War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Eight

Welcome one, welcome all, to week 8 of my weekly progress reports for War and Peace. If you’re curious about how last week went, then you can pop on over and see my week 7 progress. It’s becoming something’s an amusing fact to me that I seem to constantly be falling behind with this read along for one reason or another, which is why this post is coming to you a few day’s late. And I’m off on holiday to the US this coming Saturday so that’s yet another chance to fall behind but do not worry, loyal readers, I will cart Tolstoy’s masterpiece on a trans-Atlantic flight because I refuse to be beaten entirely now we’ve come so far and are so close. Will this work out well for me? Tune in next week to find out! (Ooo the suspense!)

For those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed. Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly?

In my last post I summarised the many trials and tribulations of Volume III Part II and officially broke the 1000 page mark. I truly have reached the point of no return now. So here’s how week eight aka Volume III Part III looked…

  • This section opens with a tangent… obviously, but at least it’s vaguely relevant unlike someone’s I know (looking at you, Hugo). Tolstoy treats us all to some philosophising about history and how you can never have a beginning to an event because it flows from the previous happenings within a grand inexplicable narrative of existence. I quite like these interludes – they serve to remind me I’m, in fact, not reading a Russian soap opera in book form, but instead one of those ~important books~
    • “The first thing history does is to take an arbitrarily series of continuous events and examine it separately, whereas in fact no event can ever have a beginning, because an individual event flows without any break in continuity from another. The second thing history does is treat the actions of a single person, king or commander, as the sum total of everybody else’s individual will, whereas in fact the sum of individual wills never expresses itself in the actions of a single historical personage.” (p. 912)
  • The upshot of the little philosophy break is to illustrate how silly it is to try to assume military history is a simple cause and effect or that battles are won (or lost) by their commanders who assume hero like status in the annals of history. To illustrate the sheer idiocy of military history, we have the various factions of the Russian forces deciding on tactics, and it’s a predictable shit show. Tolstoy reminds readers that what may seem like a genius bit of tactics or a stupid plan actually was probably a result of circumstance more than anything else:
    • “The circumstances encountered by a commander-in-chief in the field bear no resemblance to any circumstances we may dream up as we sit at home in a cosy study, going over the campaign on a map with a given number of soldiers on either side, in a known locality, and starting out at a specific moment in time.” (p. 916)
    • Tl;dr: it’s easy to criticise but you try running a battle, ok?!

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Seven

Welcome one, welcome all, to the seventh of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. If you’re curious about how last week went (terribly), then you can pop on over and see part one or part two of week 6’s progress. I’ve fallen behind with the schedule, to the point that earlier today I read something close to 100 pages just so I could claw back and post last week’s weekly wrap-up vaguely on-time. I know, I know, I make such sacrifices for this readalong.

For those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed. Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly?

In my last posts, I summarised the action from Volume II Part V and Volume III Part I but this past week I moved onto Volume III Part II and officially broke the 900 page mark. There’s no turning back now, we’ve reached the point of no return (hopefully)…

  • We open this section with Napoleon, obviously, because Tolstoy hates me at this point and just wants to make me suffer.

  • The note I wrote on this scene was ‘men are idiots’… I mean… ok I think I might have been a tad grumpy when reading this section but it’s not wholly inaccurate because:
    • “Napoleon went to war with Russia because he could not resist going to Dresden, could not resist the adulation, could not resist the idea of donning the Polish uniform, and could not contain his petulant outbursts in the presence of Kurakin and later on Balashev. Alexander refused all negotiations because he felt personally insulted. […] Rostov attacked the French because he could not resist the temptation to gallop across a flat field.” (p. 756) Of course he couldn’t resist, stupid Nikolay.

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Six, Part Two

Welcome one, welcome all, to the sixth (and a half) of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous post which was meant to summarise week 6’s progress, but in fact was a post of two halves because I’d fell behind with the weekly schedule. This post is officially part 2 for week 6 and it’s a little late (to say the least), but I’m here now so let’s all just appreciate that – ‘better late than never’ and all that jazz.

For those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed. Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly?

