Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Beginner’s Guide to Reading War & Peace [No Spoilers!]

*As seen on Wordery.com here

Have you ever thought about reading Tolstoy’s War & Peace but don’t know where to begin or feel overwhelmed? Look no further. This guide will help you on your way to finishing War & Peace.

A common reason people don’t read War & Peace is the length. It can be quite intimidating, but this is all a matter of perspective.

When you look at the current bestsellers, many pass the 500-page mark. One survey found that the average length of books on the New York Times bestsellers list had increased by 25% over 15 years. Reading the War & Peace in this sense is no different to reading a book from the Game of Thrones.

What is an important factor in finishing any book is not the book’s length but the reason why you are reading it. Finishing any novel involves commitment and if you want to finish War & Peace it’s essential to have a good motivation. If your aim is to read it as quickly as possible, to have more knowledge or to name drop then you might find yourself giving up before you finish. Make sure you read for a good reason so you when you feel like quitting, feel demoralized or impatient you won’t give up straight away.

A book should only really be considered too long when the author waffles on and the book could do with wide sections cut out or at least substantially edited. I personally find it a huge confidence boost in finished a long book and this is not the only benefit of reading longer novels, as seen here.

The Russian style
Another off-putting feature is the Russian style. Russian literature is not like English literature, just as French literature is like neither English nor Russian literature.

A big difficulty for non-Russians can be all the different names. Whilst it can be confusing for us, knowledge of the all the different patronymics, nicknames etc. were standard Russian knowledge.

It’s also worth remembering that when you start a new book or TV series it takes time to learn who everyone is, so this is to be expected. You’ll never be automatically expected to know who everyone is.

A good edition will have a list of the characters at the back and a great edition will have footnotes. Translators are the second authors. They place (or don't place) the stress and emphasis that heavily influences your understanding, experience and reaction to the story and its characters.

A good edition and some patience will go a long way. If your edition doesn’t have a list of characters at the back, then a good tip is to do a Google search for a character list with all the nicknames, and keep a printed version inside your book for reference.

Another classic staple in Russian writings are long digressions on backstories, various musings or completely unrelated tangents. Again, patience helps and if you are really struggling then try to think of it as a short story or novella within a story.

Don’t be afraid of reading summaries online before reading as well; do what you find helpful and makes your experience more enjoyable.

So, here is my advice to anyone wanting to read War & Peace:

1. Ask yourself why do you want to read this?
Do you genuinely want to experience the story or do you just want to tick some box or be able to name-drop? If you want to succeed, you need to have the proper motivation to fuel your commitment to reading some a long book.

2. Ask yourself what do I know about Russian literature?
You might want to first read Tolstoy's shorter book Anna Karenina, to get a feel for the style. Alternatively, just be patient and try not to impose our standards and conventions onto War & Peace.

3. Set yourself a realistic weekly goal.
For instance, 'I will aim to read 150 pages each week'. Don’t feel guilty if you miss your target.

4. Ask yourself 'am I enjoying this?'
If the answer is no, try reading another 100 pages and if you still feel the same then stop. Don’t worry about not knowing what is going on; sometimes it’ll make sense in the following pages. A book may be called a 'classic', but being a classic does not mean that anyone who reads this book will enjoy it. 

If you do finish War & Peace and enjoy it, then a great follow up is Vasily Grossman’s Life & Fate, a War & Peace-esque epic set during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Happy readings!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Master List | 2016

Last year, I devoured 61 books. This year I'm going to do 11 better and read a total of 72 books (or five books a month). Some semi-interesting facts from my readings in 2015:

Δ Longest book read: Life and Fate - Vasily Grossman at 864 pages
Δ Total pages read: 17,5641
Δ Oldest book: The Art of War - Sun Tzu 512BC
Δ Number of plays read: 4
Δ Number of audiobooks listened to: 18
Δ Number of non-fiction books read: 22

