Reading War & Peace #4: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)

Well, hello everyone. We’ve officially finished Volume One. Good job folks. Only two more to go!

We’ve tackled tips, we’ve discussed philosphy, and now it’s time for the little humans roaming around Europe. When thinking of War & Peace one tends to imagine thousands of pages describing terrible battles, people in medieval style clothing (because anything before World War 1 is basically the Middle Ages) and lots of descriptions of noble men on horses in indecipherable English. In reality, Tolstoy actually puts a serious emphasis on the humanness of his characters – their relationships with others, their own personal thoughts, humor, sarcasm, joy and sadness. It’s still a bit weird for me. I never expected to find myself laughing. Wanting to hug these people. Or just give ’em a high-five.

“The universal experience of ages, showing that children do grow imperceptibly from the cradle to manhood, did not exist for the countess. Her son’s growth towards manhood at each of its stages had seemed as extraordinary to her as if there had never existed the millions of human beings who grew up in the same way.” (pg. 181), Tolstoy says of Nicholas Rostov and his mother. Something in the way this was phrased made me grin from ear to ear, and Rostov, a 19th century way-too-patriotic-for-my-taste soldier, who seemed so far from anything I could ever understand, became just a kid. A twenty year old kid who comes home to his worried mother.

He’s also just a kid who takes the car on the weekend, and sometimes gambles away all the money his parents gave him. “And suddenly, in the most casual tone, which made him feel ashamed of himself, he said, as if merely asking his father to let him have the carriage to drive to town: […] ‘I need some money.’ ‘Dear me!’ said his father […]” (pg. 267). 43,000 rubles of it. He then tells himself he’ll start saving up 80% of his salary every year to pay it back. Yeah right, man. Let’s be real.

On one evening, Rostov finds himself relaying his battle story to other men he seeks to impress. “He began his story meaning to tell everything just as it happened, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably he lapsed into falsehood. […] He could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot, and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it.” (pg. 186). Without even noticing I find myself there, in that room with him, feeling his almost childish desire to be a hero, embellishing reality. During the beginning of his service Nicholas’s bubble is burst, as he discovers that war is not at all what he expected. It’s bloody and messy and painful, and sometimes when you finally find yourself facing the enemy you accidentally fall. It’s not always marvelous or magnificent, and Lieutenant Count Rostov is just a kid who wants his friends to think he’s cool. And all of a sudden we’re not in 1805, Olmutz, Moravia (now Olomouc, Czech Republic), visiting friends from the Ismaylovsky Regiment, discussing the war. We’re in 20th century high school or middle school or elementary school, telling everyone about the crazy, incredible things we did on summer vacation, hoping we’ll finally become the popular kid this year.

Hadas.

And now for a question. As I write, I wonder what brings you guys back (since I’ve noticed it’s the same few every time – thanks, by the way). Are you reading the book as well? Have you already read it? Are you planning to? Should I be avoiding spoilers? (Character-wise of course, because history, well… it’s already sort of spoiled itself.) Feel free to say hello, share your own experiences, questions, thoughts. I’m always here. (Not much you can do with a broken ankle.)


previous entry here

Reading War & Peace #3: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

Another week! I think I’m going to stick to this sort-of-Tuesday-technically-Wednesday routine. It’s consistent, yet still allows me to cover enough ground to provide some interesting content here for you all. Let me know what you think. More frequently? Less? Random, short little musings in between?

Well, we’ve finally hit some battle. I remember being very confused during my previous attempt at what the heck was going on in these kinds of scenes. The positioning was hard to understand and the military terms were waaaay beyond my league. I decided to take my own advice and not gloss over this time. Needless to say, my phone Chrome tabs are all open on various definitions of military terms and weapons and I’m sure my Internet history makes me out to be either an extreme history geek or just sort of crazy. It definitely slowed me down, but gosh, it’s so much nicer to actually understand what I’m reading!

So, a bit of information before I touch on my main point for this week. My copy includes a two-part introduction: 1) Historical Background to W&P and 2) The Genesis and Composition of W&P, both written by Henry Claridge (University of Kent at Canterbury). (The introduction also comes with an introduction recommending reading the background first and leaving the critical point of view till after finishing the book. Unlike my usual self, I decided to ignore the instructions and read everything beforehand.) Most of it was confusing and just freaked me out about this whole project even more (and should probably be re-read now that I feel on stable ground), but one piece stuck:

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Reading War & Peace #2: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

Due to unexpected… issues I fell back on my tentative reading plans and decided to just post my next War & Peace entry a week after the first. Twenty five minutes ago I realized that even though in my mind today is definitely a Tuesday, it is actually 2:17 AM on Wednesday. Not going to sleep does not mean the day goes on forever.

