Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I finished War and Peace the other day. I was thoroughly unmoved. Although the book certainly had its strong points. Tolstoy was examining relatively recent events that shaped his world and he did so with grace. I actually found the War sections of the book more interesting than I thought I would. Regardless, I was more drawn to the Peace parts and the interconnections between various families. At the same time, I didn’t find either topic particularly moving. I much prefer Dostoyevsky's proletariat people to Tolstoy's aristocrats. If you haven’t read this book and plan to please be aware that there are some spoilers ahead. They come very soon in-fact. Stop reading unless you don't care.

In the footnotes of one of the first chapters, I was told that Pierre and Natasha would be the main characters in the book. Knowing how Russian Literature of the period tends to work, I assumed that this meant they would be love interests. I wasn’t surprised to find that the entire book led up to them getting married. The sad thing was that their marriage seemed to ruin both of them as interesting people. However, since they get together at the end of the book, you don’t have to suffer through much of their downfall.

Natasha was a trip in her own right. A beautiful wonderful girl whom everyone loved, she found her stimuli in singing, dresses, boys, and the occasional hunt. She was boy crazy from the beginning and, I believe, was about 9 or so when the book started. I think the boy was at least 16. I don’t really remember; it was thousands of pages ago. I think Pierre was in his late twenties at the beginning of the story. I know that differences in age were a different story in those times and that in some places they still aren’t as big a deal as I think they are. Even so, it grossed me out and made me hope that my supposition that they were to be wed would prove to be false. Throughout the book this girl did nothing but talk about boys, fall in love with Borris, go to balls, fall in love with Andrew, wait for Andrew to return, fall in love with some other Prince whose name I can’t remember but he got limbs cut off and then died, fall into a deep depression because Andrew left her, Reunite with Andrew on his deathbed and rekindle their affection, mourn his death (which was necessary so her brother could marry his sister), and fall in love with/marry Pierre (Andrew’s best friend). Those happenings took about seven hundred pages.

The other eight hundred pages were about the Napoleonic wars. While that information was relatively interesting, I could have read a history book and been spared some of the fluff. Then again, I wouldn’t have got the philosophical discussion about the nature of man and the nature of war. The idea that I found the most fun was how the people who plan for and execute wars never are truly in charge of them because victory depends primarily on the mood of the people on the front lines. It is a rather obvious premise, but interesting to explore nonetheless. The discussion of why certain battles were won and others lost was also of interest. Those looking back on history claim to see the planning and foresight that goes into turning the tides of war and tend to give generals too much credit and ignore all the chance occurrences that truly drive the course of action. It made sense to me.

I could have got all that in about three hundred pages or so. Maybe four if I want a lot of detail. No matter, I’m done now and I never have to read it again. After my first attempt succumbed to boredom I was determined that my second would be a success. I refuse to be conquered by another piece of literature. I will not have another Ulysses.

I am now reading The Areas of my Expertise, by John Hodgeman (sorry Monica I know I was supposed to give it to you). Something totally made up that I don’t even have to read in order sounded pretty good. It is.

1. Down in the cellar in the Boho zone/ I went looking for some sweet inspiration/ Oh well, just another hard time and with Negro affectations

2. I just wanna fuck bad bitches/ all them nights I never had bitches/ Now I’m all up in that ass bitches/ Mad at your boyfriend ain’t you

3. Well showing how it used to be/ So hard/ This hard /Used to get those kicks for free/ But now I’m towing the line

4. Oh we could rock/ Or we could bomb/ Or we could try/ Like super hard.

5. Waiting/ On a Sunday afternoon/ For what I read between the lines/ Your lies. Interstate Love Song, Stone Temple Pilots. Identified by Johnny Yen


deadspot said...

Russian novelists,
Get to the point already.
They bore me to tears.

dmarks said...

I love long books. Check out the "Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan. I'm not familiar with Tolstoy, however.

Johnny Yen said...

