The War and Peace Newbies Tag

July is officially go time for the War and Peace Readlong at Reading in Bed, but Laura has a few questions in advance before we all abandon our friends and families for 12 weeks.

It’s the War and Peace Newbies tag, in reference to the fact that everyone doing Laura’s readalong will be a W&P virgin.

Hot, right?

Here we go.

Have your read (or attempted to read) War and Peace?

Not even a little bit. I’m not a big classics guy, to be honest. But for whatever reason, I was one of the people who pressed Laura into reading War and Peace for her readalong this year (she does one every summer).

Despite the fact that I essentially haven’t read any of it, Russian literature is fascinating to me. The grandiosity is nothing if not commendable, and these guys–Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov–tackled some pretty big themes. War, death, existence, God, family, love, hate, etc.

In short, these guys didn’t fuck around.

What edition and translation are you reading?

I don’t fuck around either.

I spent a pretty penny on the Everyman’s Library 3-volume slipcase edition that’s pictured above. These are officially the nicest books I own now. Not only are the pages nice and thick, not only is the binding terrific, but the 3-volume structure makes this bicep-busting behemoth a lot easier to read.

Most single-volume versions of War and Peace amount to anywhere between 1200 and 1500 pages. There are literally videos warning readers about how physically tiring it is to read it.

In short, this edition appears to be $50+ well spent.

In terms of the translation, it’s by Louise and Aylmer Maude. From what I can tell, it forgoes the sections that are written completely in French. Apparently that’s a thing. In other translations there are large sections written in French, without any footnotes to explain what’s happening. Uh, no thank you.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc.)?

In terms of plot and characters, I know absolutely nothing. Like, absolutely nothing. I could manage to nail a zero on a multiple choice quiz about the book, I know so little. I don’t know the characters’ names, I don’t know the arc of the book, I don’t even know what war the title is referring to. Maybe it’s fictional? I have no clue.

I know it involves Russians.

Seriously, that’s about it. I’m crossing my fingers that it somehow involves alien invaders, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I’m purposely going into this as blind as possible. I prefer to read classics on their own terms, at least at first. Perhaps that’s part of why they usually don’t hit home with me (given that they’re largely devoid of historical context), but it’s the way I like to read them. I’m interested in meeting Tolstoy on his own terms, and not through a myriad of interpretations.

I was tempted to watch the recent mini-series in advance, just to get a sense of who I should be caring about. But I know that once I see their version of the characters, I’ll never be able to create my own. I’m terrible with that. The Lord of the Rings movies have ruined any hope of picturing those characters in my own way.

Editor’s Note: I’m not going into this 100% blind. I read an article about 7 Reasons You Should Give War and Peace a Chance, and I watched this video about choosing the write translation for you. I basically learned nothing about the book, though.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

I hope to be profoundly affected, to be honest. War and Peace seems to be one of those novels that changes you as a reader, at least in small ways. For some, War and Peace is a point of demarcation: I was one thing before I read War and Peace, I was another afterwards.

Now that might be a bit melodramatic, but it’s hard not to think in such life-changing terms when you’re reading a book that’s been described like this: “If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy.”

War and Peace is also a “belt notch” read (I think I just made that phrase up, don’t google it). It’s a bit of an accomplishment, I think. I’ll be proud to say that I’ve read it, in full, and even more so, that I dove in and really spent time with the text. No matter the result, I’ll have gained valuable insight thanks to all the brilliant people reading the book along with me.

This will also be the longest book I’ve ever read, so that’s fun!

What are you intimidated by?

Well, the length, obviously. According to this list, it’s the 24th longest novel ever written (according to word count).

The number of characters, perhaps even more so. I heard there’s something like 600, which is insane. I’ve been warned about how it actually feels more like 1000 characters, because many characters go by two or three different names. What?

And as with any classic, I’m intimidated by its legacy. It’s never a good feeling to dislike a classic. You can’t help but feel a bit lacking when you don’t “get” a book that is so universally praised. Truly, I don’t expect to like War and Peace. I never expect to enjoy the classics. They’re just not my style. They’re often bloated and poorly edited, a sin I rarely forgive.

Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

You know, I’ve heard about this strategy before. Many people find the “war” half of War and Peace quite boring, so they often just skip those sections so they can get back to the more interesting “peace” narrative.

To that I say: you didn’t actually read War and Peace, then.

This concept is completely ridiculous. I can’t even fathom skipping a third to half of a book (I’m guessing?) and then saying that I “read” it. Such a cop out. Also, skipping that much absolutely excuses you from having any opinion about it. The skipper’s take on the novel means nothing to me. Nothing.

That being said, it’s going to be pretty funny if I’m tempted to skip the war sections when I get to them…

See you on July 10th!

My first post about War and Peace will be on July 10th (and will continue with weekly posts until September 18th). I plan on mixing things up a bit, and not simply giving my thoughts on the events of the novel. That seems boring. That’ll probably be half of what I post, but I plan on adding some other, more interesting content that will be able to be enjoyed by people who haven’t read the novel yet.

So if you haven’t read War and Peace, don’t worry. I’ll definitely be keeping you in mind.

Have you read War and Peace? Do you have any advice for a War and Peace newbie? What was your favourite and/or least favourite thing about it?

16 thoughts on “The War and Peace Newbies Tag

  1. I’ve read half of War & Peace! It’s quite good! One day I’ll finish it. {I got distracted by other shiny books…}


  2. Also, I think the war sections are lovely. They contrast the peace sections in an interesting way, almost suggestion that the peace sections are a TAD vapid. {I also love the peace sections, but the contrast is interesting.} AND I was reading the Pevear and Volhonsky edition: one of Napoleon’s letters is offered in French {pardon me, they might have troubled themselves to translate, I agree that’s quite odd, go on then with putting it into English}, however, I COULD READ THE FRENCH. I found that piping interesting. 🙂

    It’s been a while, but I recall quite liking the two main characters, especially Andrei. Lots of thinking and philosophy that isn’t too fussy, in this one. It’s much more lively than I expected.


    1. The few people I know who have read it have all said it’s more readable than you’d think. So that’s encouraging.

      And that’s the thing about the war sections: whether it’s boring or not the contrast with the Peace times is SO important. You gotta read ’em!


  3. Actually you’re the only person who pressed me to reap W&P this time around. Some people are not happy! I usually get my mom, sister, and brother-in-law to participate, but this year, only my sister is joining. My mom says she tried reading it years ago and gave up, and my BIL is just a wimp 🙂

    Cursing myself for not naming it the W&P Virgins Read-along…

    I’m a little envious of you, and most of the other participants, who are going in blind. Even though I loved the mini series, I feel a little spoiled. Not in terms of plot stuff, but in knowing, or having set ideas about, the characters.

    Re. the characters, I think there are technically a few hundred, but that’s counting like, servants who are mentioned once. I’m through Vol I Part I and there aren’t really that many. I notice that the mini series erased a lot of sibilings, eg. there’s not Ippolite, and no Vera. Older siblings = boring.


    1. There’s still time to change the name…

      The only reason I would have wanted to watch the mini-series is to know who not to care about. If a character wasn’t in the mini, then they’re probably not important enough to care about in the book.

      And I’m the younger sibling in my family. So it sounds like you’re exactly right.


  4. Oh yeah, and you really must read more Russians, even if you don’t end up loving W&P. Dostoyevsky is really different – more nihlist or existentialist, whereas Tolstoy still seems to believe in the power of love and religion and what not. Guess who is more to my taste, haha.


  5. War and Peace is one of my all time favourites. In fact I could easily dedicate a blog to it. Yes, it is a long read. But the characters become your friends, and every day you will be curious about them, and there are bits that make you laugh and cry and gasp.
    Think of it as a soap opera, there’s a new episode every day, and don’t worry, there’s nothing difficult about it. Find a copy that has an index with all the characters and their names, and helpful notes and enjoy!


      1. It was originally published in magazines as a serial. So it’s meant to be read like that. And don’t worry, it’s not for nothing that people say it’s one of the best books ever written. Happy reading 📚😊

        Liked by 1 person

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