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Essays by Karen Anderson: All at Once

Illustration by Kacie Brown

On the first day of class, our Russian literature professor said, “Start now to read War and Peace. Good advice for a 1,400-page book — but I was taking three other classes with their own demands — plus additional Russian novels for this one.

That’s how I reached the last week of the semester without having opened War and Peace. But I knew where the reserve copies were in the library because I worked there. So, I stashed one in my backpack and retreated to my apartment.

“Just call me for meals,” I told my roommate. “This is a marathon.”

When I opened the book, I found that the cast of characters was several pages long and all the Russian names looked the same. But I read the book in four days — and I loved it. There was no time to forget any of the characters because I was never away from them.

One of the themes in the book, our professor had told us, was that ordinary people matter more than great men like Napoleon. I’ve never forgotten this observation and I see evidence of it everywhere.

I don’t recommend my strategy for reading War and Peace or any long book. But my memory of those four days is vivid and strangely joyful.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.