I held on for so long.
But after two notifications from the library informing me that my copy of War & Peace was due soon and furthermore, my bookmark remained nestled in that same spot, I had to do it. Just looking at that tome each day — I could feel it staring back at me — was torturous.
I finally returned the unfinished book today.
What compelled me to want to read a 1,000+ page piece of 19th century Russian literature for pleasure in the first place?
During my high school and college days, I was obsessed with Soviet Union history. That eventually turned into pretty much anything Russian. Though I’ll make obscure references now and then (calling my husband Leonid Brezhnev, for example), truth be to told, my Russian history trivia nowadays is an utter embarrassment. My one-time dream of sweeping the Russian History Jeopardy category will sadly never be.
No, more than wanting to rekindle a former love, I think my decision was more influenced by the fact that Tolstoy is a classic.
For much of my life, I’ve done well in school (not all years, of course, as close ones know). Other than my size, that was what I was most known for growing up. Being big wasn’t a good thing, so I held onto school. The thing with pretty much anything is: if you put effort into it, you’re likely to get good results. I was never naturally smart, but I worked hard and it paid off. My circle soon became the naturally smart kids and then I wanted to become one of them, too. One way I thought to do that was to try to make myself like things that they liked. 19th century Russian literature apparently being one of those things.
This all sounds ridiculous at age 29, I am fully aware. I guess I needed this library moment to confront the fact that some parts of my childhood have needlessly remained. I’ve been out of grad school for almost a year now – even if I needed it then, I certainly don’t need it now. This might actually be part of a larger problem, an issue my latest article for The Tempest touches on: I still haven’t fully made peace with who I am and what I do. Will I ever allow myself to just enjoy what I like? Or will I always feel this need to do and be something more?