“War & Peace” – Part 1

I started reading “War & Peace” by Leo Tolstoy on December 18th. It’s been on my reading list for years but I’ve been putting off because, well, it’s Tolstoy and it’s 1200 pages long! I’ve been so pleasantly surprised since I started reading it. It’s wonderful and I’ve been sucked into the story, not wanting to put it down. The thing that has really helped me most is the list of characters and their relationships at the front of the book. I keep flipping back to it to remember who is who. Keeping track of who is doing what in a book this long and with each character having several names, has been the hardest part of reading it, but the story is amazing!

I’ll be writing about the book all this month but I thought I’d start now with a couple of very interesting quotes.

Here’s the first one! It’s from Volume One, Part One, II. They are at a party.

“For Pierre, brought up abroad, this soiree of Anna Pavlovna’s was the first he had seen in Russia. He knew that all the intelligentsia of Petersburg was gathered there, and, like a child in a toy shop, he looked everywhere at once. He kept fearing to miss intelligent conversations that he might have listened to. Looking at the self-assured and elegant expressions on the faces gathered here, he kept expecting something especially intelligent. Finally, he went up to Morio. The conversation seemed interesting to him, and he stopped, waiting for a chance to voice his thoughts, as young people like to do.”

I can see my older son doing just this at a party. I only hope he gets the chance to move in circles where the topics range farther than how many times the mailboxes have been broken into and what new fast-food chain is opening in town.

Natasha is a young girl with her doll who enters the party chased by her sisters and brother into her mother’s arms. A woman speaking with her mother asked her a question about her doll.

“Natasha did not like the condescension to childish talk in which the guest addressed her. She made no reply and gave the guest a serious look.”

I’ve gotten this look from one of my nephew’s. Children don’t appreciate being talked to differently than adults. I’ve learned my lesson and never assume anything. I treat children as I would any adult that came into my presence.

“Up to now, thank God, I’ve been a friend to my children and have enjoyed their full trust,” said the countess, repeating the error of many parents who suppose that their children have no secrets from them.”

Of course, they do! No matter how close you are with someone, you always have secrets. Some things are just private. We need to respect that, even with children, and know they will have some secrets but be there when they want help with them.

I’m loving this part of the book. You could call it “Parenting With Tolstoy”!

“Well, so you see, if I were strict with her, if I forbade her…God knows what they’d do on the sly…”

and

“One is always too clever with the older children, wanting to do something extraordinary,”

And here’s one that makes me think of “A Thomas Jefferson Education”. It’s a dream I had when my boys were little that never manifested itself other than the reading aloud part.

“On entering the drawing room, where the princesses were usually to be found, he greeted the ladies, who were sitting over their embroidery and a book, which one of them was reading aloud.”

And how’s this for an attitude to have?

“I’ve got four sons in the army, and I’m not grieving. It’s all God’s will: you can die in your sleep, and God can spare you in battle,”

That’s the attitude I try to have about my sons. You have to do what you love, what fuels you. You can’t just hold them at home and keep them safe forever.

There’s so much humanity in this book that never changes. It warms my heart to read about society, politics, wars, and families from the distant past. It shows me that there is continuity. It’s not currently the end of the world.

Here’s some from Part Two.

“The halted infantry soldiers, crowding in the trampled mud by the bridge, gazed at the clean, foppish hussars going past them in order, with that special feeling of ill will, alienation, and mockery with which different branches of the military usually meet each other.”

I’ll leave you with this because it’s just so classic. It could have been written in a modern novel about politicians.

“Bilibin’s conversation was constantly sprinkled with wittily original and well-turned phrases of general interest. These phrases were manufactured in Bilibin’s inner laboratory, as if intentionally of a portable nature, so that society nonentities could readily remember them and pass them on from drawing room to drawing room.”

You know, stuff you can share on Facebook!

Notes on “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein

I loved this book! I’m not a big fan of the science fiction genre. I’ve said this before and I’m starting to wonder if that is really true because I haven’t failed to love one yet. The ones I don’t really enjoy are the ones that get technical. I like the books that focus on the people, the lives and relationships of the characters instead of the scientific aspects of the travel. This one was full of all the stuff I love most. What makes us human? What would be different about a person raised on another planet by another species without contact with his own? I started to describe the story and my sons instantly blurted out, “It’s some kind of space Tarzan!” I didn’t even see that until they said it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really thinking when I’m reading.

