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Random Thoughts: Reading War and Peace

Staying home during COVID-19 is giving me time to do projects that have been on the to-do list for a long time. Of course none of them will get done. Instead, I’m staying in touch with family and friends, eating my weight in chocolate, and binge watching TV shows.

And I’m looking through the bookshelves and the Kindle looking for books to read again, which reminded me of the first book I ever decided to re-read.

Remember when a summons for jury duty meant you were expected to show up every day for a month? One very hot July in the 1980s I served at the non-air conditioned Superior Court at Government Center in Boston. I only sat on one jury (guilty!). But something happened during that long, long month that became part of my life.

As I waded through the heat back from lunch one day there was a street bookseller who had one copy of War and Peace on top of a stack of books. It was so hot and the book was so heavy, but I bought it anyway, thinking it could keep me company at the courthouse.

Even with nothing to do but sit and wait, it was hard to get through the book. When jury duty was finally over I would pick it up, read a few pages and put it back down. It took months to finish, even with skipping through many pages. I hadn’t experienced enough of life and the world to understand its themes, so it was just a very long book.

Years later I found War and Peace on a bottom bookshelf while I was looking for another book, and I decided to read it again. Since then I’ve re-read the book in each birthday year that ends in a zero. Every decade brings more experiences, so every reading helps me understand a little more of what Tolstoy wanted to teach us about love, suffering and hope. And that there’s no need to separate your experiences into different buckets because together they make up your life.

What will it reveal if I’m still here to read it at 70? Maybe only Tolstoy would know. But I’m grateful for the tradition and to the bookseller who helped me start it on a day you could have fried eggs on the sidewalk.

Have you read War and Peace? What did you think? Is there a book you re-read? Let me know!

XO Brenda

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