Reading challenges:
TBR Pile Reading Challenge 2016

1. The Cambridge Companion to Narrative - David Herman
2. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
3. The Iliad - Homer
4. Running: The Autobiography - Ronnie O'Sullivan
5. The Noise of Time - Julian Barnes
6. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
7. The Cambridge Introduction to Jean Rhys - Elaine Savory
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie
9. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene
10. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon
11. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
12. The Chimp Paradox - Steve Peters
13. Coriolanus - William Shakespeare (edited by Lee Bliss)
14. How to Read and Understand Shakespeare - Marc C. Connor
15. Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett
16. The Professional Recruiter's Handbook - Jane Newell Brown
17. A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
18. The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge - Michael Punke
19. A Country Doctor's Notebook - Mikhail Bulgakov
20. Moby Dick; or, The Whale - Herman Melville
21. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
22. The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Bookish Resolutions 2016 | TTT

Each week The Broke and The Bookish provides a topic for a Top Ten List. This week the theme is:

Bookish Resolutions for 2016”

In general, I always believe if you're going to start a New Year resolution, it should be in December and not January. That way, you've started to develop that all-important habit and discipline needed to succeed more easily in the next year. I did however, joke with my Mum today that I should have a Star Wars sticker book and that every time I was good I could get a pack of stickers (she said that'd never happen because I'm 'naughty' - puh!). Joking aside, that would be a good way to keep track of whether I'd behaved that week. On a more serious note, I do have a list of things I'd like to achieve this year...

1. Read 72 books in 2016
This works out at six books a month. Last year I planned on reading four books a month but ended up reading five. I'm already regretting the first book of the year, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Don't get me wrong, it's a comical book of its time for any of you who've read from the 1700s but at over 800 pages I feel like I've failed my reading target already...

2. Read more plays
I really enjoyed both versions of Antigone by Sophocles and Jean Anouilh. This year I'm planning to incorporate more dramas into my reading corpus starting with A Streetcar Called Desire by Tennessee Williams and some Shakespeare (Coriolanus and A Merchant of Venice).

3. Read more non-fiction
Again, last year I branched out more into non-fiction and it didn't disappoint. This year, I'm going to be reading on feminist and post-colonial themes for my English MA as well as other related topics, so this will contribute nicely towards my goal. I have almost finished reading The Cambridge Companion to Narrative that I found very insightful (and not as boring as you may think!)

4. Blog more consistently*
Discipline for the past few years has not been my forte. I'm really going to try to be a better blogger, I have no excuse for my poor time management. 
*(& figure out why Blogger plays up with my paragraph spacing and font colour <insert moody face here>)

5. Write reviews as soon as I finish a book
And also make notes as I go along for points to raise and quotes. This will help me blog more consistently too.

6. Write fiction for at least two hours a week
Bookish in a way. I need to start taking my creative writing and dream of being a writer more seriously. Whilst two hours may seem small fry, I don't want to go too big too soon in terms of making demands on myself. I also read that setting your target as a minimum helps prevent you feeling guilty and encourages you to over-achieve so here's hoping.

7. Read 50 pages before bed
Technically this should be 'Read 50 pages before going to sleep' as I read in bed with a cup of tea. Reading always makes me sleep better and reading an hour a day will help me reach my goal to read 72 books this year.

8. Read Don Quixote by Cervantes
I've always been fascinated by this cult figure of Don Quixote / Don Juan having first been introduced to 'him' by George Bernard Shaw. This makes for a nice tie-in and background reading for my English MA too. 

9. Read War & Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Having read Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, which in part was Grossman's own War & Peace set during the Battle of Stalingrad, and watching the BBC TV adaption has given me the impetus to read it. I read Anna Karenina and enjoyed it but somehow felt that War & Peace was a pointless read. Hopefully this year I will read it.

10. Stick to my bookish lists and resolutions! 
2016 will be the year I take more responsibility for my time organization and reintroduce the discipline and determination, which ironically enough, I had in my teens.

So those are my resolutions for what I want to achieve in 2016. I've tried to go for ones that are complimentary and revolve around better habits. 

What are your resolutions? What is your advice for sticking to them? I'm interested to find out so please comment below :-)