Sunday, November 27, 2011

War and Peace: Prologue

This is another item on my Unresolved Conundrums And/Or Things I Want to Do Before I Die List.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.

There’s some background, as there always is when dealing with any item on the UCAOTIWTDBID List.

Way back in high school, junior year, I think, my mother and my stepfather moved us out of a crappy apartment into the bottom floor of a pretty big two family house. My room was the most forward of all the rooms, almost right on the front sidewalk. It was a neat little room, great for a high school kid.

It was also the only room with built-in shelving. As I was not quite the book hound and voracious reader I am today, those shelves were populated with the collection of books my stepfather had accumulated in his travels. Mostly contemporary hardcover fiction, if I’m remembering correctly, but there were a couple of others that stood out to me. One was a thousand-page hardcover outline of history I found immensely interesting. There were also a couple of JFK conspiracy books – I remember distinctly thumbing through Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson. Plus, he had a worn-out hardcover edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

That interested me. I knew just a little bit about the novel’s reputation. One of the greatest works of literature ever penned, and one of the most difficult to get through. With only those two facts in my mind, I set out to read it during the school year in my spare time.

I was not successful.

I did get about a hundred pages in, up to the end of Part I or so. Then I just stopped reading it. I don’t recall why; perhaps I put it down in favor of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. Seems likely; I had just become friends with a kid who lent them to me, and I was into the whole Tolkien / fantasy / alternate worlds thing at that point.

So War and Peace went back on the shelf. Eventually we moved into a house of our own and the novel was stored, along with all the other books and an encyclopedia set, underneath the stairs leading down to the basement. A year or so later, termites made their home there, and countless larvae fed upon Tolstoy’s words. My stepfather and brother threw everything out and exterminators came in a fumigated the basement.

I’ve been on a bit of a Civil War kick of late, beginning with O’Reilly’s book Killing Lincoln and culminating in Hansen’s excellent history of the conflict. Enough’s enough with that, I think. Time to move on. But in my travels around the War Between the States, I googled something like “Civil War fiction.” Peripherally I stumbled upon a list of great works of fiction set in and around war, and lo and behold, there was Tolstoy’s novel.

I blogged about it a few weeks back that should I find it in a used book store for a few bucks I’d pick it up. Well, I did, for $4. (That works out to about three pages a penny – how’s that for a bargain?) Figuring the stars were aligning in order to tell me something, I decided to move it to the front of the Reading List and last night I started it.

It is a daunting book, but I am a much more mature and seasoned reader than I was nearly thirty years ago. I’m hoping to finish it by year’s end. Additionally, once I’m done with Hansen’s Civil War history in a week or so, I have a couple of slim, personally-anticipated SF paperbacks I want to zip through and review here too before 2012.

Happy reading!

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