I have a confession to make. I have never ever ever ever gotten through War and Peace. My most successful venture took me up to chapter five. I once directed an adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s EGBDF, in which War and Peace plays a significant symbolic role, but still I couldn’t get into it. It’s not that the writing style or time period dissuaded me from finishing, necessarily: Dostoevsky is my favourite author, and I own, I kid you not, a small library of critical works on Russian Literature that I reread once a year. But can I get into Tolstoy’s long prose? Not a chance.
Sometimes, when these tomes fall to the wayside, we feel guilty. We worry about what our reading friends will think of us (“Oh, you couldn’t read War and Peace? You must have an inferior attention span for intellectual prose”). Maybe we just feel stupid for lugging it home from the library or paying twelve bucks for it at Chapters.
Let’s be real, here. Some books are just hard. Doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, how many degrees you have, not even how interested you may be in the content. Some books just wring the life out of you. But something I’ve learned over my many years of post-secondary education and just reading is that there are too many books in the world to get hung up on the ones we can’t for the life of us finish. We can appreciate their value and we can even take some time to understand why they may be important. But we can’t let them eat up our time or our attention. Words speak to us in different ways. War and Peace doesn’t speak my particular language, even in translation. I accept that and celebrate those who get a wealth of knowledge from reading it.
So, I’ve decided to be happy about this particular thorn in my side because, if anything, it gives me freedom to read what speaks to me. And, I’m pretty sure, none of my reading friends will think less of me for it.