I don’t think I’ll write out all my notes on this book. Instead, I’ll do my best to wrap the story up in my mind and talk about the individual characters and how they touched me. Let’s see. There was Mike, the “Martian”. The men who brought him back from Mars. Ben, the newspaper reporter that wants the story but is changed by it. Jill, at first she is Ben’s girl but she really falls for Mike and well, the relationship gets complicated at the end, or is it less complicated in reality, only complicated by our human social contructs? Jubal, he’s my favorite character. He’s older than the rest. At first you feel like he’s just this cynical, rich guy that really just wants to be left alone by the world. He brings only people he can trust and put up with into his circle and I feel like Jill and Mike are a huge burden to him at first. But really they, and what Mike is trying to bring to the world but doesn’t know it, are really what Jubal wants.

There are things that Mike says that I just loved and now use in my life. The idea of “waiting for fullness” is an ancient one that we all try to achieve. In all our meditations and prayers we are asking for patience to wait on what will come in the future. If something bothers us or weighs heavily on our minds, aren’t we told to wait and see what happens? Mike puts this idea into perfect words. Every time he doesn’t understand something, he says he must “wait for fullness”. Only time will tell if something is wrong. When you’ve waited long enough, you can act on something once you know that it is a “wrongness” that needs to be eliminated. The Martians themselves live a very long time, forever really, and they are strong. They don’t need to act prematurely to protect themselves from a potential threat. They wait and react when they know. We could be waiting out whole lives to understand something and die not knowing, but then, did we need to know? It probably wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things and we should let it go.

The whole story feels like one of those old “His Girl Friday” movies but you can feel a deeper story moving underneath. When I finished the book I thought, “I don’t get it?” What just happened? Who are the Martians? Why do they keep going back to this Digby and Foster characters that I thought were dead? Is Mike just a front man coming to scope out Earth for conquest by the Martians? I put the book down and wondered as I went to pick up my son at the gym. It swirled around in my head for a couple days and then it hit me. I think I get it!

Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t read it, don’t read this last part!

The Martians put their eggs out in the cold and only 1 in 10 survives. Then they bring them in and raise them up until they “discorporate” and become “the old ones” which are still around, not in just spirit. They are actually there guiding and teaching the younger corporate ones. I was lost until it hit me. They are angels! Someone (God?) creates the eggs. They are not born. The eggs are humans on earth. One in ten survives that ordeal and becomes an angel (Martian). They live their lives on Mars learning about the universe. Much like “A Miracle on 34th Street”, the angels must earn their wings and when they do they discorporate and become “old ones”. That’s some pretty cool stuff. Mike was one that survived and so were other religious leaders before him. His origin was different but his path was the same. He spent his time on earth trying to understand humanity and show them a better way of living that would bring them closer to the spiritual world he had already begun to learn about on Mars. Other religious leaders do the same, although they only glimpsed that spiritual world. Did God send the angels to talk to them? Did the angels come to Earth? It didn’t seem like it in the book. It seemed like they never got involved with the “eggs in the cold”. They just waited to see if any of them survived.

Are we born on this earth cold and alone? Do we all have that spark within us that makes us want to search out who ultimately created us? And do most of us set it aside for earthly things and never make it to the spiritual world? Is that what Heinlein was trying to tell us?

Notes on “The Martian” by Andy Weir

There’s nothing like a good novel to ease your mind, right? I picked this up because I heard the movie was great and thought I’d read the book before it shows up in my Netflix cue. I wasn’t disappointed. Mind you, I’m not a huge science fan. When I first started reading I felt as though he could have skipped over all the science explanations since I had no idea what he was talking about. He could have just made it all up for all I know. There were some parts where I thought, “Oh, please!” but over all I very much enjoyed the book and by the end was completely sucked in to saving Watney, so much so that I didn’t realize it was the end of the book when the last page came! That’s a negative in my opinion. You should finish the stinkin’ story.

The bonus part of this great book was the short interview with the author and essay by him at the end. He talks about how he became a writer and how shocked and surprised he was by the whole thing. Today is the greatest time to live in! It’s just so easy to get your voice out there, to get people to see your art, whatever that may be. There he was writing along on his blog, giving his novel to anyone that wanted to read it, and BOOM print book and movie deal. It’s encouraging to say the least. I’m not writing here and hoping that some day something will come of it. Writing my blog is what is coming of it. I am becoming a better person by putting my thoughts into words. I’m growing personally by making the commitment to write on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not it is worth anything to anyone besides myself. But…to hear that some people are touched so much by what others put out there and that more people can see it because some company or group of people feel so strongly about what you’ve put out there that they feel compelled to invest in your work to bring it to others, well, that’s pretty amazing. The internet is a marvelous thing.