#5 is one of my favorites, "Interstate Love Song," by the Stone Temple Pilots.

I didn't really notice the song until a few years after it's release in 1994. I wondered why I hadn't really taken note of it when it came out, then it occurred to me that it was the year my son was born. I was too busy with juggling childcare and work to notice what was on the radio.

Rhea said...

I set out once to read all the 'classics' as defined by the hegemonic Western patriarchy. Even with my cynicism, I thought I should include those in my reading. I congratulate you on reading War and Peace. I've never tried that one.

Monica said...

johnny yen beat me. hey guess what's playing? "So Begins Our Alabee" awww

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh boy. This is on my tbr list, but I'm not really looking forward to it. I read Anna Kerinina recently, and did not really enjoy it. I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment having read it though. I also have Dickens' "Bleak House" staring me in the face, but I am hopelessly intimidated.

Christopher Chambers said...

If Tolstoy was trying to get a book agent these days, he'd have a hard time. if Zora was trying sell "There Eyes Were Watching God," the editor would say "Hey, um...can you maybe change the title to 'Thong fo' my Thug?' " That is why we hold dear the classics, regardless of whether some might be to stilted to western values, or too old. That's a hard book to read, but hey, a love story set in war--good stuff. When you think of it, so's The Last of the Mohicans.

Seesaw said...

One should not dispute about tast, not even when books are concerned. War and Peace is great novel, especially - agree with you - the war scenes, although personally I also prefere Dostoevsky. But then him and Tolstoy are two completelly different authors. War and Peace is not a book for summer holidays, but if one wishes to understand Russia and Russian people, one should read it!

Natalie said...

Deadspot- You are the haiku master

dmarks- I particularly like to read long books on public transportation. I think it makes me look cool.

Johnny Yen- I'm not a huge STP fan but I do enjoy that song

Rhea- I like to read classics as well because I feel I should. I've finished many but have a long way to go.

Monica- AAAWWWW that is nice

BA- I was a little apathetic about Anna Kerinina but think War and Peace was superior.

Christopher- I agree, I'm not too big on the 'modern classics'. They tend to suck. I could see them an agent asking Zora to change the dialect to appeal to a mainstream audience or something awful like that.

Seesaw- They are totally different authors. Reading Tolstoy gives me a sense of achievement but as you can see from my title I don't plan to go back down that route. When I finished Brothers Karamotzov I wanted to pick it up and start over again (but I waited a year or so).

notfearingchange said...

Try the German Ideology for fun...and that's nonfiction.

Blondie said...

I've never been able to bring myself to read War and Peace. But I did read Anna Karenina once. It took a LOT of energy. Big book.

Katrina said...

Maybe one day I'll read it and/or Anna Kerinina but I'm not betting on myself. Some classics I feel the need to read and others are on the list of: Hmmm, maybe I should read that because everyone talks about it.

These 2 and Shogun are on that list. I've started that one a couple times because H Ditty thinks I should read it. He's been disappointed each time I've put it down. Oh well, we'll see.

I have Ulyssis and do plan on reading it one day but not until I'm done with a long list of others. The Wheel of Time series is on that list.

Mrs. Loquacious said...

One day a long long time ago, I was ambitious and attempted to read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I think I got to page 10 before I realized I would need to take notes just to get the characters' names straight. I have never read it, or any other great Russian literary masterpiece, since.

Natalie said...

Notfearing- Maybe i just will.

Blondie- It's really something you have to do just to say you've done it. Or else you have to be a kind of person I am not.

Katrina- I've heard good things about Shogun. Maybe I'll have to pick that up.

Mrs. L- That is actually one of my favorite books of all time. The names can be hard in Russian Lit because everyone has at least three. It gets easier though. The main character is on a spiritual journey that I think you may find quite enjoyable.

CS said...

I read W&P in high school simply so that I could say I had read it. Pahetic reason, isn't it? It was okay, but I can't imagine picking it up again ever. But Hodgman's book - that's is some weirdly funny stuff.