As Bon Jovi once said “OHHHHHHHH WE’RE HALF WAY THERE OH-OHH”. I admit I wasn’t around when Jon said it, but I have this feeling deep inside somewhere that he was talking about hitting page 541. Just a hunch.
“Better stand tall when they’re calling you out”, Emperor Alexander wrote, with slight rephrasing of my own, in his message to the Russian people. “Don’t bend, don’t break, baby, don’t back down”, they all shouted back. It’s 1812. Time for war. Except this time everyone seems to have switched places.
- Title: The Neverending Story
- Author: Michael Ende
- # of Pages: 445
SPOILER ALERT: mentions main characters and touches on major events, includes quotes without names or direct comments about the plot but that may give away points to attentive readers
Bastian Balthazar Bux is shy, awkward, and certainly not heroic. His only escape is reading books. When Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story, he’s swept into the magical world of Fantastica—so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story! And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he has been the one chosen to save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to save Fantastica?
I recently read Momo, also by Michael Ende. A quick Google investigation led me to the conclusion that my review of it was going to be the only non-five-star review on planet Earth, which reminded me – I never liked The Neverending Story, when I read it as a kid, either. I also didn’t like the movie. (Fun fact: Michael Ende didn’t think so either. he asked the production to stop, or at least change the name, because in his opinion it was too different from the original book. He sued and lost.) I thought the book really was neverending. As with Momo, I seem to be the only person who thinks this way. So naturally I decided to read it again and attempt to solve this mystery once and for all.
This week I read eighteen pages. Eighteen. Slightly less than my 140-page-per-week plan. I had a tough week in terms of my general mood. Spending six weeks at home seems fun at first, but eventually it gets old. Old and tiring. Old and tiring is not a good mood for some intensive reading.
So I’ve hit reader’s block and I have nothing to discuss. Instead, I spent the day wondering how I get out of it. I’ve made it this far, and so some self reflection seems like a worthy investment.
- Don’t give up. It takes me twenty minutes to walk half a kilometer on crutches. My dad always takes the wheelchair with us just in case. In my high school gym “finals” we had to run two kilometers. Not a complicated task for people who run. Needless to say, I don’t. I set myself one rule. Don’t stop running. Even if you find yourself running at a pace that’s slightly slower than walking, run. And I did. So I walk alongside him as he wheels the empty chair home. Eighteen pages is less than one hundred and forty, but it is definitely more than zero.
- Change your goals. I can’t walk one hundred meters without stopping. I actually need to rest about once every fifty meters. Otherwise my palms burn, and then I’m stuck, because my hands have turned into another leg for the time being. One hundred pages a week is just as good. So it’ll take longer to get to the finish line. Who cares? It’s not a race. It’s just me. The gold medal will be waiting for me when I get there.
- Find new ways. At first I had a cast on my left arm. I’m left handed. A person can’t just not shower for a week. So I did. Somehow. Maybe reading this type of thing doesn’t work for me past sunset. Maybe I should try hanging out with the Rostovs and the Bolkonskis at lunch instead.
- Forgive yourself. Who knew you could break a bone just accidently slipping? And now you can’t play soccer for months. Your greatest skill is pointing your toes, flexing them, and then back again. Don’t look for the goal, the goalie, the net. Focus on the next move. Not every week is going to be a fancy analysis or a pat on the back. Go back to the small things. The joy of reading. The story.
- Just relax. That goes for everything. Just a generally good rule.
Maybe I’ll start a workout blog once all of this is over.
previous entry here
* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
So this week, instead of war and peace between countries, we had some war and peace between hearts. Lots of proposals, engagements, disapproving parents. In a world with issues of class, hierarchy, and not much gender equality love can become a very unpleasant game. But let’s start at the beginning.
My initial reaction to Tolstoy’s treatment of women was disgust. Women are presented as weak and silly, a hindrance to their husbands and man in general. This is presented quite clearly in a conversation between Pierre and Andrew Bolkonski early on in the book. “‘If only you knew what those society women are, and women in general! My father is right. Selfish, vain, stupid, trivial in everything – that’s what women are when you see them in their truest colours! When you meet them in society it seems as if there were something in them, but there’s nothing, nothing, nothing! No, don’t marry, my dear fellow; don’t marry!’ concluded Prince Andrew.” [pg. 22] Let’s not bring up the “those were different times” argument. I know. It’s still uncomfortable to read.
Andrew is not the only man who thinks along those lines. Pierre’s marriage weighs him down. He regrets it all, and thinks of his wife, Helene, as stupid and empty. It can be said in his favor that he realizes his marital issues stem from being coerced into a marriage he didn’t exactly want. “‘But in what was I to blame?’, he asked. ‘In marrying her without loving her; in decieving yourself and her.'” [pg. 245] Yet, he doesn’t handle the issue as an adult, as opposed to his wife who confronts him. “‘It is all, all her fault,’ he said to himself;” [pg. 246], “‘Don’t speak to me, I beg you,’ muttered Pierre hoarsely. ‘Why shouldn’t I speak? I can speak as I like, and I tell you plainly that there are not many wives with husbands such as you who would not have taken lovers, but I have not done so.'” [pg. 247] It may seem that Tolstoy actually makes Helene out to be the mature adult in the situation, but the fact that Pierre is a main character, and Helene is only ever mentioned in relation to him, makes us sympathize with him and view her through his eyes, thus painting her as cruel, even though it is Pierre who leaves her (only after almost killing a man he accuses of being her lover). In other words, he views himself as a martyr, absolving himself of any guilt or blame, and through the narration so do we.