So, in my last post, I summarised the action (and boy was there action) from Volume II Part V- so much drama! This was how I felt about Volume III Part I which, for the most part, felt longer and more introspective for some reason, so I had less observations overall but here they are…

  • This section opens with a resituation of events in terms of the overall historical timeline – we’re in 1811/1812 and I can feel another history dump and I’m not happy about it…
  • All that being said, Tolstoy has some great ruminations of the ’cause and effect’ pattern that we like to apply to war, you know, for understanding and sanity’s sake. He discusses whether we are all just pawns, essentially, of the inevitable playing out of the world – it’s a common theme, especially explored in literature and theatre, of having the world as a stage and all the men and women (merely) players. (Cheers, Shakespeare.) But Tolstoy does something extra interesting with it in casting people as the slaves of history:
    • “Although on a conscious level a man lives for himself, he is actually being used as an unconscious instrument for the attainment of humanity’s historical aims. A deed once done becomes irrevocable, and any action comes together over time with millions of actions performed by other people to create historical significance. The higher a man stands on the social scale, the more contact he has with other men and the greater his impact on them, the more obvious are the inevitability and the element of predestination involved in everything he does. ‘The hearts of kings are in the hands of God.’ Kings are the slaves of history. History – the amorphous, unconscious life within the swarm of humanity – exploits every minute in the lives of kings as an instrument for the attainment of its own ends.” (p. 670)
  • We quickly go from a quote that intrigued me, to one that just made me roll my eyes and laugh. Napoleon is out and about and men keep throwing themselves at him to show their devotion to him and his cause. It must be tiring, truly, poor Napoleon, he’s the Gretchen Wieners of War and Peace. 
    • “This was nothing new for him; he needed no reminding that his presence anywhere on earth, from Africa to the steppe-land of Muscovy, always had the same devastating effect on men, sometimes driving them to acts of madness and self-sacrifice.” (p. 674)

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Six, Part One

Welcome one, welcome all, to the sixth of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 5 progress, if not please do pop on over to it to see how it went. And for those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed. Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 6 went, which covered Volume II, Part V and Volume III, Part 1 of War and Peace…

All right stop (collaborate and listen) – I have a confession to make. I seem to be falling into an unhealthy cycle of falling behind on the reading schedule, so speed-reading to try to catch up, and then forgetting to take notes so it makes the weekly summary wrap-up posts harder so then I re-read and… wash, rinse, repeat. This week I decided to take as many notes as I wanted whilst I read and it turns out that doing this (AND participating in Tome Topple, which ends Thursday, AND signing up for The Reading Quest, which started yesterday) isn’t the best idea, on reflection, and the upshot of it all is that I’ve only read half of what I’m meant to have read in the past week. However, I’ve decided to just roll with the punches and split last week’s wrap-up into two sections, this is part one which will cover Volume II Part V and part two with Volume III Part I will follow… at some point… hopefully soon. I took waaaay too many notes on this section but I guess I must have been really invested in what was going on so that’s not exactly a bad thing!

  • As this section opens, Pierre shuns his fellow masons and consorts with the bachelor gang again – quelle surprise. He does it so much so that even Helene is like ‘this is unacceptable’, so Pierre abandons her for Moscow instead so as not to “compromise her” – how about you just stop doing the bachelor thing instead? No? Oh, ok…
  • Everyone loves Moscow Pierre, except himself, it seems because he’s become everything he used to hate; he’s now “wealthy husband of an unfaithful wife, a retired gentleman-in-waiting, fond of his food and drink […] a type he had found so profoundly repellent seven years ago”. It’s ok, Pierre, we’ll love you all the same.
  • But he’s having an existential crisis again because we can’t go for a part without one. But he takes time out of his busy schedule of crisis-ing to be rude about Helene, again, ugh – “My Helene has never cared for anything but her own body and she’s one of the stupidest women in the world […] yet everyone thinks she’s the last word in intelligence and sophistication, and they all bow down to her”
  • “It was too horrible to be ground down by life’s insoluble problems, so he latched on to any old distraction that came along, just to get them out of his mind” – he turns to wine and books which I think we can all agree are pretty good choices.
  • Moscow is the place to be – Pierre’s back in Moscow, and now ol’ Prince Bolkonsky and Marya head there too. As well as a new locale, Bolkonsky has a new fondness for Mademoiselle Bourienne and I so do not want this plot-line. Nope, no sir, please no.

