Monday, September 21, 2009
Surviving "War and Peace"
I'm finally doing it. After decades of training that mostly involved learning big words and finding the right prescription for my glasses, I am ready to embark on my greatest literary mission to date: I am reading "War and Peace." And much the way a marathon runner goes on and on and on about every quarter mile accomplishment until you want to beat them to death with their own Nikes, I intend to share with you my progress on taming this 1386 page beast.
I picked up the book late last week and am 130 pages into it so far, which by my faulty mathematical estimation means I've completed less than 10 percent. To date, I have a tenuous but intact grasp of what's going on: basically, there seem to be a lot of Russian people in drawing rooms making small talk and arguing with each other about society and status while a few hundred miles away, a small man named Bonaparte is whistling a jaunty tune and amassing large portions of European real estate.
I already can tell that my biggest struggle with this bad boy is going to be keeping all the characters straight. Why? Because every frickin' character has approximately 718 different names. If I had a time machine, I would go back right now and tell Tolstoy to cut it out and just pick one, dammit. It doesn't have to be a great name, just a memorable one: Fluffy, Roscoe, Floyd Netherbottom -- I don't care, just pull one from a hat, pin it to a character and be done with it. It's hard enough to read 1386 pages without also having to create a flow chart listing every single character and what they may or may not be called at different points in the narrative -- all because the guy with the beard couldn't make a decision. And yes, I'm going to make the joke: it's like Brett Favre wrote this thing. (I know it's just a Russian literature thing, but right now, I'm in the mood to blame someone and it might as well be Tolstoy.)
Now, I feel like I have a 50-50 chance of surviving the name issue because I trained pretty hard a few years back with "Anna Karenina" and it one only made me cry once. On the other hand, the names did me in on "The Brothers Karamazov" and I've been known to give even short Chekhov stories the finger because I couldn't keep the characters straight. So really, I should probably only give myself a 33 percent chance.
As a back-up plan, though, I've decided to give myself a free pass on total coherency. If I get a few counts or princes mixed up and accidentally turn them into the same person for a few hundred pages, I'm going to tell myself it's okay. Who hasn't gotten a few counts and princes mixed up in their day, right? Exactly.
In my three days of reading so far, I've also learned I'll have to physically get into better shape simply to hold the book. I like to read while lying down, which means I need strong wrists to hold a book this size vertical. There was a Roosevelt biography that broke me a while back for this very reason. That was a hardcover. I refuse to be done in with a paperback, albeit a paperback that could serve as a wheel block for a semi. Perhaps since this is my literary equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest, I could hire a sherpa to prop the thing up? Or would that be weird?
Please don't mind my apparent crabbiness, though, because the truth is, I'm enjoying the book immensely. "Anna Karenina" is one of my all-time favorite novels and I'm looking forwad to immersing myself in this one as well. I'm also looking forward to having the words "I finished War and Peace, bitches" tattooed on my forehead and running through every library and book club I can find -- you know, the way classy people do.
Only nine-tenths left to go!
Posted by Liz at 12:45 PM