War and Peace in Pieces
Posted by: Keir Graff
Way back on February 27, I poked fun at the idea of reading War and Peace via e-mail. A little while later, I thought, what the hell, you never know until you try. This morning I read installment 91 of 675, so I guess I’m sticking with it. It’s not the best reading experience in the world: the sanserif font of a text-only e-mail is, to put it kindly, uncomely; there are occasional small snags in the formatting, such as asterisked footnotes sitting not at the foot, but in the middle of the page; the chunklets are broken in somewhat arbitrary places; and, perhaps most important–especially in a novel with lots of Russian names and their diminutives–the action of turning back a page and refreshing one’s memory has been replaced with the action of searching for the appropriate e-mail.
But still, I am reading War and Peace, something I’ve intended to do for many years. (I previously likened anyone who would read it this way to a busy executive who wished to check a valuable cultural experience off their to-do list; I take that back, at least partly.) And while it took me awhile to get into it, I now find that I look forward to my five-minute morning routine of reading the latest installment, and that I am able, pretty well, to recall myself to the proper mindset for reading it.
I know the experience would be better if I were reading late at night in a comfortable armchair, but that’s when I read books for work (such as the excellent Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway, which I was still reading at 3 a.m. last night).
In War and Peace, Prince Andrew has just returned from his audience with the Emperor Francis to find his comrades in disarray. Tolstoy, as advertised, is an acute judge of human ambition, both on the individual and collective level.
By the way, Dailylit.com has just released its thousandth title, The Odyssey. Like War and Peace, it’s free. Others cost money. This will never be my new favorite way of reading, but it’s been an interesting and rewarding experiment.