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Five

Welcome one, welcome all, to the fifth of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 4 progress, if not please do pop on over to it to see how it went. And for those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed.

Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 5 went, which covered Volume II, Parts III and IV of War and Peace…

  • First off, guys, I did a bad thing – I read War and Peace for a good three or four days without thinking about the fact I was doing these vague summary posts each week. Oops, my bad. In an effort to catch up I’ve quickly went back and skim-read sections, but I apologise in advance as this week’s wrap-up is extra patchy and probably very long.
  • I like how this section starts with almost an historical overview of Napoleon and Alexander’s 1808 meeting and the outcome of it, the way that Tolstoy goes from the macro to the micro in order to resituate the story is A+ – “the ordinary life of real people […] went on as usual, far removed from political considerations, such as being for or against Napoleon and all questions of reform”
  • By this point Tolstoy is definitely comparing Andrey and Pierre’s characters – they both have similar goals but different approaches, and ultimately Andrey’s is the one that produces some results: “He possessed in the highest degree the one quality that Pierre totally lacked: the practical application to get things going with no fuss or struggle.” This has come as a huge shock to me because I don’t hate Andrey any more??? I’m quite glad because this section of the book seems to focus on him and it would be a shame if I spent so many hours reading about someone I hated.
  • That being said, I’ve been waiting for Andrey to visit the Rostovs ever since I found out how was cast as him and who was cast as Natasha in the BBC miniseries – because obviously those two actors look like TV would put them together… yeah, yeah, I know, my obsessive knowledge of actors is why things like this are ruined but oh well
  • Basically Andrey is so blown away by Natasha’s natural energy and youth that he rethinks his solitude and comes to the epiphany that “life isn’t over at thirty-one” – jeez I’d hope not dude or else I only have 6ish years of life left to live and that is one hell of a sobering thought

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Four

Welcome one, welcome all, to the fourth of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 3 progress, if not please do pop on over to it to see how it went. And for those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed.

Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 4 went, which covered Volume II, Parts I and II of War and Peace…

  • After a few days’ break from War and Peace so that I could properly take part in the 24in48 readathon, I’m picking it back up with pleasant surprise at the realisation that we’re not in a ‘war bit’ at the moment, at least not in the opening chapter – yay!
  • Ok Natasha has just casually said that to prove her love for Sonya she held a heated ruler to her arm like they used to when they were kids to prove their love… um… what kind of strange sadist practice is this? And Nikolay just nods and goes along with it like it’s the most normal thing ever, duuuude.
  • Apparently we’re not being subtle now about the fact that Sonya is in love with Nikolay but he seems to have precisely zero interest in her when there’s the prospect of manly gatherings and clubs and a certain someone (I presume prostitute?) he pops off to see of an evening. Aaaah the high life of a young man in Moscow, lovely and charming.
  • Pierre is so out of his depth with society and having a wife and it’s funny as hell but also kind of sad. Poor Pierre, he didn’t ask for a potentially adulterous wife having it off with a well-known cad when he innocently stared at her boobs. This is what you get for being a wealthy count, Pierre, are you happy now?
  • Ok that escalated quickly. Pierre challenged Dolokhov because… reasons/rumours. Now it seems that they’re having a duel. (Anyone else humming Ten Duel Commandments from Hamilton throughout this section? No? No takers?)

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Three

Welcome one, welcome all, to the third of my weekly progress reports  for War and Peace. I am happy to report that I have officially now read further than I did on my previous attempt to tackle this mammoth of a book – if nothing else, that’s progress, and we can call it a success even if I don’t read a word more. I mean, obviously I’d prefer it if I did read significantly more words and finish the entirety of the book but still…

You may have seen my previous weekly post summarising my week 2 progress, if not please do pop on over to it to see how it went. And for those who have no idea what I’m going on about at all, you may want to head on over to the blog of the War and Peace Newbies Read-along host Laura from Reading In Bed.

