War and Peace – the book you’re possibly least likely to read but should

So, War and Peace. Everyone’s heard of it, right? How many times have you heard someone say: I don’t need War and Peace! a quick summary will do (or words to that effect). It may be the most well-known book that the average reader (even supposing there is such a person) hasn’t read.

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Of course, there’s no denying it’s length. At nearly 600,000 words, it’s a whopper. But consider this, all the Harry Potter books put together contain almost 1.1 million words. And the Game of Thrones books (as they stand – where on earth is the next novel George?) contain a massive 1.7 million.

But I would like to make a personal plea to readers everywhere – if you haven’t tried it already, give it a go! I’ve shared my personal experience of reading it below, in the hope it might inspire you…..

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So…the year was 1982, April to be precise. I was unemployed, 10 months out of university and 4 months out of a disastrous stint selling shoes on the Isle of Wight (don’t ask). My mother had advised me to do a shorthand/typing course, and whilst it had been tempting to ask whether she still thought it was the 1950s, I bit my tongue and got on with it. It was better than doing nothing.

So there I was, in Leeds, dreary bus rides, walk to dreary training building. I can’t remember a single other person doing that course, but surely there must have been. High point of the day was the 1 hour lunch break, which I spent in my favourite dark basement cafe (everything seemed dark back then) nursing a cup of coffee and  a scone (I was broke, you know). And devouring, page by small typescript page, ‘War and Peace.’ How wonderful it was to be transported to another world, where all the characters had fascinating names I could never hope to pronounce, who struggled with all the BIG questions in life on a personal, moral and philosophical level….(as opposed to understanding shorthand).

…and then there are the battle scenes – the book being famous for the depiction of Napoleon’s advance on Moscow – hailed as some of the best ever written. And I love a good battle! I was often shocked to emerge onto a rain-spattered Leeds pavement when I had imagined myself at Borodino, surrounded by canon fire rather than the passing of the number 33 bus to Ilkley.

I’ll never forget that particular reading experience. And after 35 years, I think it’s time for a re-read. In bigger typeface, mind you.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I passed that course. Never used the shorthand, but touch typing – well, it could have been the best skill I ever learnt, the way things turned out.

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