Wednesday, August 16, 2006

War & Peace

I have been attempting to read Tolstoy's War and Peace for years. More years than I want to admit to. I have actually read the first 140 pages over five times. I don't know what it is about those first 140 pages, but no matter when I begin it that seems to be the place I stop. By the time I feel the urge to read it again I feel compelled to start at the beginning, so that I am totally up on the characters: many of whom have such similar names as to require a cheat sheet.

At first I wanted to read it because it just seemed like a 'should do'. I mean can you legitimately call yourself a bibliophile and shy away from this tome? Can you? It's enormous, which meant if it was good I'd be in book-lover heaven. And you know, those first 14o pages ARE good. Why then can I never get to page 141? It's the weirdest thing. It's like there's a curse on this book for me. I've never attempted to read a book... I mean either I read it or I don't. Simple, right? But not this puppy. For some reason it keeps calling to me, and I keep dancing back and forth with it. The strangest thing is how much I WANT to read it... and then I don't do it.

I've flown through Tolstoy's short stories and loved them. The other novels never appealed much, but W&P... well, I want to read it. So what the hell is the hold up?

Maybe it's the copy I have. Paperback - which means it's the size of two bricks lumped together and not so easy to manipulate. But that's just an excuse, right? If it were a hardcover version it would still weigh a good 97 lbs.

It must be that War and Peace represents something more than just a good read. There's something about being able to say: "oh yes, I read War & Peace"... some status amongst the literati, some Everest-like claim that I am afraid to achieve.

It would be okay if I could just let it go, say I don't want to read it. Now that would make sense. But the truth is I do want to read it. And it's not even as if it would be some record-breaker, "what's the longest book you've ever read" nonsense. There's a block here and for the life of me I can't put my finger on it.

I have an amusing story about War & Peace. At least I find it amusing. In a very pitiful sort of way.

One Christmas I was working at a Barnes & Noble to supplement my temping. I have a habit of running more than one job at a time, until now... maybe that's why I'm so stressed, I need a second job. Yeah. Any way, I was working at a Barnes & Noble.

The thing is I'd always thought working in a bookstore would be a dream. All those books. People looking for books. Recommending books. Books, Books, Books!!!

Wrong.

Oh sure, during the interview process they aspire to, or pretend to aspire to, the illusion that they are an actual BOOK STORE. They ask you what you're reading right now. They ask what authors you like. You actually have a conversation about books. That's how they sucked me in. I was naive enough to think you needed to know something about literature, or at least popular fiction, to work there. Laugh with me now. It's like saying you need to attend the Cordon Bleu to work at McDonalds.

So after my interview, where we discussed the Brontes (all of them, not just the dreaded Charlotte), science fiction as a legitimate form of literature, and the then current trend towards slasher-fiction (crime stories, you know), I thought this is going to be GREAT. Guess where they decided I was best suited? Magazines.

MAGAZINES? WHAT?!

My knowledge of magazines begins and ends with my adolescent subscription to GLAMOUR.

And there I was, 'assisting' people in the magazine section.

Every day was like a series of bad dates.

One day I happened to be hanging at the information desk. All the various thousands of Bridal magazines were in order and tidy so I had nothing else to do.

A man came up to the desk and asked the child working the computer, "where can I find War & Peace?"

The teenage info-tech pro began furiously typing into the machine. He stared at the screen. He typed more. He stared more. I was fascinated. What ever could he be looking at?

"How are you spelling that," asked the kid. "W-A-R-R-E-N P-E-E-S-E?"

The guy looking for the book just gaped. Then regained himself and started to explain... I spared him.

"Second floor, fiction and literature is to the right, it's shelved under "T"."

He thanked me profusely, shot the kid a "What's WRONG with you" look and headed for the escalator.

"How did you KNOW that," the kid asked me.

Yeah. How did I? I just went back to the magazines and put the Biker's monthly back in the sports section and decided I'd rather work at McDonalds. I quit a week later. There's only so much one can take.

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