Every week I’m doing a short progress post or wrap-up of my thoughts so far on the book, all very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence or a comprehensive guide to the novel is what I’m trying to say – at best, my approach is scatter-gun and what catches my eye probably isn’t the most important detail in the text. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 3 went, which covered Part I, Volume III of War and Peace…

  • If you want an added level of difficult to your already difficult read, try reading on a Monday morning train ride into work when you’ve not had any coffee yet, feel like crap because periods, it’s hot and you’re uncomfortable, and then three chattering Scouse women sit down next to you and talk at a volume best described as “loud enough for the entire train to hear them”.
  • It’s Tuesday morning. I opened my book happily on the train – the SAME GROUP of loud women got on again in the carriage I was in. I swear this is a conspiracy so that I can NEVER concentrate on War and Peace. How dare people do such heinous things as talk to each other on public transport, ughhhhh.

ughrolleye

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week Two

Welcome one, welcome all, to the second of my weekly progress reports proper for War and Peace. You may have seen my first post summing up how my first week reading Tolstoy’s tome went but, for those unaware, I’m taking part in the War and Peace Newbies Read-along, as hosted by Laura from Reading In Bed.

Every week I will be doing a short progress wrap-up/my thoughts so far on the book, very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence is what I’m trying to say. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s see how Week 2 went, which covered Part I, Volume II of War and Peace…

(spoiler alert: I put gifs in this post to try to disguise the lack of content)

  • It’s Monday, it’s the second Monday of Wimbledon, I have a day off and frankly I don’t expect to do much more than sit and watch ridiculously fit people hit tennis balls at each other. And maybe bake a cake. Because my life is just that exciting. War and Peace, you say? What War and Peace? (Spoiler alert: I read none of War and Peace on Monday.)
  • Not entirely sure how I feel about the representation of Denisov’s lisp – it feels like it’s going to turn into cheap comedy??
  • I still don’t really understand what’s going on during the war. It just seems to be a lot of miscommunication or flat-out lack of communication… and people looking stupid because they didn’t set fire to a bridge or something and SO MUCH PETTY BUREAUCRACY and… I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S HAPPENING I’M JUST READING WORDS BUT THE WORDS DON’T MAKE SENSE.

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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | Week One

Welcome one, welcome all, to the first of my weekly progress reports proper for War and Peace. You may have seen my first post from last week but this is the real deal, week 1, actual words of War and Peace have been readFor those unaware, I’m taking part in the War and Peace Newbies Read-along, as hosted by Laura from Reading In Bed, and I will be making my way downtown through this chunker of a book over the next couple of months and, this time, I hope I will succeed in making it through to the bitter end (or at least past around page 200 where I gave up last time).

Every week I will be doing a short progress wrap-up/my thoughts so far on the book, very low key, probably in the form of bullet points, and likely not always coherent. So don’t expect eloquence is what I’m trying to say. Expectations lowered accordingly? Ok, then let’s begin, with Week 1 which covered Part I, Volume I of War and Peace:

