Category Archives: Challenges & Read-Alongs

The TBR Project 2014

Last year, I took a somewhat different approach in my mission to reduce the TBR pile. Even though I did end up reading a book for every letter of the alphabet on my TBR pile, the idea became too restrictive as time strolled on. Plus, let’s face it.. 2013 might be the year I added the most books ever to my shelves, what with visiting England often and going crazy at the charity shops.

This year, I am taking the more old-fashioned approach. I am setting out to read 50 books from my own shelves. This may not seem a lot, but given that I expect not to have that much time for reading this year, plus knowing I have a ton of review copies to catch up with come February, I think 50 books is actually quite a high number. Lucky for me, I can strike 3 books off the list so far. (3 books read and it is already past the halfway mark of January – when did my reading become so incredibly slow?)

You can find my project-in-progress page here.

Are you planning to tackle your TBR pile in any particular way this year?

Wrapping Up War & Peace 2013

During my absence I failed to participate fully in the event Amy and I organised to celebrate reading War and Peace in 2013. I felt I should at least give you the answers to the questions posted in Amy’s wrap-up post for this Read Along, given how much time I spent with the book last year I would feel bad about not writing up my final thoughts in the end.

warandpeace2012

1) When did you finish?
I finished reading War and Peace on the third of November. So yeah, it has been a while! By that time I had been busy catching up with my reading for October, and once I had finished that I felt I might as well try and read through what was left of the rest of the book. I still feel that although dividing the book up into chunks of 100 pages each month made it seem more doable, at the same time I think I might have been less confused and perhaps a little more interested in parts of the book if I had read more of it at once.

2) What surprised you most about reading War & Peace?
I know this must sound silly, given that War and Peace is about, well.. a lot of war.. but I was not prepared for the long battle scenes. Or at least, I was not aware beforehand of how much my mind would wander when reading about battle scenes. I really struggled with those parts, particularly during the first half of the book.

3) Who was your favorite character and did that change during the course of reading?
I think more than anything, I liked the female characters. This might simply show my own prejudice, or the fact that I failed to connect to the masculinity of the male characters (even if Tolstoy undermined the ideal in lots of places). Strengthening my sympathy for the women, particularly the younger generation of Natasha, Sonya, and Marya, was definitely some of Tolstoy’s characters ideas about women (ugh!). As for the women, I had been told to expect to really love Natasha, but I think I felt for Marya more, in the end.

4) Do you feel like a better historian after Tolstoy’s lectures? ;)
Hahaha, do I really need answer this? His lectures were definitely the parts I struggled with most in the second half of the book. I tried to engage with some of it, and I could even agree with some of the sentiments he expressed, but his general philosophy just did not sit right with me. Then again, this is 21st-century Iris speaking, who was rolling her eyes at some of the dated (read: 19th-century, as in, the time during which Tolstoy wrote the book) ideas. I hardly think that is fair on my part. And yet.. it just felt so repetitive, and hardly necessary most of the time.

5) Is there anything you would have changed about the book?
The lectures. That is not to say that I do not appreciate what Tolstoy was trying to do. Or that I think he did not accomplish it. I just think that at times I would’ve liked the story to speak for itself more, with a little less of the explanatory philosophy chapters in between. I think that might have made his sentiments about war, about glorified masculinity that will lead to unmistakable disappointment, about the unfairness of politics that has old men deciding on the fates of masses of younger men more powerful, somehow? They are definitely there, and I think these might be the things I remember most strongly about War and Peace apart from the storylines of the three younger women, I just think I would have appreciated the book as a whole better if there had been less repetition of his central idea in philosophical language.

6) What did you like best about it?
The ideas articulated through stories (see above). Moreover, I enjoyed the family scenes much better than I would have expected. The lives and fates of the different main characters were intriguing and very well-shaped. I felt sympathy for many of the characters, and often felt deeply for their fates. More so than I would have expected 1/4th into the book.

