I am 25 years old, and now, for the rest of my life, I can say that I have read the entirety of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. No one can take this from me. The book has been read, the thousands pages consumed, and I am still standing.
As a reader and librarian, I’ve always WANTED to read War and Peace but it is SO daunting. SOOO daunting. A thousand pages, at least, depending on the font size. A bajillion (ok, 500) characters. A thick, thick book, but there’s a reason it’s such a THING to read it, you know? It’s a literal accomplishment, and it’s a uniting force for so many. I’d always intended to read it, had started it a few times, but after falling in love with the Great Comet musical, I had renewed vigor. Reading War and Peace was on my original vision board for 2020….but we all know the year went off the rails. So yes, I was home alone for three months and didn’t read War and Peace, but I did so much else!
But I decided 2021 was going to be the year. Why not? I decided about mid-January to read it in February, and then blocked out my schedule. There are 15 “books” within the 3 volume novel, and almost 365 chapters, plus two epilogues. I decided I was going to read 2 books a day, and I mostly stuck to that! There were some days I had to read 2.5 books, but I ultimately evened out the schedule pretty well since the books fluctuate in length. For me, this was easier than dividing it into equal page counts, because the text is so small that trying to restart in the middle of a book would have been kind of confusing. I have read Anna Karenina and lots of other “classics” (I mean, I was an English major) but I really regret not taking the Yale class that was dedicated JUSt to Russian novels of this time, haha.
I read the Oxford World Classics Edition with Napoleon on the cover. It’s the paperback copy I’ve had for years (oops) and it’s just about 1000 pages. The font is SMALL but it was manageable for me. I definitely understand why people read it on their Kindle though. I think listening to it on audio might have exhausted me though.
Ultimately, I did feel like I was in a marathon the whole eight and a half days it took me to read this book. I know there were parts I wasn’t reading as closely as others–but war is kind of boring? Why did Tolstoy write like I was going to go out and recreate these battles in my free time? But the “peace” parts and especially book 8 (the basis for the Great Comet) were splendid reads! I’m really proud that I finally read this book, and I think it’s a FASCINATING book–such an endeavor for both writer and reader. So many fascinating characters–and it’s a great survey of how you can flesh out ANY character, even if they die two paragraphs later.
Since my TBR is three miles long, it felt SCARY to put all my other books to the side to read this book–and it would have been even scarier if it had taken me longer. I’m really impressed with how QUICK I read this, but it was also because I knew I had so many other books to read, and I wasn’t going to be quizzed on it afterwards. I still read it, enjoyed it, took so much of it in and look forward to having great discussions about it, but I didn’t let myself get bogged down in the minutia of the battle scenes.
While reading this, I did supplement my reading, because spending all day and night reading this book could ruin your day. I listened to The Last Train to Key West on audio to supplement it–and to fill my time while walking to and from work–and it was a great counter-read because it was so different. Don’t try and read War and Peace and listen to Anna Karenina at the same time. Listen to some contemporary rom-com, or a YA novel, or something to even out your emotions and keep your brain happy but not exhausted.
Was I exhausted when I finished? Yes. Am I going to brag about this for years to come? Also yes. I did it! I finally, literally, actually read WAR AND EFFING PEACE.