Blog Post

Tolstoy Journal, January 20, 2017

Back in the saddle on the Tolstoy front. In Florida I read no Tolstoy–instead I read Reality Hunger by David Shields and The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis–and then when I got back I didn’t feel like reading Tolstoy because it seemed hardly anyone was reading it (this blog) and only one lady from Finland liked it and I am working on a memoir and trying to do as many book reviews as I can and I was enjoying Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.

But then my wife went to a meeting for Engine, a local arts group, and Josh Bodwell is on the same committee and asked how my Tolstoy blog was going and also said he would get me to do a Pecha Kecha next January to explain the journey or recount it or whatever. For a moment I thought why did I ever tell Josh about it? Then I remembered that was why I had told him–to keep me going on it. Was he going to ask me to do the Pecha Kecha? I asked my wife snippily, or was he just assuming I would do it? I don’t know, she replied, you’d be a fool not to. Touche. I was being a self-sabotaging grump so I grabbed Volume I off the floor and finished it and am back in the saddle under the Tolstoy spell again.

So I read from p. 219-289, which brought me to the end of Part II. This was all about the beginning of Russia’s involvement with the Napoleonic wars. I’m not sure how much to summarize here but what stood out to me is how Tolstoy shows that in a battle no one basically knows what’s going on. It is all confusion and mayhem, surgings of bravery and cowardice. He shows how bloody and terrible and stupid it is but also how life intensifies in the face of it, how everything becomes more vivid and alive; how it is both hellish and asinine but also (loaded but necessary word) glorious, exhilarating.

He shows how some of the men are cowards who don’t do their jobs and lie about it and yet are the biggest suck-ups to the generals, and how the bravest men are sometimes the most unassuming and quirky, men like Tushin, the scrawny pipe-smoking artillery captain. Dolokhof acquits himself well and makes sure the brass knows it; Nikolai Rostof, instead of shooting a Frenchman, throws his pistol at him and runs for his life; Prince Andrei rides into the thick of battle and helps Captain Tushin retreat when everyone has forgotten about him.

Quotes to follow. I have only a week to read Volume II which is 382 pages along but I won’t be a Pharisee about it. I believe I will catch up if last night is any indication. If I set up a page # to be read I sometimes recoil but if I just have a general objective, that might work better, we’ll see!

Nevertheless, I feel compelled: I was wrong. Volume II is 332 pages long. So I need to read 27-28 pages a day to get it done by January 31st. I’ve done my 1000 words so will transcribe some quotes tomorrow.

Go with the good.


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