So. Unexpected issues. I had to go through surgery. I spent Wednesday night in a hospital with a nice metal add-on now permanently (?) attached to my leg. I took the book with me, expecting to have plenty of time. Turns out general anesthesia is quite a shocker to the system. I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone read. A one thousand page book. About 19th century Russian society. In French.

Okay, so not really in French, but there is quite a lot of it, considering this book is in English. The Louise and Alymer Maude translation, which is the one I’m reading, kept in some of the original French, usually providing translations via footnotes at the end of the novel. Every once in a while there’s a sentence in French with no explanation. Google, along with my attempt at finding where I stored those middle school French lessons in my brain, usually solves that problem.

So far the reading is going well. I remembered the book to be not nearly as complicated as I expected it to be the first time around. There are way too many nicknames (sometimes the same one for more than one person) and way too many footnotes but so far the language is reader-friendly, the plot not too hard to follow, and every once in a while I even find myself smiling at something I’ve just read.

I’ve also discovered quite a lot of info out there meant to support the terrified reader attempting this sort of thing. There’s a Goodreads group called “Reading the Chunkers” which actually happens to be hosting a two-month War & Peace read-a-long right now! There are also endless videos “summarizing” (I put that in quotation marks because summarizing War & Peace sounds sort of like a joke) and providing background and tips. I’ll let you all know if I find something interesting.

So, I think from my high place of page eighty five, my two main tips for now are BACKGROUND and CHARACTERS. So far, at least with this translation, not knowing enough of the history is not a hinderance to the process since a lot is explained in the footnotes, and yet, it will become important, especially later on in battle scenes. Furthermore, I think understanding the greater picture will make the experience more… wholesome and enjoyable, and since I am only ever going to read this once (well, counting the first round once and a half) I might as well do it properly.

As for characters – follow the story. Don’t gloss over. It can get tiring trying to follow the first names and last names and nicknames and- well, you get it- of millions of characters. However, skipping once sets you up for a lot of confusion later on. If you don’t understand something (who’s talking, who’s listening, who’s just standing around in the background, etc.) re-read. Over and over. Until you do. Trust me. Again, much more enjoyable. This whole project may sort of feel like… bootcamp but it’s also supposed to be fun. In its own masochistic way.

Well, that’s enough for now. I’ll just leave you here with the closest thing to humor I’ve seen so far:

  • “Well, Michael Ivankovich, our Buonaparte will be having a bad time of it. Prince Andrew” (he always spoke thus of his son) “has been telling me what forces are being collected against him! While you and I have never thought much of him.” Michael Ivankovich did not at all know when “you and I” had said such things about Buonaparte, but understanding that he was wanted as a peg on which to hang the prince’s favorite topic, he looked inquiringly at the young prince, wondering what would follow. (pg. 77)

And another appearance of our lovely Michael Ivankovich (who seems to be completely unimportant as of now but has so far provided some nice bits to share with you all):

  • “Michael Ivankovich!” cried the old prince to the architect who, busy with his roast meat, hoped he had been forgotten: “Didn’t I tell you Buonaparte was a great tactican? Here, he says the same thing.”

Till next time (and hopefully not about one hundred pages behind my plans),

Hadas.


(previous entry here)

“Like the man and wife fighting and throwing bowls of alphabet soup at each other, hot words pass between them.” – Unknown (?)

Found this in a comment on John Scalzi’s blog. Thought it was beautiful. Anyone know where it’s from? (Or maybe it’s an original idea? If so, kudos to you, commenter, Jonathan Vos Post (<- leads to magicdragon.com.)

Reading War & Peace: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

I started reading War & Peace on July 13th, 2015, purely so that I’d be able to tell people I’d read that monstrous thing. I had a plan – read fifty pages a day and finish it in less than a month. Little did I know how unrealistic that plan was. It was my last summer vacation; I had places to go and people to see. And also, I had one thousand pages of size six font to power through. By the end of August I’d barely reached the fourth hundred page. Two more reading bursts in September and January left me with a bookmark neatly forgotten between pages four hundred thirty and four hundred thirty one. I couldn’t get myself to mark it as “abandoned” on Goodreads. According to my account, I am still “currently reading” it.

