Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Which I Offer a Preparatory Note

It just occured to me the other day that one of my resolutions for 2011 was to read War and Peace. So this seems a lickety-split time to get cracking. It's quite a tome to digest: over 1,000 pages. And I have to confess, the book-- bigger than a brick-- has been gathering dust on a table in my office for over a year.

I did get started several months ago but the book is so heavy I couldn't travel with it, and since I had to travel... Solution? An ebook! Nope, that didn't work. I tried, but reading something as truffle-rich as Tolstoy's War and Peace on a screen is like trying to slice prime rib in gravy on a paper plate. Well, maybe that's not the most apt analogy. The thing is, I needed to be able to leaf back and forth, rereading here and there to make sense of these first opening pages and with an electronic version, that was a hassle. So back to the humungous paperback version it is. And if I have to travel? This time, I will get a razorblade and slice a chunk out of the book and take it with me. Ayyy.

Which translation to read? As a translator myself (from the Spanish) I know there can be huge differences from one version to the next, so I threw the question to my literary translators' litserv. Several different translators recommended several different versions. Fur flew. Were I to quote, I would make enemies for life. Ayyy. With appreciation to all for both honest opinions and encouragement, I hereby opt for the version I already own, that by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

---> The book's official website.

So why this blog?

First, it's just a log (with a modernizing "b" to make it a blog), that is, a way of giving myself some focussing structure. Second, I am a novelist, so I imagine that my reactions will inform my own writing, and my thinking about writing. Third, it can be a long and lonely journey to read a novel of this length, so perhaps some readers/ fellow traveler's in other times and places may find sustenance here.

My goal is to read the book thoughtfully but at a steady clip so I can finish by December 31. That's approximately 15 pages a day (including a couple of days off).

P.S. I thought I was tewwibly clever to think of blogging about reading War and Peace but, of course, someone else has already done it. Last night, with a google search, I found the very good and inspiring blog by a New Yorker named Jerry D. Parra. He digested the whole enchilada in 118 days.

Next post: Wednesday.


  1. I've been part of an online group that's been reading W&P all year (conveniently, it has 365 chapters, so a chapter a day). It's a wonderful experience. Just make sure you find one of the character "cheat sheets" that are all over the place--it'll really help keep track of the various characters, since many of them have similar names.

  2. Amy, thanks for that tip. You are so right about that crowd of characters. This is actually my third attempt to get cracking with W + P. What a brilliant idea, one chapter a day with a reading group!

  3. I read your book, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, on my kindle. I regret not buying the book. Reading it on the Kindle was a bit dissatisfying. It's a good thing I loved the book so much or I might have given up on reading the whole thing. I suppose if I commit myself to reading War and Peace, I'll have to accommodate the book by carrying a very big bag.

  4. Hi Kendra, Thanks for your kind words about The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. Gosh, on a Kindle! Well, I actually got out the kitchen scissors and cut my humungous paperback copy of War and Peace in half and then mailed the second half to where I am going for Thanksgiving. OK, book lovers, I know that sounds too awful, cutting a book in half!!! But it was (1) scissors (2) Kindle or (3) 2012. Scissors totally won. More anon.

  5. I think it's genius. I just told my mother to do the same thing the other day. She really cannot read what I sent w/out some discomfort. (They are technically magazines but they are very nice ones.)

  6. Thought I'd throw this in--I read War and Peace last year and I truly enjoyed very short blog post on W&P on my blog, jennyredbug, is here:

  7. Hi Jennifer, I enjoyed reading your take on W & P

    The editing... I can understand that (and I'm only on page 30 now)

    You've reminded me that I need to go see the movie with Plummer and Mirren...

    Blog on!