7) What did you like least about it?
The second epilogue! The historical philosophy. And some of the sentiments on women that were occasionally expressed by some of the characters.

8) What advice would you give someone who is planning to read War & Peace in 2014?
Definitely give yourself the time to read the book. Dividing it up in sizeable chunks might work wonders. At the same time, I would not recommend reading 100 pages in one day, setting the book aside for a month, and then repeating the exercise. The book and its storyline are too intricate for that, and I will guarantee that you will have forgotten some of the names or developments. Personally, I seemed to get into the story only after a chapter or 3-4 each time I began reading again. Give yourself time to enjoy the reading. And if you do not enjoy it, perhaps stop reading altogether and try again at some other time in life, or just accept that this might not be the book for you. (although I feel that had I taken that advice, I might not be writing this post right now. And I am not even sure if I would’ve felt that I had missed out on the book as a whole.. But on some of the characters, some of the scenes? Yes, I would miss those).

9) Did you reward yourself when you finished?
No! I feel I ought to though. Is there any reward you would recommend?

War and Peace Check-In #11

warandpeace2013

Can you imagine? I am writing this post early as it is the third of November and I already finished this month’s section. What can I say? I think the fact that we are getting close to the end finally hit me and I just wanted to read until the finish.

But before I share my thoughts about this section, let me please remind you that you are all very welcome to join our War & Peace Carnival at the end of December, to celebrate having finished reading War & Peace this year, somewhere in the past, or just wanting to join us in celebrating. You can find more information here. Also, you can find the Mr Linky for this month over at Amy’s blog.

I grinned when I found Tolstoy mentioned Russian historians in this month’s sections, after wondering why he seemed to single out French ones in the reading for October.

I still want to argue with parts of Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, and yet, for the first time I found myself actually liking one of the paragraphs he wrote on the topic:

‘This whole strange, now incomprehensible contradiction between facts and historical descriptions comes only from the fact that the historians who wrote about this event wrote the history of the beautiful feelings and words of various generals, and not the history of the events themselves.

They find very interesting the words of Miloradovich, the decorations received by this or that general, and their own speculations; and the question of those fifty thousand men left in hospitals and graves does not even interest them, because it is not subject to their study.” (p. 1074)

For me, as a historian, this is a true and important reminder, particularly in light of some movements within the discipline who again seem to be calling for a study of only those “great” and “relevant” figures in historical processes. Alas, I still don’t think I can agree exactly with what Tolstoy provides as a solution (as if histories of the masses were simple and easy truths, as if this would not lead to its own kind of mythmaking – maybe?). I keep having all these questions I wish to pose to him, however much I like his critique and anger in places. As such, I find myself agreeing with his critique quite often, but less so with his counterclaims.

I also found it surprising to see Tolstoy turn more decidedly in favour of religion in this part again – or at least, with religiously inspired principles. I think we have seen that he disagrees with fanatic religion (as per how he seems to define it): Marya’s overly pious pondering in a large part of the book, Pierre’s adventure with free masons. But now, he’s calling, in another critique of historians, for a Christian judgement of right and wrong when talking about greatness, which I found really interesting (and his critique of historians there was very funny too).

C’est grand!” say the historians, and then there is no longer any good or bad, but there is  “grand” and “not grand.” Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand, to their minds, is the property of some sort of special animals known as heroes. And Napoleon, in his warm fur coat, clearing off for home from his perishing men, who are not only comrades, but (in his opinion)  people he has brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is at peace.

(…)

And it never enters anyone’s head that the recognition of a greatness not measurable by the measure of good and bad is only a recognition of one’s own insignificance and immeasurable littleness.

For us, with the measures of good and bad given us by Christ, nothing is immeasurable. And there is no greatess where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.” (p. 1070-1071)

Turning to the stories of the people, I was so sad that Petya died. And then to see the family fall apart over that (even if Natasha’s mother got on my nerves a little).

