For this year’s Thanksreading series, I’m exploring my development as a reader and giving thanks for the books and people who made me the lover of books that I am today.
“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news.”
So begins Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, one of the great works of fiction.
Don’t be impressed that I quoted it. The copy-and-paste function on my MacBook Pro is effortless.
I’ve never read War and Peace. I know it’s set during Napolean’s invasion of Russia, and I know that it eschews many of the trappings that go with traditional storytelling. But that’s about it.
So why am I writing about a book I never read as part of a series about books I’m grateful for?
Thereby hangs a tale …
It’ll likely come as no surprise to anyone that I was a weird kid.
I didn’t play sports in school, I regularly pissed off the rest of the class by requesting homework, and I was socially awkward.
Very socially awkward.
In middle school, the guys around me seemed to be pairing off with the girls as effortlessly as, well, copying and pasting the opening paragraph of War and Peace into a blog post. I had no such luck. My expressions of interest in the opposite sex were stilted and more than a little alienating for all involved.
(Sorry about that, Heather, Amy, Monique, Carrie, other Heather, Karrie, Rachel, Deanna, Becky, and most likely plenty of others. But hey, good call on your part! I was a hot middle school mess. Not at all like I am now, right? Right?!?!?!)
Anyway, how was I to impress the ladies? Couldn’t score the goal or flash a cool haircut or do a rad skateboard trick. But you know what there was?
Entering from the middle school side – off of B Wing – the first book shelf had some big suckers stuff in there. Almost exactly half way down, on the top shelf, there was a thick slap of book that was pretty old. Whatever slipcover it once had was long gone, but the title was embossed in gold on the spine.
War and Peace.
If I carried that beast around with me, it was bound to catch the eyes of a few lovely lasses. Right?
Well, between seventh and ninth grade, I probably checked the book out half a dozen times or so, for varying lengths of time.
And to any middle school boy out there who might be reading this, wondering if he could make a certain young girl or boy swoon by lugging Tolstoy’s great work up and down the hallway and in and out of class, let me tell you this.
If a single, solitary female other than my mother noticed that I was carried around a 1,200-page book, I never knew it.
But the other guys … they noticed. And I was hounded relentlessly for being a nerdy bookworm. I mean, I never told them why I had the book and that I wasn’t actually reading it. After all, I didn’t want to give away my methods of seduction.
Regardless of my plan not working – even after repeated attempts – and despite not reading beyond the first page, War and Peace still taught me something, as all great books do.
It taught me that there’s value in a book, even a book used only for gross, middle-school romance. And looking back on it, it also taught me that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing your own weird story of life. Eventually, you wind up in the same chapter as those you’re supposed to be with.
Speaking of which, I wonder if my wife would be impressed if I started carrying around …