre of mash-ups, goes, I found it hilarious, quick-moving and surprisingly sensitive to the original text, as well as how modern readers might see it. The writers at Quirk Classics were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to re-write the gruesome ending of Anna Karenina. And, thank goodness, they took it. Yet, as always, they accomplished the job with their particular sort of grace and care for the original text. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, I will reveal to these imaginary book-snobs that Mr. Winters wrote two endings for Android Karenina: the first being a complete change from the text (what would have happened without the love-affair) and the second being the original ending of Anna Karenina (plus robots, of course). At these endings I almost applauded Quirk Classics for a job tactfully done, as they both fulfilled my ardent desire for a different finale and restrained their alterations by including the original resolution as the epilogue.

Insofar as the question of which to read first, the original or the mash-up, goes, I am undecided. Personally, I always try to read a book before I see the movie, and what is a mash-up but a different adaptation of a novel? It is good to know exactly where the mash-up diverges from the original, but if the task of sifting through Anna Karenina seems to daunting to you, just go straight to Quirk Classics. It is better to read some sort of Tolstoy than to read none at all.

Beverage: My usual tea recommendation certainly won’t do here – all of that shaking with laughter would certainly spill it. Instead, how about a combination of old and new – a traditional chocolate milk combined with carbonated water, a delightful concoction with a strange name: egg cream.

Reminds me… of course, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a novel which had me rolling on the ground but which I have not yet finished because reading books aloud takes so much more time than reading them silently.

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