30 August 2013


I had set as my summer project to read Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, though I think that he might dispute the designation ‘novel’ to his book. After eight reading weeks, I have completed the project. And closing the final pages of the volume led me to wonder what it is like to finish a book. Now what? I thought. I know what it means to start a novel: to enter a world in medias res, where life has been ongoing and unbeknownst to me; to meet people who for the most part ignore my existence but who obviously depend on it; to be thrust into a world no matter how familiar it might seem but that is for the most part strange. I have thought often that we do not suggest in our pedagogies how difficult it is to ‘start’ a book. It used to be common wisdom that one might sample the first few pages of a book so as to see if the reader would be at all interested in entering the world of the book, but I think that this is a misleading suggestion. The first few pages are entering estrangement directly. I think about Dorothy coming out of her farmhouse holding her little dog: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Well, where exactly is she? How should Dorothy begin to make sense of her surroundings and its population? Who exactly are all those people? Follow what road? Where? I think I’ll go back inside!!
            And so, having spent two full months with War and Peace, I wonder how to depart from the worlds and characters with whom I have become somewhat intimate, and in whose world I have lived? One may return to the book after it has been begun, and I suppose one can choose to reread a novel at some future time, though the fifteen hundred pages of War and Peace certainly would require some energy. But what shall I do with the book in the moments and days after having completed the last sentence of the last paragraph of the final chapter? What do I do with all of the characters? I think this problem suggests why I leave the book hanging about on my desk: on the one hand I do not know what to do with it having finished it, and on the other hand, I am not ready to leave the book behind. Alas, these finished books clutter my desks awaiting some resolution.


Post a Comment

<< Home