So. Welcome to today’s edition of Boozy Books. It is I, C. Who is probably genuinely insane for choosing to read this book of her own volition.
Or, at least, that’s what the general reaction of the world has been.
I’m going to go a little different tack today and, instead of telling you what the book is about (it’s really damn long and has too much stuff, but suffice it to say it’s about five Russian families and the way they deal with the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, beginning in 1905 and ending with that disastrous 1912 invasion, and is more a look at Russian society, class, philosophy, etc than anything else), I’m going to focus more on how other people have reacted to me reading this book. Why? Because I think it’s an interesting look into the way books develop their own mythos.
Let’s begin by saying War and Peace is an easy read… when it comes to syntax, word choice, grammar, etc. It is not a difficult book to understand insofar as the writing itself is concerned. Allowing for differences in translation, of course, but I doubt there’s a version out there at the 12th grade reading level. BUT! A book is not made easy or hard simply by its language. No, no. An easy book may be made challenging by tough language and a difficult one made easier by accessible language (or, of course, a challenging read made impossible…), but the two are linked. And, in the case of War and Peace, there is no way this is a fun summer read for sitting by the pool. (Unless, of course, you’re me and have no intention of getting in the water, interacting with people, or even, on occasion, remembering to eat.)
But, oh, the characters! Oh, Andrei Bolkonsky. Oh, you nihilist fool, just constantly searching for meaning in life. I think we can all relate to wanting to find a proper place in the world and to making our mark; it’s just Andrei goes and does it so tragically. *le sigh* Part of me will never forgive Natasha.
But I was going to talk about reactions! And then I’ll give you drinks. I’ll give you multiple drinks because, well, you’ll need them.
Whenever someone sees me reading War and Peace, I get a reaction. Literally. Not a single person looks at the title and just walks on by. I guess it’s because the novel’s become the byword for ‘climbing the literary Mt. Everest’, but I think War and Peace might be the world’s most famous novel everyone is too scared to read. (Like… Moby Dick has people groaning in despair, but I think people are genuinely scared to read War and Peace.) These reactions tend to fall into three categories: 1) The ‘Holy shit’! 2) The ‘Damn! Well done!’ and the 3) Fuck you, you pretentious intellectual. (For sho, the third one is real. I get such disgusted looks from people, like I’m reading this book in public just because I want to show off I’m reading it and not because I wanted to get out of the house and have some coffee.) The third group can suck it because, well, who the fuck is anyone to judge someone for their intellect? Or for the way the choose to spend their free time? The first and the second, though… those are interesting.
We’ve built this novel up into a behemoth. It’s too long, it’s got too many people, it’s too complex. But that’s so silly. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive has two books right now, both of which are over 1000 pages. In hardback. My copy of War and Peace is 1110. And, let me tell you, just because Sanderson writes fantasy doesn’t mean there aren’t pages of philosophy to occasionally swallow, or intense worldbuilding to assimilate as you read. Or! What about the final two books of The Malazan Book of the Fallen? They’re immediate sequels to one another. One story, split in two. Each book is, individually, the same length as War and Peace. And, again, if it’s the philosophy that scares you… there’s plenty here. Not to mention eight other books you really have to read to know what’s going on.
I do not understand why this novel is so feared. Maybe it’s because I do regularly make a habit of reading doorstop fantasy novels. Or because I’ve always liked the classics (except Moby Dick. Fuck you, Herman Melville. Well, and The Scarlet Letter), even the ones other people tended to balk at. They read easy to me in a way that sometimes modern novels don’t (or, rather… modern novels can read TOO easy to me). So maybe it’s just me… but I don’t think War and Peace is scary. And I don’t think anyone else should, either.
Now! I promised you some drinks! First up… vodka. Yeah. Vodka. What else were you expecting? Just take the vodka… and drink it. There’s a dark, almost black bread, Russians eat with it that’s supposed to make the burn go entirely away (this from my Russian history professor). So… do that. If you’re feeling fancy, or if you’re a traitor to the Tsar and want to support that unholy Napoleon, a dark red Malbec should do you. If, however, neither of those are to your taste and, perhaps, you’re feeling like you want to try something so Russian, it’s been around since Kievan Rus’, get yourself some Kvass. It’s like beer, but made from black or rye bread, and was often used in food dishes as well as drunk. Russians are so hard core (and there’s so little alcohol), it is considered a non-alcoholic drink there. Flavor it with fruit, if you’d like!
Well… like War and Peace itself, this has been a long post. I apologize. A will be back tomorrow with the Shakesdown.