Posts Tagged ‘War and Peace’

Quotes I’ve Loved, 2014

“…I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my life could be chunked with a book.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“…to this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from somewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Darkness does not lift but becomes heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Although I had no regrets, I told myself sadly, that growing up was not the painless process one would have thought it to be.”
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

“The twenties are as frenetic a decade as the teens. You have a voice inside your head repeating I want, I want, I want,  but you don’t know what you want or how to get it. You hardly know who you are. You go on instinct. And your instinct mostly pushes you toward adventures you won’t grasp until you look back on them. Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward, some sage once said.”
– Erica Jongafterword, Fear of Flying

“What you imagine is what you remember, and what you remember is what you’re left with. So why not decide to imagine it a little differently?”
– Jennifer Dubois, A Partial History of Lost Causes

“‘Louis XVI was executed because they considered him to be a criminal, and a year later his judges were killed too for something. What is wrong? What is right? What must one love, what must one hate? What is life for, and what am I? What is life? What is death? What force controls it all?’ he asked himself. And there was no answer to one of these questions, except one illogical reply that was in no way an answer to any of them. That reply was: ‘One dies and it’s all over. One dies and finds it all out or ceases asking.’ But dying too was terrible.”
– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
– James Joyce, Ulysses

“By eight Greg and I were in Truckee. By eleven we were still standing on the hot side of the road trying to hitch a ride to Sierra City.
‘HEY!’ I yelled maniacally at a VW bus as it whizzed past. We’d been snubbed by at least six of them over the past couple of hours. Not being picked up by those who drove VW buses made me particularly indignant. ‘Fucking hippies,’ I said to Greg.
‘I thought you were a hippy,’ he said.
‘I am. Kind of. But only a little bit.'”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a chain on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
– Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

“I’ve had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
– Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

“Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason — or at least they appeal to certain types of people. [. . .] You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart — or maybe we should say the work discovers you.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“You’re afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you’re awake you can suppress imagination. But you can’t suppress dreams.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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Book #91: War and Peace

I was really excited to start this set of books, because it was leading up to Book 100. And then when I went through and selected them, it looked like it was going to be the worst. group. ever.

First I had to read War and Peace, then two books later Ulysses. I wound up losing the rest of the list, but I know that Sartre and Beckett were also on there. Definitely tested my resolve.

Anyway, I’d never read Tolstoy, but I had some experience with the Russians and I had some idea of what I was getting into here. Lots of suffering and cold and philosophizing mixed in with some plot. I wasn’t wrong. That’s pretty much what War and Peace is. There’s some war, then there’s some peace, then there’s more war, people die, there are some Freemasons and some rich people then there’s some tragedy, and everything ends eventually.

I had a bit of trouble getting into War and Peace for the first 100 or so pages. It’s the story of a couple different Russian families and their experiences during the Napoleanic Wars. I had trouble keeping the characters separate and figuring out who went with which family and how they were all connected. The edition I was reading didn’t have one of those handy “Here are all the characters” things in the front. I tried to make notes to sort it all out, but it was too confusing. I just went with it and by the time I was 300 pages in, I had it mostly worked out.

For all the impenetrability of the Russian names and Tolstoy’s insistence on bursting out of the narrative at particularly symbolic points to be like, “Hey, see what I did there? Did you get that? Did you? This is what I meant. See? Get it?” I really liked War and Peace. Probably because it dealt a lot with the questions of how history is recorded and interpreted. I go nuts for that kind of stuff.

A big focus of the novel was how lots of smaller events and individuals eventually lead up to the huge events we see as “history,” but historians hardly ever study the causes of history, mostly just the effects. Given that I want to be a historian, it was really interesting to think about.

I’ll end with one “practical” bit of advice for anyone who wants to read Tolstoy (or probably any other books written in this time period): If you have to read something like War and Peace (and I noticed that Hugo did it in Les Miserables too), but you got too busy with other things besides reading a 1000-page confusing Russian novel and you really need to understand the point of it well enough to discuss it in class, just read the epilogue.

Tolstoy spent probably the last 100-150 pages of War and Peace being like, “Hey. Hey this is what the books is about. Hey. This is the point of the book. This is the moral. Didja get it? Didja? Didja? Hey. See what I did there. Hey. This is what this means. Reader, reader, reader, reader…hey…hey…this is my point.” He rehashes pretty much every major take-home point of the book in that epilogue, in case you weren’t paying attention for the last 900 pages or so. That was actually my only real beef with the book, in the end. I found myself wanting to scream GET ON WITH IT at Tolstoy because I read the book. I got it. But I guess he just wanted to make really sure.

So there’s my helpful “study” tip for anyone out there who may be desperately trying to get caught up on reading for English class. Just skim the epilogue. It won’t help with the plot, but you’ll get ALL the interpretation.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Time Machine

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