Completely unrelated, on June 27th, 2017, I broke my ankle. I also injured my wrist, and suddenly I found myself a prisoner in my own home with a cast on my leg and on my arm, in a wheelchair that barely passes through the apartment hall.

I’d never put War & Peace back on my bookshelf. It still lay around on my desk, waiting to be rescued. And suddenly, locked indoors with nothing to do and not much ability to do it with, my crazy plan seemed possible again.

So here I am. July 3rd, 2017. On page 20. Starting from scratch. These blog posts will document my second attempt. Summaries, thoughts and opinions, maybe some tips I pick up along the way for those planning to embark on this journey themselves. This time, with all five A Song of Fire and Ice novels under my belt and some experience in reading encyclopedia-sized books, I hope I make it.

I don’t know if this will be a weekly thing. Maybe twice a week. Maybe less. I might read other books in addition and I might not. I might include some medical updates along the way. I’m not setting any rules – this plan is scary enough. I invite you all to join me. Hopefully by the end of it I’ll also be able to walk again, which is not a bad incentive. (I’ll be able to walk even if I don’t finish but let’s not think about that).

Hadas.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

  • Title: Small Great Things
  • Author: Jodi Picoult28587957
  • # of Pages: 512

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN


Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.


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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I couldn’t stop right there

And be one traveler long I stood

And looked at the ground

Praying it would swallow me whole

 

Then closed my eyes and spun around and opened my eyes and walked straight ahead and got lost.

 

Has that made all the difference?

How Katie Got a Voice (and a Cool New Nickname)

  • Author – Pat Mervine
  • # of Pages – 26
  • *includes illustrations

How Katie Got a Voice (and a Cool New Nickname) is a story told by a fourth grade classmate of Katie, the new girl in school. Everyone in the school has a nickname related to individual interests and personalities. When Katie comes into the class, the students are eager to involve her in their activities and to learn what is special about her. This proves to be quite a challenge. Katie has significant physical disabilities. How can Katie fit in with her classmates when she can’t even talk? When Katie is introduced to assistive technology, she is finally able to communicate with her new friends. As a result, the students are delighted to see her as a person with many interests and abilities, just like them. Katie knows she is a valued member of the school when she is given her own special nickname.

Just like its theme, there is a very special concept that differentiates between this book and many other books for young readers. Most times stories written for young kids try to emphasize the idea that being different is okay, and go against the idea of herd mentality – a term that describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase items. In this case, the book’s starting point is that everyone is different. Miguel, nicknamed “The Punster,” makes up nicknames for kids and staff at school based on what makes them unique (such as Picasso the painter or Tunes the music lover). When Katie shows up he can’t figure out a name for her since she can’t… do anything. Katie doesn’t move or play or talk. She just laughs and looks around. Usually, Katie would be the “special” one, as we often use the word “special” in a negative connotation to hint at disabled kids. However, here her disability specifically is not considered an issue with the kids, they just can’t figure out how to include her in the group. After explaining the issue to her teacher Katie gets sent to a speech therapist, and eventually is connected to a machine that allows her to draw, play music and even talk! The kids, by turn, exclaim out loud that Katie can now participate in their hobbies – reading, painting, playing music, and even cheerleading for the sports team. Now, when they can get to know her, Katie can be given a nickname as well, one that showcases, of course, her uniqueness.

The book How Katie Got a Voice takes a very delicate subject and handles it beautifully. It shows kids that being unique is important, and it also teaches skills such as asking for help and including everyone in the group. When the kids don’t know how to play with Katie or share their hobbies with her they turn to a teacher for help. They don’t avoid Katie, or the problem at hand, and instead choose to actively search for a solution. They want to be able to hang out with their new friend, even if she’s unlike any other kid they’ve met, because that’s what makes kids cool – being different. Moreover, the book had both male and female characters. Many books these days don’t have enough important female characters with actual lines and importance, and so it’s important to start writing well developed characters for both genders in books aimed at kids and young children.

The book’s last pages include some simple tips for kids when dealing with people with disabilities, such as not staring at them or asking about their condition unless they bring it up first. The tips explain that even when someone needs an interpreter or assistant to communicate, you should speak to the person and not the companion, and most importantly, be patient. The author’s website includes a PowerPoint presentation called “Katie’s Lesson in Disability Etiquette,” aimed to help teachers introduce students to the topic.

