Friday, March 18, 2011

The "Bucket List" Novel: War and Peace

This week's prompt for the Literary Blog Hop at The Blue Bookcase is one near and dear to my heart. And it's been awhile since I participated in this super-cool literary "event," so here we go.

The question: What one literary work must you read before you die? I spend far too much time contemplating this question, possibly because I feel like if I want to consider myself an expert book dork, I'd lose credibility if someone asks me if I've read (insert canonical staple here), and I haven't.

I actually wrote about this topic at almost this exact same time last year. Then, the answer was Gravity's Rainbow, by Tommy Pynchon. I started reading right after that post, and spent the next six month in sort of a suspended state of reading masochism. It wasn't fun, except for the rare instances when it was — like when I finished. I decided to invent a conversation between myself and my boy Tommy to air my grievances. That all made the six months somehow strangely worthwhile.

Now, to actually answer the question — and to be absolutely unoriginal. War and Peace is my bucket-list book. I've had various editions of the "greatest novel of all time" on my shelf since high school. I even spent a fruitless hour in a B&N once trying to determine which translation is the "best." I plan to read it this year, however. In fact, conquering Tolstoy's two masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, is my literary goal for this year.

You know, I can't even give you a good reason why War and Peace is that one book I must read before I die. It's probably mainly because it stands as a sort of symbol of smart. That, and I like a good literary challenge. Ingrid at The Blue Bookcase, who lists War and Peace as her favorite novel of all time, wrote this fantastic post providing five tips for reading the novel. I just re-read her post, and not only does it terrifically demystify a scary book, but also it got me all amped again to start. No time the like the present!

And if you're also interested in reading the novel, check out Kath at [insert suitably snappy title here]'s progress, as she makes her way. She has a bit of a head start.

Literary Blog Hop

25 comments:

  1. I'm reading it now for an online group that's doing a chapter a day, and so far (about 300 pages in), I'm really enjoying it. It's not nearly as difficult as I'd made it out to be in my head. It did help that I printed out a "cheat sheet" of character names and nicknames--those darn Russians and their endless variants--but bit by bit I'm retaining more and more of that. The story is good, the characters interesting. What more do you need?

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  2. I also think this is a good one to make into your "daily affirmation" read. I have gotten through a number of classics via dailylit, reading them in 10-minute chunks in my email every day (though never anything this long).

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  3. I'd agree with you that War and Peace signifies a "smart status". I've got Anna Karenina on my TBR for 2011. Depending on how that goes I may hit up War and Peace in '12 or '13, maybe. To be honest it really scares me. Almost as much as Gravity's Rainbow.

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  4. I only started reading Russian novels recently. (I've not read Tolstoy yet.) Like you I was a bit intimidated by them. But so far, I've found them easy, entertaining reading. They are long, but they've not been difficult, certainly not the way Thomas Pynchon is difficult.

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  5. Eventually I will have to get to this one. Eventually.

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  6. War and Peace is my favorite book, too: it's so much fun that I've read it four times, twice for courses, twice on my own. I always have trouble putting it down so I can go to sleep at night. Where else can you find drunken antics involving a bear?

    As for advice... Translations differ in style, so I usually suggest choosing the one that reads well for you so you'll stick with the book. And don't panic if you don't like the first section/chapter, about the soirée. Just keep reading. (The sidebar of my blog includes links to posts about the book, including one about the soirée.)

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  7. "It wasn't fun, except for the rare instances when it was — like when I finished." Reading masochism is the perfect phrase for that!

    After I finally finished Middlemarch last year, which was my Bucket List novel, I deliberately didn't pick another one.

    Best of luck.

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  8. This book has 2 problems going for it, 1 it's considered smart, intellectual etc, & 2 it's russian, both easily got over once started, but then you realise, just like i just did,it has a 3rd problem it's long & there's no way around that except just keep on keeping on. Oh and ENJOY.

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  9. Lots of people are reading W&P this year as am I. Well I've managed to snag a copy (Penguin trans. Rosemary Edmonds) but have yet to open it... Good luck!

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  10. I already did War and Peace and Gravity's Rainbow. Each one took about a year, with some time off. I also did Infinite Jest and David Copperfield around this same five-year era. Heck I even knocked out the first volume of Proust, meaning my doorstop book list is down to Ulysses. Or the rest of Proust. Or start over, because who can remember everything that happens in all those books?

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  11. War & Peace is one of my favorites as well, and I definitely encourage you to get to it. As you know, I read it last year, and it ended up not being so terrifying or difficult as I imagined it would be, largely because the story and writing are both so amazing.

    I'm sure my review won't be as insightful or helpful as Ingrid's, but if you or your followers are interested in one book blogger's opinion of why War & Peace is a must read, here you go: http://tinyurl.com/5wpuffz

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  12. Mine isn't for a book; but an author. I've always wanted to be able to read John Irving. I have a few of his books, but have had a hard time getting into any of them. So, he is my bucket list author... books though, I can pick 'em as I see 'em. :)

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  13. Yay! I'm glad you've found my post useful. Which translation did you decide to go with?

