Where's the book?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Applause, please: #4 is finished!

I did it. I said I'd read the damn book and indeed I did.

After more time than I think I've ever spent with one book, I have finished War and Peace. All 1214 tiny-typed, densely packed pages of it (well, I might have skimmed a few of those "let's ponder the meanings of history" pages, but only a few).

I am too exhausted by reading it to say much about it, and that, combined with the fact that saying "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" seems almost insulting in the face of this massive accomplishment, means this will be a brief post. I will say that it wasn't what I expected it to be. I expected more novel, less philosophy. In fact, I don't think I expected philosophy at all. But the book is perhaps one-third the story of three Russian families at the time of the Napoleonic Wars (mainly what the Russians call the War of 1812, which was when Napoleon's army invaded Russia), one-third the story of the war itself, and one-third (or maybe less, but it reads long) philosophizing on the nature of power, war, and history. In fact, the epilogue (which alone is longer than many books) is almost all philosophy, which makes for slow going, especially with the end in sight.

Since I don't love reading about the maneuvers of battalions and blow-by-blow descriptions of battles, and reading about the philosophy behind those movements pleases me even less, I'd have to say that much of it was tough going for me. But I did enjoy the stories of the intertwined families, and, above all, I am damn proud of myself for getting to the end. I learned a massive amount about Russian and European history. And even some of the philosophizing about the nature of power and the "why" behind the forces of history was interesting.

But most importantly, I did it. Whew.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In the beginning (of 2016)

2016 is off to a slow start. After reading 41 books in 2015, and 53 (!) in 2014, my resolution for 2016 was different: To finally read those two big books that have been sitting on my to-read pile (actually, they mainly are my to-read pile) since forever. War & Peace and The Power Broker probably weigh a collective 20 pounds, and if I ever lose my hand weights I can easily substitute them for strength exercise purposes. But they are there to be read, and as God is my witness, read them I will.

But I needed a short break from the two massive books that ended 2015 before embarking on the Tolstoyian journey (also I was traveling, and packing War & Peace would put me over the luggage weight limit before I even packed a pair of pants), so I began the year with these three. Right now it's mid-March and I am mid-W&P. I don't think it's ever taken me this long to read a book, but in addition to being over 1200 pages, the pages are densely packed, the print is small, and the book is, well, not exactly a page-turner. So I may not be back for a while. Pray for me.

#1 A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. The concept sounded promising, since the plot could easily have been something cooked up by Trollope. A council member in a small town in the English countryside dies suddenly, and the battle over his seat is rich with gossip and rivalries. While entertaining enough, the complete absence of anyone worth caring about made the book less compelling than it should have been. Surely not everyone in a typical town in Britain is duplicitous, venal, hostile, and mendacious? Are there no even semi-decent people left in the country? More than just wanting someone to root for, it became difficult to believe that so many awful people could have congregated in one place. Did Rowling use up all her compassionate imagination on Hogwarts?

#2 To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie. The latest in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery series, this one starts with a literal bang: a bomb goes off in historic St. Pancras Station. There was too much information on history and architecture for my taste, and a few resolutions that didn't quite feel like resolutions, but I always enjoy a visit with Duncan and Gemma and their absurdly ever-growing home life (his kid, her kid, a kid they adopted together, dogs, cats, fish...and always more and more--this one added a passel of kittens!).

#3 The Apartment by Greg Baxter. An unnamed European city, an unnamed narrator...two strikes against this book before I've even started. But to my surprise, I enjoyed it very much. The narrator is an American veteran who has served in Iraq, and become wealthy by providing some sort of intelligence services to the military. The action takes place in the course of just one day, as he searches for an apartment to rent along with a woman he has met. There are side trips, memories, interesting encounters, hints at a future relationship, and overall the sense that the narrator, haunted by what he has experienced, is deciding whether or not he wishes to continue with life. The book is beautifully written, ultimately wise, and emotionally gripping.