In conclusion, this is a very good book for kids. It’s relatively short and easy to read, allowing young kids to read it themselves. The illustrations are colorful and very pretty. More importantly, the book deals with many important subjects that parents often don’t know how to bring up with their kids. How Katie Got a Voice can assist parents and teachers in introducing these topics and starting discussions about them with their children. I highly recommend the book both for reading at home, and for reading in class.

*I received a free copy of this book from Story Cartel in exchange for my honest review.

 

Facts I Like To Believe About My Father

My father knows twenty three languages, not including various baby dialects. My father has two first names and two last names and three more in the middle. And a hyphen. My father is a hyphenated guy. My father is the one billion and sixth tallest man in the world. My father gave birth to himself. My father was a published poet at the age of twelve, and wrote his first biography at nineteen. The sequel, Plus One Year, made him the first twenty year old bestselling author. My father has read Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, the longest novel in the world. And at the point he didn’t even know French. My father made it around the world in eighty days. By foot. My father’s brain is faster than my calculator. My father’s cursive is legible. My father never burns his toast. My father knows when the avocado is ripe. My father can build a card house in the wind. My father can take money out of a piggy bank without breaking it. My father’s teeth are whiter than my wall. My father has a black belt in all forms of martial arts. My father is a professional dancer. On ice and underwater. My father is best friends with the prime minister of Israel. My father is best friends with the president of Palestine. My father has managed to keep this a secret from both of them. My father never finds himself stuck without a bookmark. My mother says my father is an expert at lying. My father says he’s actually just a very good story-teller.

We’re All Just Bad Philosophers Who Eat Too Much, Do Too Little and Never Sleep Enough

Random-point-in-life-crises usually happen at night. Not saying just “mid-life” because this shit usually happens much earlier than that. Unless your life is halfway up by the time you’ve hit puberty. Or finished high school. Or finished college or got fired or really just had any terrible night at an age where you could form coherent thoughts. They usually happen after watching some indie film, or just anything in a foreign language, while making yourself feel guilty for not doing the things you’re actually supposed to be doing.

All of a sudden from master procrastinator and quite possibly soda addict you’ve gone into full philosopher mode. Everything becomes so profound you’re not even sure anymore whether you seriously feel like you’re drowning or if at this point you’re just mocking yourself. Plato, Aristotle, Kant – they’ve got nothing on you. If your questions and queries become any more questioningly inquiring the universe just might fall apart. No, not the universe. Reality. Anything outside of your own mind is unsure, the external world cannot be known, and might not even exist. You realize you’re quoting the Wikipedia article on solipsism and then you’re fucking proud of yourself for reading philosophy articles on the internet.

At this point you’ve grown hungry, possible even starving, because really who knows or understands anything at all. Desires cannot be measured. Nothing makes sense. Everything is a lie. You go search for food, possibly stopping to impart some information to your cat, if you’ve got one.

You’re not really sure what to do now. In some faraway part of your brain you realize the wise decision would be to go to sleep. You organize your computer files and scroll through endless Buzzfeed posts instead. Eventually the panic of going to sleep once it’s light outside settles in. There’s something unsettling about going to sleep when the entire sky is shouting at you that you’ve missed the opportunity to rest. It’s like being yelled at by your mother, but on a whole other scale. Also, the sky is blue. You crawl into bed, promising yourself you’ll shower first thing tomorrow morning. Well, it’s not exactly tomorrow – technically speaking it’s already tomorrow now. That’s supposedly unimportant stuff but at this time, in this state of mind, it’s actually vital you take a moment to recognize this technicality.

The antidote to over thinking, over analyzing, and life crisis-ing is not-night-time. Once it’s properly day again you realize how stupid you are and how unproductive it is to waste away the night, thus ruining the following day as well. You’ve literally achieved nothing. In fact, you’ve even regressed because now you’re very tired, you’ve eaten way more than you ever planned on eating and you have a brand new stock of terrible poetry saved in various states of completeness all over your computer.

Really, your entire life is one big crisis. You can feel the clock ticking, the time passing by. You still haven’t discovered the meaning of life. You’ve probably just gained a few pounds, lost a couple of inches from sleep deprivation, and ruled out a future in creative writing.

Well, considering the fact that you’re a fully formed human who still has no clue what that even means and you’re hopelessly confused about practically everything, and you’re going to die anyway and probably be forgotten the minute it happens, that’s actually a considerable achievement for one night, don’t you think?