Posts by Rick @ AnotherBook.blog

I write about books at AnotherBook.blog. I'm into fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles. And the Princess Bride.

War and Peace Readalong, Part 4: The Quest for a Good Life

This week’s reading covered Volume II, Parts III and IV, in which we jump to 1809 (then back to 1808), Pierre becomes the head of the Petersburg Freemasons and agrees to remarry Helene, Boris and Natasha end their courtship, Andrew (Andrei) sets his sights on Natasha despite Pierre’s protestations, and Nicholas (Nikolai) vows to marry Sonya.


In parts III and IV of Volume II, there is very little of what I would call entertainment, but this is one of the more interesting sections of the novel due to the narrative being driven by a simple, yet complex, question: “What does it mean to life a good life?”

So far, we’ve seen almost every character’s attempt at success or happiness foiled. Pierre thought he would find existential peace through the Freemasons but he’s made little progress in his quest for spiritual fulfillment. Andrew has become disheartened with his forays into both the military and the government. Marya is desperate for religious belonging, but she still feels something is missing. Natasha’s impending marriage to Boris has fallen apart. Nicholas intends to marry Sonya, much to the disapproval of his family. And the list goes on.

There was an undertone of cynicism to Part III, a cynicism I was long expecting but haven’t quite seen yet. (I just assume that every big-ass Russian novel will be sad as fuck.) And maybe I’m just in a bitter place in my life, but I enjoyed it. Tolstoy seems to foreshadow that every effort to improve someone’s life will ultimately end up fizzling out. Things are doomed to failure.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 3: Tolstoy Basically Started Tumblr

To follow along with our War and Peace Newbies Readalong, follow either the hashtag or our fearless leader, Laura, on Twitter. Pretty much everything the group posts will be found there.


1. What Went Down in Volume 1, Part 3

Now that Pierre is one of the wealthiest men in Russia, everyone in high society is fawning over him. Prince Vasili sets him up with a diplomatic job in Petersburg, and Pierre hates it. Anna Pavolvna Scherer encourages Pierre to marry Vasili’s daughter Helene, and Pierre hates that even more. He thinks Helen is vacuous. She is quiet, uninteresting, and concerned with little more than her beauty. But pretty soon, so is Pierre. Despite his misgivings, he can’t really help himself from staring at her … bounty. Oh, and there’s this little rumor that Helene and her brother Anatole have  an incestuous relationship. So there’s that.

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War and Peace Readalong, Part 2: War is Boring but 1-Star Reviews Aren’t

A Note on Names: Since I am reading the Maude translation, I will be using its version of certain names in the text: Andrew instead of Andrei, Nicholas instead of Nikolai, etc. I’m sure you will hate it, but this is the book I’m reading and these who they are to me. 


1. What Went Down in Volume 1, Part 2

In Part II we leave Petersburg high society and venture out to Braunau, Austria. General Kutuzov, the head of the Semyonovsky regiment, is so opposed to his men joining the Austrians in their fight against Napoleon that he makes them dress in rags, in the hopes that the Austrians will refuse their help. It matters not, since the Austrians surrender anyway, thereby clearing a path toward the Russians for Napoleon and his army. Despite Kutuzov’s attempts, the Semyonovsky regiment will soon see action.

Meanwhile, in the Pavlogradsky regiment, Nicholas and company are ordered to destroy a bridge that the French must cross before they arrive. A siege occurs, and the regiment succeeds.

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When Life Gets You Down, Keep Climbing

A good friend of mine is going through a pretty difficult time. He’s approaching his mid-30s and is saddled with two young children. He is the sole bread winner in his family, but he pays the bills with a job he hates. He is deeply in debt. He feels trapped, and scared, and entirely without options. He is not only laying down the tracks in front of himself, but the rest of his family, too. Meanwhile, he can hear the train coming. The sound never goes away.

I am equally close with my friend’s wife. The three of us were inseparable in college, thanks to the fact that she basically moved into our two-man dorm room five weeks into first semester. She texted me about my friend yesterday, and she, too, feels scared, and trapped, and alone. Her husband is deeply depressed, and she doesn’t know what else to do.

None of us do. This is a battle he’s been fighting for a long time.

I tried, as best I could, to give her some advice. I think it helped, if only for that day. Sometimes that’s all we need. Something to get us to the next day. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it, what I could have said.

Today, I was reminded about my favourite passage from one of my favourite novels, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. While it doesn’t provide any answers in terms of what my friend can do to help himself, it definitely gives it some context: most of us get to the point he is at right now. Most of adulthood is about disillusionment.


“You spend your whole childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will one day win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg—that your future will not be the roller coaster you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ‘life’. Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked ‘professional stuntman’ or ‘fight evil robot’, until as the weeks go by and the doors —’get bitten by snake’, ‘save world from asteroid’, ‘dismantle bombs with seconds to spare’—keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed.”

— Paul Murray, Skippy Dies


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War and Peace Readalong, Part 1: An Indictment of Love

This is the first of eleven posts I’ll be making about War and Peace over the next eleven Mondays, thanks to the War and Peace Newbies Readalong, hosted by Laura at Reading in Bed. Since this is the first week, it’s definitely not too late to join in. Just head here for the intro post, and get to reading. If you’re intimidated, then think of it this way: reading a 1500+ page book is hard work, in that it’s literally, physically difficult, so your reading time is basically workout time, too. Two birds, one stone. 


1. What Went Down

As expected with a 1500-page book written in 1865, a lot happens even though almost nothing happens. Part 1 (in my Everyman’s Library Edition) is 137 pages and much of it is about establishing the characters and placing the chess pieces on the board before they’re moved around for effect later. Long story short: Part 1 is about about lining people up either for Napoleon or against Napoleon and for Pierre or against Pierre.

At a society party at her home in Petersburg, Anna Pavlovna Scherer discusses the war with her friend Price Vasili Kuragin (great name, and one of about 1200 princes and princesses in War and Peace). In the opening paragraph of the novel Anna calls Napoleon the antichrist and declares that Russia is the only nation on earth capable of stopping him. Talk of the war dominates much of the party. People casually throw around words like “virulent” and “chimerical.”

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Who Would Be On Your Country’s Literary Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln, between 1927 and 1941. It features four of the most well-known American Presidents of all time — Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln — and is probably the coolest thing about the United States (ranking just ahead of rock n’ roll, Mark Twain, and alley-oop dunks). The four men depicted were chosen because they represented, for Borglum, the four most important events in the history of the country (the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, the construction of the Panama Canal, and the Civil War).

While thinking about who would grace Mount Rushmore if it was constructed today, I started to think about other theoretical Mount Rushmores: the Mount Rushmore of the NHL (Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, and Howe), the Mount Rushmore of One Direction (Zayn left and I’d still kick out Louis), and, naturally, the Mount Rushmore of Canadian Literature.

If we were to carve a bunch of giant literary luminaries into, say, Mount Robson, who would those four be? For fun, I thought I’d take a stab at it.

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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.

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