As for the couples, I am quite glad that it seems Natasha and Pierre and Marya and Nikolai will end up together. And yet, the distinction drawn between intelligent women and real women? Ugh.

Despite all my frustrations and questions posed to this month’s section, though, I quite enjoyed reading it.

Now we just have the epilogues left!

War & Peace Carnival: December 26 — December 31, 2013

War and Peace Carnival

We made it through a year of War & Peace and we want to celebrate! Even if you didn’t finish the book or you finished ahead of time or you read it 25 years ago, we want you to celebrate with us at the War & Peace carnival.

From the week of December 26-31, we hope you’ll post about something relating to War & Peace and the country it takes place in. This can be anything! You could make a Russian recipe, watch one of the movie versions of War & Peace and review it, review another Tolstoy book, review a Russian restaurant, read and review a nonfiction book that takes place during the time period, write a poem celebrating the fact that you finished (or couldn’t!) anything! We hope it will be a fun time!

You can post anytime during that week and link back up here or at Amy’s site. (we’ll both be hosting the same Linky so no worries, everyone will see your link!) We’ll also remind you again closer to the time, but we wanted to give you plenty of time to plan something out.

We hope you will consider participating, and that, if you are reading along with us, you will enjoy the final sections of War & Peace!

War and Peace Check-In #10

warandpeace2012

It is the first of November and according to our schedule, we have passed a thousand pages!

I have very little to add to Amy’s clever observations for this month. Be sure to check out her post! She also has the Mr Linky, in case you are still reading with us.

I’ll basically be reiterating her thoughts in my own words below:

I was sad that Prince Andrei died. I would have loved for him and Natasha to have a happy ending. However, I knew it was coming since I was stupid enough to check out the characters on wikipedia in.. February, I think? And I quickly learned that he would die. And yet, given his previous almost-death experience, I was still hoping that wikipedia had gotten it wrong. Anyway, I did really appreciate Tolstoy’s description of how Natasha and Andrei reconciled, and I found the last days of Andrei really interesting – his detachment versus the feelings and needs of the people near him.

As for the other couple. As much as I want Marya and Rostov to be happy together, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Sonya too. I find it really interesting that two of the women I feel most sympathy for, Marya and Sonya, end up having to share a love interest (Not to say I don’t feel sympathy for Natasha – but I feel Sonya and Marya are more similar). It also makes me a little sad. I love for characters I like to end up happy. But I can see how Tolstoy did not exactly have that, or my feelings, in mind when he wrote this book.

As for Tolstoy’s prime message about history, can I just state that I have grown quite tired of it? On the one hand, I do appreciate his ideas and I can see how his vision would’ve been quite different from those of historians of his time.. But, as Amy said, I feel it jars with the story somehow. For all his statements, I wish it could have been embedded within the story a little better. Now it just feels a little out-of-place.

What I did think funny is how he seems most bitter about the French historians, who glorify Napoleon, and then continues to talk in the ‘we’ form, as in ‘we Russians’ in some pages. I wonder how Tolstoy’s vision compares to other Russian historians of his time? Are they in the same business of glorifying powerful individuals, which he seems to reject (and I suspect they would’ve been)? If so, it is quite interesting that he singles out the French historians in particular here, even if for a few pages – in the context of a book about a French-Russian war. Hehee.

I have to admit, I am quite keen to finally finish this book. I have started on part III of Volume Four already. I’m quite curious how Tolstoy will tie up all the families’ lives (which admittedly is what interests me most). I know that the Epilogues are generally held to be quite slow and repetitive reading, so I’m not looking forward to December’s installment, but November? Yes, I am curious.

I wonder how I’ll feel about this book when I’m finally done reading. I think it is save to say that, for now, it hasn’t been the best reading experience yet – although it certainly has not been the worst either. I wonder if I’ll be more appreciative once I’m done?