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  14. Good luck! That book scares me, although I admit I feel I should read it if i want to feel truly book-smart. However, I read Anna Karenina and was not the biggest fan, so I've kind of got an issue with Tolstoy to begin with. Although if I re-read it today, I'd probably like it a better.

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  15. Good pick, Greg! And don't feel bad -- I have yet to do Anna Karenina or War and Peace, too. Though I have purchased/received lovely copies (with great translations) of each, so I want to tackle at least one this year!

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  16. Thanks for the shout out!! Much appreciated. I can see why so many people love this book, now I'm into it I absolutely love it. Pick it up! Read it! You'll catch up in no time at all.

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  17. Great post! I'm one of the many that picked War and Peace, but it's good to hear that there are people out there who have read it and love it (and even offer tips for reading it). Interesting to see how many people are also intimidated by the Russians.

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  18. Yeah, I've been seeing this one mentioned a lot. What does it say about me that this book didn't even cross my mind when this question was posed? Should I change the name of my blog? Am I not literary enough now? ;)

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  19. Hope you enjoy "War and Peace" more than you did "Gravity's Rainbow!"

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  20. I will read this, one day. Also the Pynchon. But I'm less than one year out of my English degree and am enjoying being able to back away from the 'worthies' and get on with the 'wants'...

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  21. @Amy - That's a great tip regarding the names and nicknames cheat sheet. Glad to hear you're enjoying it - that's encouraging!

    @Joel - Ha - I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, I can read War and Peace. Hadn't heard of dailylit before, but off to check it out - thanks for the tip!

    @Brenna - I don't think I'll ever be as scared of another book as I was of Gravity's Rainbow while reading it. Maybe we should read AK at the same time for moral support?

    @CB - Yeah, seems as though the Russians put forth a fairly straightforward narrative. The intimidation comes from the sheer number of characters and the length.

    @Trisha - Me too. ;) Eventually.

    @Lisa - Yes! Thanks for those links - I'm off to check them out. And thanks also for the encouragement. Glad to hear another person include it as their favorite - and four times?! Wow! I'm impressed.

    @Lindsay - Thanks for the luck. Yeah, I've heard Middlemarch is a bit of a slog. After I finish War and Peace and AK, I'm not really sure I have another one, either...

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  22. @Parrish - Thanks. Generally, I enjoy long novels, so I'm not so worried about the third one, but I'm glad the first two are easily gotten over once you start.

    @chasingbawa - Yeah, I've noticed that too - that 2011 seems to be some sort of collective War and Peace reading party. Interesting. Thanks for the luck!

    @Mike - Impressive list! I've also conquered Infinite Jest, but that was a labor of love, as opposed to something I felt obligated to read. Proust and Ulysses are two things I'll probably never do, especially after my GR experience. It's just not fun.

    @Adam - There seems to be a theme developing here from folks like you who have read and greatly enjoyed the novel: It's not as scary once you start. The idea of it being scary seems to be scarier than how scary the actual book is. Oh, and thanks for linking to your review - I remember greatly enjoying your take on it, too!

    Mozette - John Irving's one of my favorites! You should definitely give him another shot. ;) A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite novels of all time. And The World According to Garp and A Widow for One Year are in my second tier of all-time favorites. He's awesome!

    @IngridLola - I have the Anthony Briggs translation. I know you said that one's a bit more "British," but I've read a few pages here and there and didn't find anything too distracting yet. That may change once I get into it, though. We'll see...

    @Amy - Thanks for the luck! It's funny how widely varying the opinions on AK seem to be - from I literally couldn't sleep while reading it because I knew it was out sitting on my table not being read, to super dull to "not the biggest fan." ;)

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  23. @ConnieGirl - I wish you luck! Maybe trying to tackle them both in a single year is a bit ambitious. I guess we'll find out. ;)

    @Kathmeista - Very good to hearing that you're loving it! I'm enjoying your take as you go.

    @thebookstop - Yeah, it's funny how just mentioning War and Peace inspires words like "scary", "intimidating" and "unconquerable." It's also funny how many people are reading it and loving it right now - just getting over the hump and starting seems to be 2/3 of the battle.

    @llevinso - Yes, you should just give up and start reading comic books and Jennifer Weiner novels. ;) There are tons of these oft-mentioned bucket-list books that don't even cross my mind, too - Middlemarch, The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, anything by Henry Miller or DH Lawrence, Moby Dick, etc...

    @Lisa - Thanks for the encouragement!

    @Annabel - Ah, yes - I remember those days. Isn't the sense of freedom fantastic?! Eventually, though, about when you cross the dreaded 30, you'll start missing the "worthies." That was the case for me, anyway.

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  24. Best of luck! Doing War and Peace and Anna Karenina in one year actually sounds like a good idea (as far as doorstopper book choices go) because you'll be immersed in Tolstoy's language. Both those novels and Infinite Jest and Ulysses are on my bucket list, and I still need to pick one to attempt this summer..

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  25. Thank you for sharing Ingrid's tips. I need these if I am ever to finish W&P (I'm only fifty pages in and I still have yet to be dazzled).

    Here's my post: http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2011/03/book-you-must-read-before-you-die.html

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