Sometimes Reading Good Literature Is Like Taking Vitamins

I mentioned a few posts back that I’m a sucker for a BBC-produced costume period drama, and War & Peace has been in our DVR queue, unwatched, while I plow through the book.

No one does drama like the Russians. My in-laws visited Russia a couple years ago, and they told me that for a lot of Russian people, their identity is wrapped up in suffering and struggle, like they’ve recognized their lot in life and try to succumb nobly to their fate. (Also, vodka.) Yes, their government is corrupt and the weather is awful and communism can be soul-sucking but man, can they do drama.

I like to think Tolstoy (War & Peace and Anna Karenina) treated literature as a catch-all profession. Everything is in these books. Philosophy, society, fashion, agriculture, treason, redemption, religion. Everything.

It’s taking me forever to get through War & Peace. I think it took me three weeks to finish Anna Karenina, but even though it’s just as long as War & Peace, there was a desperation to Anna’s story that kept me going. The “war” part of War & Peace is painstakingly descriptive war reporting. (Aside: I took Latin in high school and we had to translate a lot of Julius Caesar, who also was a big fan of writing about war; in particular, all the different people he conquered and then subjugated.) What’s a lot more interesting is how the men behave when they come back from the army on leave; how the Russian army is fragmented because certain generals are more interested in personal glory than overall victory against Napoleon and in doing so, sabotage other regiments; how women are supposed to remain true to their soldiers but it’s OK that they mess around. There is great stuff there, but I have to get through the war stuff.

So it’s a good story, and I’m roughly 400 pages in, but it takes me a long time to get in the mood to read it. I know it’s going to be good for me, but sometimes I consider War & Peace to be one big pile of kale with vitamins on top. I know it’s going to be good for me, but I dread the process.

Related: My favorite radio station played side one of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot this afternoon when I was chauffeuring my daughter around town. I owned the CD (back before digital music was readily available, kids!) and like reading War & Peace, listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a lot like taking vitamins. The possible exception might be the track “Heavy Metal Drummer,” which was easily the album’s most radio-friendly song.


Sometimes Reading Good Literature Is Like Taking Vitamins

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