Greene: Lord, Let Me Know Mine End
Seeing--Like, Actually

I Guess I Need to Read War and Peace Again

Because I didn't get out of it anything close to what Gary Saul Morson does in this New Criterion piece, "The Greatest of All Novels." 

Tolstoy had an amazing capacity to understand “particular moments” in all their unrepeatable complexity. Where theorists, and even other great novelists, saw a smooth curve, he detected the infinitesimal deviations from it. This ability explains his unsurpassed realism in describing the human mind. Isaac Babel expressed what so many have felt when he remarked that if nature could write directly, without a human intermediary, it would write like Tolstoy; in a similar spirit, Matthew Arnold declared that “we are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life.” Tolstoy himself stressed his ability to see the infinitesimally small movements of consciousness that others overlooked.

I don't dispute that by any means. But it's not what I noticed in the reading or remembered after. I think I was so occupied with keeping track of the people and their movements that the subtler aspects of the book more or less passed me by. Another reading really would be in order, though I'd like to re-read Anna Karenina first--I only read it once, forty-plus years ago. 

I don't like the "Tolstoy or Dostoevsky" false choice, but I have to admit that Dostoevsky is more appealing and interesting to me. Perhaps that would change on greater acquaintance with Tolstoy.


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It is why classic novels are classic, the need to re-read them. I have been wanting to revisit War and Peace also. One of the silly things that keeps me from doing so is that I like to lie on my back in bed while reading, and the darn thing is so heavy!

You should also really read Les Miserables (unabridged), if you have not done so. It may be the only other classic novel that I would put up there with War and Peace.

Anna Karenina may be the novel I have read the most, but The Brothers Karamazov is a close second!

"It is why classic novels are classic, the need to re-read them."

Very true, but gosh, I don't usually feel like I missed this much.

I think that's a fairly good reason not to revisit it. :-) Not great, but fairly good. Though I would never read very much if I did that--I'd fall asleep too quickly. Bad enough sitting in a chair.

Do we all agree that Moby-Dick is the only American novel that can even be mentioned with these others?

(I'm such a literary snob; it's terrible)

Well...if we limit it to the 19th century. It's somewhat of an apples-and-oranges comparison after that, because the approaches are so very different.

I can't think of any American novel that approaches Moby Dick in its scope, and the in the quality of the writing, and language.

There are some American novels that I think are great, for instance, All the King's Men, but just scrolling through some lists of "great American novels," very few strike me in the way that European novels do.

Has anybody ever read Gone with the Wind? I have not and have never really wanted to, but last year I heard some discussion in a podcast that made me think it might be worthwhile.

Has anybody read The Book Thief? I was exceedingly surprised by that book. It might be one of my favorites--high up on the list.


I have put GWTW, Tolstoy, and Proust on my "To Read After Retirement" list. I'd like to read them, but feel no pressing need to do so right now.

Still working my way through Dickens, as well as re-reads of Dostoevsky and Hardy.

I'm not sure that American fiction really "caught up" to the Europeans until the 20th century. Same might be true for poetry, for that matter.

The same is definitely true for poetry, in my opinion. But we definitely did catch up in the 20th c.

I'm trying to come up with another 19th c American novel that ranks with the Russians, but it just isn't working. Heart of Darkness has the depth but not the breadth. Hawthorne?...not really. Henry James? I haven't actually read much of him but he seems kind of limited.

No, I haven't read GWTW and don't have any plans to. Some train of thought a week or two ago led me to read Margaret Mitchell's Wikipedia bio. She was a somewhat odd bird. Haven't read The Book Thief.

I really want to try Proust but I'm not sure when I'll get to him.

I have only heard of The Book Thief, Janet. Didn't they make a movie too? That other book about books that I just finished, The Shadow of the Wind, just about did me in. Not exactly sure that it was worth its almost 500 pages. There was a copy of GWTW in one of those little library boxes not too far from me, so I took it (I have left some other books there). Would like to read it some day.

Did you in because it was emotionally draining? I have only heard the very beginning-then it expired. I have to check it out again for a longer period.


I guess what I mean is that I didn't love it. So many people told me they did. But I persevered out of moderate interest in how it would end. I was probably 3/4 of the way through before I began feeling that way. The guy is certainly a good writer, I will give him that.

Hmmm. Well, I listened to The Book Thief, and I wasn't crazy about it at first, but maybe that was because it required more attention than I could give it while doing laundry. Anyway, I really liked it, and the guy can definitely write.

I started a post about it a few weeks ago, but I have been crazy busy.


My first thought was, "Wait a minute, Heart of Darkness isn't a 19th century novel." But it turns out it is: 1899. I had it pegged a decade or two later for some reason.

I may not be good with decades, but for this book I'm pretty good with days: I remember that I read it on 2 September 1997. It was a big day for me. I was moving to start graduate school, and I read it on the airplane. A good choice to read while travelling!

Yes, I had actually checked the date of HoD when I made that comment, because I wasn't sure if it qualified. Just under the wire. Even if it had been 1901, though, it could still be argued that Conrad was a more 19th than 20th century writer. Sort of a Late Romantic I guess.

I guess there are some definite parallels between entering grad school and journeying into the heart of darkness.

Yes, though nobody has treated me as a god, it is true that, as for Kurtz, my trip turned out to be one-way. The horror!

Also, you didn't die.

This reminds me: does anyone have an opinion about Apocalypse Now? It's supposed to be somewhat based on or inspired by HoD. I've never seen it, though I get the impression I'm in a small minority.

Apocalypse Now is pretty great, Mac! I haven't seen the updated one from several years ago now, where Coppola added I think something like 40 more minutes. But the original was pretty fantastic.

Well, it's streamable on Netflix. So maybe...

It has been many years since I saw Apocalypse Now, but I believe its good reputation is justified. Very ambitious film-making that is at least aiming at greatness. As I recall, critical judgement has varied on the longer version Stu mentioned.

I watched about a third of it yesterday. It's certainly gripping.

Well, that was something.

As a friend of mine put it, it's a mess, but it's an amazing mess.

Yes, it is. I'm not sure what I think about it, except that I'm really glad I didn't see it in a theater when it came out. It would have really shaken me up.

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