It was about a year ago that I undertook the task of reading War and Peace, in large part because I simply want to be the type of person who has actually read War and Peace. Unsurprisingly, after about a hundred or so pages, I took a break to crack some of the other books waiting on my pile and before I knew it, months had passed and I knew that I would have to start over from the beginning if I were ever to finish the thing.
So I elected to procrastinate on Tolstoy, in favor of completing some of my other half-read novels. Hey, that copy of The Ruins wasn't going to read itself. Unfortunately. Man-eating plants in the Mexican jungle snacking on vacationing American twenty-somethings? Good idea. Whining, annoying, flatly-drawn vacationing Americans meandering through a plot that plods to a 1970's-horror-movie bleak and world-weary ending? Not so much.
Anyway, back to the highbrow stuff. Or, my attempt at highbrow stuff. While my trade paperback copy of the Anthony Biggs translation of War and Peace collected an impressive amount of dust on my nightstand, I came across a number of reviews touting a fantabulous new translation of the novel by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It keeps the French passages intact, along with translations of Tolstoy's original translated footnotes. It maintained Tolstoy's penchant for repetition, repetition, repetition.
It was, in short, an excuse to run out and buy a new, hardback copy of a book I already owned. And I live for those sorts of things.
I did put off the purchase for a while, though. One evening while wandering through Barnes and Noble with Cavin, I pointed the book out to him and said I wanted to get it, eventually, and thought no more of it. Later, a few days before Christmas as I was taking a break from shopping for others by shopping for myself, I decided to go ahead and snag the book -- it would make excellent reading during the nine-hour drive home to Kentucky for the holidays.
That very night, Cavin come home, saw the book lying on the couch next to me and said, "I just bought you that book." Now, Cavin has bought me a book precisely once in our relationship, back when we first started dating and he took a stab at buying me one because he knew I read a lot. It was a gothic, supernatural romance something-or-other and, despite the fact that I'm not the type of person who exchanges gifts, I took it back and told Cavin that while I loved the idea that he wanted to make me happy, it would probably be better if he didn't try guessing what I liked in books. So, I didn't believe him when he said he bought War and Peace. I was wrong.
I assume it's universal that just when you've decided your spouse never listens to a thing you say, they go off and do something wonderfully attentive that makes you feel like an ass.
So, after all that, I'm now compelled to read the thing. I've made good progress, starting over from page one and moving on through all of volume one over Christmas. I likely would have gotten farther, but that Nintendo DS wasn't going to play itself. I'm running a risk right now by taking another break from the novel, but it is a little wearing to read 300 (entertaining and thought-provoking) pages, and see 700 pages still to go.
But I will be that guy who read it. I will.
Speaking of large countries with interesting histories that plunged into 20th-century, ideologically driven bloodbaths, I'm partway into Mao: The Unknown Story. I'm actually pretty shamefully undereducated about Asian history in general, and Chinese history in particular. Given the amount of time I've spent reading up on the Hitler, Lenin and Stalin over the years, I really need to finish this one.
I also grabbed a copy of The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, which is pretty much duplicative of books I already own, but it's all in one volume and I don't have to dig through my boxes of books I have stored when I get an urge to read "The Enduring Chill" or "Greenleaf" or "A View of the Woods" again. I should have thought of that before I packed my original copies away, but that's what I get for trying to be organized and efficient with my space. I had Cavin read "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" -- he didn't quite appreciate it. Maybe O'Connor's blazing Catholicism didn't translate to a Buddhist perspective. For me, I probably share less than zero of the religious belief that drives O'Connor's stories, but they remain for me some of the most compelling and truthful work I've ever read.
I also dig crazy Southerners, so perhaps that helps.