  • I work at a University Press and I buzzed a man into the building for a meeting – he spotted War and Peace on my desk (it casts a very long shadow after all) and said “Oh I approve!”. When I was like “oh thanks yeah I’m trying it again, I failed at page 200 last time, I’m not so great with the war bits because my history knowledge is pretty poor” he responded with “Nah I teach the Russians, it’s fine, just skim it if you need to and go along with it”. So I feel like that was vindication from (presumably) a professor in Russian literature to say I’m allowed to not get what I’m reading but just plow merrily on regardless. Thanks, random professor, I shall!
  • Short chapters – praise the lord for serialisation, guys, this makes getting through War and Peace so much easier. Plus, either the translation I have (the Anthony Briggs one) or the language itself is actually really readable, what a pleasant surprise!
  • Ok so we have a regular rowdy night on the town with the lads (I presume in modern parlance they would refer to themselves as “the lads” or “the boys” tbh). But are they dancing with an actual bear? That’s not a metaphor for anything? An actual bear? (Are you sure it’s not a metaphor?) So is that normal behaviour for drunken Russian aristocrats? I mean, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here but wtf guys. Hey, let’s all party like the Russians in that case.
  • I already have to keep Googling characters to get a photo of who played them in a TV/film adaptation so I can keep them straight in my own head – please stop having so many extra/pet/formal names everyone! I came up against this problem with Anna Karenina too (another book I attempted and failed at reading), except it’s much worse with War and Peace because there are a bajillion characters. That’s the true actual factual number, I swear.
  • Vassily and the princess (Katishe? idek anymore) keep scheming to cut Pierre out of the Count’s will and to make sure it isn’t known he’s been declared legitimate by the Emperor and they just want the money from Bezukhov’s death and I bloody love it, it’s so catty and her and Anna Mikhaylovna squabbled over the papers they were tried to secrete and it’s practically slapstick at this point. I love how Anna Mikhaylovna can’t keep her nose out of anything, she might be my fave tbh.
  • I also watched the first episode of the BBC adaptation and I really enjoyed it and it undoubtedly influenced what I think of some characters, and confirmed my suspicions on other things.
  • I’m not a fan of the Kuragins, or of Boris, or of Dolokhov, or the Bolkonskys really.
  • I’m confused because I just find Andrey Bolkonsky kind of…. well, petulant. Like oh your life is sooooo hard, poor little rich boy. Idk, maybe it doesn’t help that I’m never very endeared to the dude who plays him in the BBC adaptation (James Norton) but I kind of assumed given that he plays him, that he’ll end up being the hero somehow. Ugh. Either way, I hope he has some character development because I’m mostly finding him unbearable, and not even in the good kind of way.
  • I am really endeared by all of the Rostovs and Pierre, and I still bloody love Anna Mikhaylovna, even more so after watching Rebecca Front just be amazing in the first episode. But let’s see if that continues once we get into the meat of the story, shall we?

And those, dear readers, were my oh so insightful comments about Volume I, Part I of War and Peace. I never said they’d be particularly intelligent so there we go, week 1 is now over, we move onto week 2 and Volume II, Part II of the book – and until next time…


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War and Peace Newbies Read-Along | It’s Go Time

Since we’re in this for the long haul, I thought I would introduce a weekly feature to my blog in which, every Monday, I will be looking back at how I’ve done in the past week with reading the one, the only, the mammoth that is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For those unaware, I’m taking part in Laura from Reading In Bed’s summer read-along of the book which runs from the start of July through until mid-September.

Based on her posting schedule (Mondays too) I have come up with my own little schedule of what page number/chapter I should be up to by the end of any given week and (because I’m obsessive) any given day. That’s right, I busted out a spreadsheet, and even put some formatting on it so that it gives me a nice green box if I’m on track or ahead of schedule.

I’ve even accounted for when I’ll be away in the US for a week and calculated how much I’ll have to read once I’m back in order to still make it through to the end. A tad obsessive, you say? You may have a point. But also I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t keep on top of this every single day I will definitely fall behind very quickly – this way I don’t want to break the chain! (I’m a child when it comes to positive reinforcement.)

So this is what the general schedule roughly looks like for reading my edition of War and Peace and it doesn’t sound too horrendous does it?

As I said, I’ll be away in the US for a week towards the end of the readalong so I’m planning to either catch up the pages I missed in the week following or to make sure I’m enough ahead of the curve in these early weeks so that it doesn’t affect my reading progress. And no, needless to say I will not be taking War and Peace with me – it is a proverbial brick and I don’t think carting it about DC will endear me to it any more. 

Still at it stands I’ll be reading, at most, 24 pages per day which is very doable – whether I can keep up with what’s going on in the story itself is another matter entirely (especially when it gets to the “war bits”) so I’m sure I’ll need the support of my fellow readalong participants, Google, and maybe the BBC miniseries to keep me going.

So folks, until next Monday and my first progress report, let’s do this thing.


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