I doubt I have ever read a book that had as significant an impact on me, and my act of reading it had on others, as this one. Conversations like this...moreI doubt I have ever read a book that had as significant an impact on me, and my act of reading it had on others, as this one. Conversations like this were frequent:
Someone, upon seeing me reading my Kindle, would ask what I am reading.
“War and Peace.”
“Oh. . . uhm, wow.”
“Yeah, it’s great. I’m reading it for fun.”
“Uhm, OK then, see you later. . .”
It seems to be so revered, and also so loathed, that I had to read it. At 1400 pages, it took me 8 months to finish, though I read several other entire books in that time.
I feel rather unequal to the task of expressing how this book impacted me, let alone a review of it. And nonetheless, I also feel I would be remiss if I let it go past saying nothing.
I was struck by so many things as I read War and Peace. Some of them I won’t mention here and hope to turn into their own blog posts.
Of the others, I felt I gained some sense of how the nobility and serfs in Russia (and, to a certain extent, Europe) thought about life, their position, and how things ran. Being a modern Kansan, this thought process was not familiar to me, and though I head read about it in history texts before, felt far more informed having read it in Tolstoy’s novel.
Although much of the novel centers around Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the work as a whole spans nearly two decades of time. Tolstoy’s characters aren’t static; they change over time. Some, yes, die; others go through hardships and triumphs that change them to their core. It evoked a feeling of nostalgia in me at times — for the younger, childlike Natasha who was so full of simple delight in life. But then, a thousand pages later, the older Pierre finally was able to find simple delight in life too.
Sometimes I have missed on the simple joy of being, and Jacob or Oliver or Terah remind me of that. Today Oliver and I read a book together, one that we read often, and we discovered an illustration of a tiny worm we had never noticed before. And the worm had a red hat (“hat” is one of Oliver’s favorite words right now.) The happy laughter as he pointed at the tiny hat, saying “hat” over and over, reminds me that sometimes children know how to live better than adults. Jacob later asked me how my day was, and I told him how I read a book on my Kindle, where I sat, and how I even read it lying down on the couch for a bit. At that he too laughed.
As with some other wonderful, engrossing books, I was sad to reach the end of this one. I felt as if I was leaving a conversation early; fictional characters, yes, but their story wasn’t over. And really, that was part of Tolstoy’s point: things don’t happen in isolation, and stories don’t have clearly-defined start and end points.
The novel touched on politics, religion, philosophy, free will, and just about every topic imaginable. It is, really, unfair to call it a just a novel.
I guess you can say that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been a success. It was published in 1843 and has never been out of print since then....moreI guess you can say that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been a success. It was published in 1843 and has never been out of print since then. It's spawned all manner of plays, films, adaptations, and spoofs. It's been adapted at least twice by Disney, once featuring Mickey Mouse and another time featuring Jim Carey. We're almost inundated with the story -- I'm not sure how many ways I've seen it. Yet I had never read the original story by Dickens until just now.
And I must say, what a treat it was. Despite knowing the plot in advance, it was a very good read. The 19th century London setting was done well. It wasn't some idealized London as is often portrayed in film adaptations. It had depth, as did the characters. Dickens' Scrooge had a troubled childhood, the son of poor and apparently abusive parents. He turned to business, with which he was successful. Along the way, he lost sight of family, and really of his humanity in general, striving to be a richer and more successful businessman at the cost of all else.
How apropos this story is for us in the 21st century. Our large banks define success in terms of profits made for their shareholders, while adding more gotchas to the terms of the credit cards held by their customers. Our governments play geopolitical games over weapons, oil, and gas, while unwilling to sacrifice anything to prevent a climate disaster. Our politicians, even in the season of Christmas, turn a blind eye and a cold heart to the suffering of those that can't afford health care for naught but political reasons, rather than trying their hardest to make a plan that will help them reality as soon as possible.
And what of us, the citizens of the 21st century? We consume ever flashier cars, houses, computers, and cellphones with data plans, while poverty intensifies across the globe in this economic downturn.
Well, count me among those many inspired and reminded by Dickens to be a more empathetic person, to remember how good even many of the poor in the West have it compared to other parts of the world, and to try to do more for others.
And that, perhaps, is part of the genius of Dickens. He inspired a complete change of how people looked at Christmas in his time. And his work is no less relevant today; perhaps it hits even closer to home these days. He invites us to carefully consider the question: what does it mean to achieve success in life? And he deftly illustrates that "wealth" is wrong answer. Here's hoping that many others will also learn a small bit about life from Dickens.
How to find it:
A Christmas Carol is available for free from Project Gutenberg for reading online, printing, or reading on an ebook reader such as the Kindle.
Be careful when buying printed editions. Many have been abridged or "improved for a modern audience", and thus lose a lot of the quality of the original. I found at least one edition that looks true to the original; I'm sure there are others.
It somehow feels a bit dodgy giving just three or four stars to something that has been considered a classic by so many, but here I go doing it anyhow...moreIt somehow feels a bit dodgy giving just three or four stars to something that has been considered a classic by so many, but here I go doing it anyhow.
The good parts of the book were the setting and something of the insight into the thought processes of the imperial powers of the day. The vivid descriptions of the heat of India, the businesses of the day, were fun to read -- even though I resorted to Wikipedia afterwards to learn more about the exceedingly complex way that India was governed back in the day.
The bad part of it was that once you're about half way through, you know how it will end; the only question is exactly how you get there. Some people like this book because it is some sort of moral lesson; I think it is exceedingly lengthy for a moral lesson that could be communicated in a sentence or two.
I had given this book three stars, but decided to bump it to four upon reflection. It did keep my attention, wanting to find out how it ended up. But it was really quite a jarring read for a modern reader, and somewhat difficult to pick up as a result. I had thought that was a downside, but as I look back on it, I think it's a good thing.(less)