Lockdown reading run dry

Today is Bank Holiday Monday 25 May, and has anyone noticed – it’s SUNNY. We’ve had a lot of Bank Holidays recently, 10 & 13 April, then a delayed one on Friday 8 May and now quite an early one a week before the end of May.

Today I finished reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace – 1000 pages of closely typed writing. To be truthful, I didn’t quite finish it – I gave up 4 chapters into the Second Epilogue. It took a long time to get into it, as I remember when reading Jane Austen and Dickens, but I got into a rhythm after 200 pages. I’m hoping to persuade Robin to watch the BBC dramatisation which is currently available on iplayer. I expect many of you will already either have seen that or read the book.

Tolstoy not only tells a story of wealthy aristocratic Russian families of the time (1805-1812+) but often describes the theory of war, somewhat heavy-handedly taking a swipe at the historians of his time (1865). In fact, the reason I fell at the last post, was because he spends the first 4 chapters of the First Epilogue describing how flawed most historical descriptions of war are, before getting into anything about what happened to the main characters after the main story has ended. Then, having ploughed through four chapters of similar at the start of the Second Epilogue, I realised that there was no more story and the entire 12 chapters are a further diatribe on the same topic.

I did enjoy reading it however, and feel that Tolstoy’s thoughts on war, power, the greatness (or not) of historical figures (including Napoleon), and other topics including the Freemasonry, religion, the human spirit, serfdom and many other things were engaging and interesting.

It’s really good to have the internet to help. There are so many characters, and Tolstoy refers to them sometimes by Christian name, or nickname, or family name, and those often in different forms, so I downloaded a family tree:

Somewhere I read that it takes about 10 days to read War and Peace. I’m a slow reader (I don’t and can’t skim) and I’ve taken 10 weeks almost to the day. I did, however, intersperse a few other books. W&P is 3 volumes subdividing into 15 books, so I took a break every so often and read something else.

Wow, that’s an eclectic reader – you might say. I enjoyed them all. P.G.Wodehouse is ridiculous of course, but I used to really love the Jeeves and Wooster stories – I’ve still got an omnibus edition of the short Jeeves stories. The Mayfly was a good read, although I didn’t enjoy some of the more gratuitous horror moments. But I can really recommend Garrett Carr’s ‘The rule of the land’ – a very gentle and sometimes amusing walk along the border country dividing Ireland. Carr was born in 1975 in Donegal (that’s the North Western bit of Ireland that’s not in Northern Ireland) and now lives in Belfast. So he’s got authenticity and an honesty about him which I enjoyed.

This last week I’ve also been doing some decorating. The hallway wasn’t entirely the right shade of Farrow and Ball grey (says Mrs H), so I had to repaint it which also involved removing a radiator and putting up some brackets for a new shelf. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to snap off an essential ‘thing’ in reconnecting said radiator, and might have to call in the plumber.

And finally, we’ve been able to enjoy seaside walks (and sometimes runs). Last week it was pretty windy but the tides were quite low, so one day we walked onto the rocks looking for crabs.

Now I just need the library to re-open, because I’ve run out of books. Mind you, there are some on our bookcase that are still unread. Anybody got any suggestions?

I hope you are all able to enjoy the good weather and are keeping well. Take care.



  1. I have been meaning to thank you for your blog posts – it is so lovely to read some news that do not revolve around the politics of the pandemic.

    War and Peace was my treat when taking breaks from long hours of boring doctoral research. I used to read it while having a cup of coffee at the McDonalds accross near the Foreign Ministry Archive in Moscow (1990s Moscow had rather limited café options). To this day the novel incongruously conjures up the smell of fries and the feel of plastic chairs and tables. As for further reading suited to the long days of lockdown, how about Anthony Trollope? Gently paced, freely available in ebook form, and the Barchester Chronicles have an ecclesiastical setting in a cathedral town that might appeal. For further Russian adventures, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita if you like absurd satire with a serious side, or, if you want to go full-on existential, the Brothers Karamazov or Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn.

    I look forward to your next post!

    Take care, Diana

    1. Author

      Hi Diana. Gosh, reading W&P in Moscow sounds rather exotic in an unexotic way. Trollope was on my mind – I’ve already read The Warden (a couple of years ago). Might give the others a thought. Thanks.Nick

  2. Very enjoyable, gave me one or two reading ideas as I too am longing for libraries to reopen; and I love the pic of you on the rocky beach – looking for crabs? Really?

  3. How about the Mirror and the Light Hilary Mantel? Not as long as War & Peace, but should keep you going for a while. Probably helps if you have read the earlier two of the trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring up the bodies!

  4. I admire your fortitude Nick,I can’t concentrate on anything! I am so grateful for little nuggets of entertainment like #SingTheScore, Choral Chihuahua and Ovid’s Heroides. But if you want reading suggestions you could do worse than the Hay Festival which is running at the moment and is online of course and free. I can just about stretch to an hour of that if it’s good. I was going to post a picture of the scary teetering pile of books by my bed that I am in the middle of, but I can’t see how…
    But I am indeed well and enjoying the good weather 🙂

  5. Reading the other comments (which for some reason I couldn’t see before), brought to mind for a long read maybe Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time which I read and loved back in the 1970s just as he was finishing writing them. Or of course Proust (I have never even finished Swan’s Way!)
    Cheers Lisette

  6. On a lighter note in terms of reading matter (in other words an easy and amusing read) but a more serious note in terms of content, I am currently reading Andrew Gimson’s biog of Boris Johnson (apart from one of my daughter’s family cats is there any other Boris???), written when he was on the rise and with an update when he was voted Mayor.
    On the other hand if Tolstoy is your bag, how about Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate which some have said (and I’d agree) should be up there with War and Peace.

  7. Hi Nick
    Well done with War and Peace, I’m impressed – I gave up when I tried it- perhaps I should have another go. I heard the other day that it’s right up there with the books people lie about having read!!
    I did go through a Solzhenitsyn phase in my teens but that was a while ago!

    The Messiah performance goes live On Sunday, 7.30 at http://www.theselfisolationchoir.com
    so if you have a spare 21/2 hours it would be great to ‘see you there’, and the other ESCC members who are singing.

    Keep well

  8. My go-to book for a good laugh is Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. For anyone who has been a teacher it has the comedy of recognition! I hope you get to watch the War and Peace adaptation Nick as it was really excellent. Another long book to try, if you haven’t already is Moby Dick. I enjoyed that more than I expected to and the stuff about the whale was fascinating. Patrick Gale and Kate Atkinson are my current modern favourites. Good luck with the plumbing!

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