Only when Andrew’s wife, Lise, dies, does he seem to acknowledge her personal sacrifice for his sake, giving birth to a son on her own while her husband has left her, isolated in his father’s home, to go to the army. “[…] and despite the fixed eyes and the pallor of the cheeks, the same expression was on her charming childlike face […] ‘I love you all, and have done no harm to anyone; and what have you done to me?’ – said her charming, pathetic, dead face.” [pg. 254], “And there in the coffin was the same face, though with closed eyes. ‘Ah, what have you done to me?’ it still seemed to say, and Prince Andrew felt that something gave way in his soul, and that he was guilty of a sin he could neither remedy nor forget.” [pg. 254].
The women in War & Peace constantly have to put up with their husbands behavior, often without any acknowledgment or reward. Countess Rostova forgives her husband for his gambling and bad management of their affairs despite his careless behaviour risking their entire family’s well-being. Lise, as we’ve mentioned, gives up her home, family and friends to go live far away with her husband’s family despite fearing his father and constantly feeling alone and afraid in her new home. And it’s not just husbands. Mary Bolkonski, for example, silently takes the abuse spewed at her by her father, forgiving him because of his old age. Her older brother never comes to her defence. Furthermore, he asks her to help convince the old man to accept his desire to marry a woman of which his father does not approve. This, of course, just leads their father to take out his anger at Andrew on Mary.
During Vera and Berg’s dinner party, Tolstoy gives us a glimpse into the minds of both characters. “Berg smiled with a sense of his superiority over a weak woman, and paused, reflecting that this dear wife of his was after all but a weak woman who could not understand all that constitutes a man’s dignity […] Vera at the same time was smiling with a sense of superiority over her good, conscientious husband, who all the same understood life wrongly as, according toVera, all men did. Berg, judging by his wife, thought all women weak and foolish. Vera, judging only by her husband and generalizing from that observation, supposed that all men, though theu understand nothing and are conceited and selfish, ascribe common sense to themselves alone.” [pg. 367]
In the midst of all of this, two young women stick out in the way they are treated by the men surrounding them. Sonya and Natasha Rostov are rarely mocked or ridiculed. They are still often described as over-emotional, dramatic or silly, but unlike in the case of other couples, here the men who fall in love with them respect them and cherish their company. For instance, when Andrew Bolkonski goes to visit the Rostov’s and hears Natasha’s optimistic speech about her love of life through the window at night he does not regard it as childish and foolish. Instead, it deeply affects him and make him change his way of life. “In his soul there suddenly arose such an unexpected turmoil of youthful thoughts and hopes, contrary to the whole tenor of his life […]” [pg. 332] He describes her as “charming, so original” [pg. 363] She is not a hindrance, but a blessing. “The whole world is now for me divided into two halves: one half is she, and there all is joy, hope, light; the other half is everything where she is not, and there all is gloom and darkness…” [pg. 374] Both Sonya and Natasha form partnerships with men considered above them in class and honor. Some may say that this is just another attempt to depict women as evil, and that Tolstoy intended to show how a woman’s power can cause a man to lose his senses: Andrew angers his father, Nicholas defies his mother’s wishes that he marry a rich heiress to save his family’s affairs. And yet, in both cases the men seem truly happy, and thus the reader imediately finds himself rooting for the young couples. “But, Mamma, suppose I loved a girl who has no fortune, would you expect me to sacrifice my feelings and my honour for the sake of money?” [pg. 407] (Have I mentioned how much I love Nicholas Rostov?)
I did not really have a plan when I set out to write these weekly posts, and I have to admit that now I’m actually quite proud of what they’ve become: serious, thought-out analysis. It must be mentioned that I do not have a degree in history, Russian literature nor gender studies. These are my own opinions based on my interpretations and involvement in online discussions. You’re all of course welcome to join in at any point.
And one last thing before I go, since this is getting a bit long. I’ve finally passed the big landmark: my old bookmark from my first attempt. I’d left it in there, and today my worn out, High School Musical themed one finally beat it. It’s pretty exciting. It also reduces the number of bookmarks from three to two (the extra is for the notes section at the back for easy flipping to and fro), which is much more pleasant, logistically speaking. And now we step off the well trodden path into the new and unknown.
previous entry here
- Title: Momo
- Author: Michael Ende
- # of Pages: 227
Momo has a wonderful life. She has no parents and her home is the ruins of an old amphitheatre, but she has wonderful friends of all shapes and sizes who take care of her, play with her and keep her company. There’s Beppo Roadwsweeper, old and wise, who loves her and cares for her like a father, Guido Guide, the storyteller who loves to make up local history for tourists, and the children of the city who love to play with Momo and find that no game is really much fun without her.
One day something weird starts happening to the people in the world. It starts with the old barber, who gets a visit from a very odd, very gray man who tells him he can start saving time in the Timesaving Bank and then, when he’s older, he’ll have enough time saved up to fulfill all of his dreams. The man agrees. In order to save up time he has to start giving up some small things – a daily hour with his old mother, a weekly visit to his lover, his habit of sitting around and contemplating life every evening. He’s not the only one. One by one, people start saving time. As they strive to become more efficient, they drop hobbies, family and friends. Very soon society turns into a sort of machine – there’s no point wasting a second on anything that isn’t neccessary.
Momo and her friends start noticing the change around them. They soon find out it has to do with men in gray plaguing the citizens, convincing them to save time and then evaporating from their memories as soon as they’ve gone. They try telling people the truth, but when the men in gray find out, they find themselves in grave danger. As the world keeps changing, it’s up to Momo to save everyone.
I spend a good fifteen minutes reading reviews online before I set out to write this one. I screened through pages and pages of four and five star reviews, each one praising Ende more than the last, trying to figure out what went wrong for me.
* 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.
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
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:
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),
(previous entry here)
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).