The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them - Elif Batuman
Though implausible, the most chortlingly funny book I’ve read in years is about graduate school. Elif Batuman’s story-telling is disarming and her relentless enthusiasm for books is contagious. In the seven essays of The Possessed: My Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15), Batuman, a Turkish-American, recaps her immoderate enamorment with Russian literature and how this love leads her to Stanford’s Comp Lit department and a cohort which she likens to the spiraling madness of Dostoevsky’s Demons (a k a The Possessed). Her love also takes her farther afield, to a mystifying summer in Samarkand studying Old Uzbek epics; to an International Tolstoy Scholars Conference and suspicions of foul play; and to the Neva River to investigate the curiously sinister backstory of an ice palace for The New Yorker. Familiarity with Babel and Bakunin aren’t prerequisites; Batuman’s book is a clever treatise on the reasons we read.