Monday, May 9, 2011

"Tolstoy is a GENIUS"

War and Peace (Penguin Hardback Classics)
My eleven year old announced, a couple of weeks ago, that he wanted to read War and Peace. In a day.

I grinned to myself. He's a mischievous soul, but brilliant, so I found him a copy. Predicably, he fanned through it and said something flippant. I figured I'd be reshelving it soon.

Then he took to carrying it in his (messy, overstuffed) backpack to and from school. Opening it in the evenings. Studying the appendices. Reading the thing.

Okay, why not, right? He's an advanced reader, and he may not be fully comprehending it, but it's cool. When I was in 7th grade my history teacher lent me the complete Sherlock Holmes and I carried that tome around for weeks. K is only in 5th grade, and this is more complex, but there's no harm in indulging him.

Tonight we lounged on his bed reading. (I was reading a modern romance novel on my phone. My elementary-schooler was reading an epic 19th century historical masterpiece in translation.) At one point he groaned, then explained "I thought I was going to like that character."

"What happened, did he die already?"

"No, he's being mean to his wife. I think he's going to end up being a sexist."

"That's a shame," I answered, going back to my own book, smiling that he seemed to be following it pretty well after all. (And that he disapproves of sexism.)

And then this happened: K lowered his forehead to the open page, closed his eyes, went still for a moment.

I figured he was getting sleepy. It was after bedtime, naturally. (Bedtime is easily disregarded in our house in favor of reading time.) And, come on, he's eleven and he's reading War and Peace. I haven't read War and Peace. I suggested it was time for lights out.

"No." Pause. "It's just - the words."

"The words?"

"Yes. The words."

"Are you trying to absorb them through osmosis? Do you need a definition?"

He lifted his head and shook it impatiently. "No, it's... I don't know how to say it. It's so - so subtle." (My eyes widen some, my heart swells. This child of mine!)

He cast about, trying to express exactly what he felt. "It's not a page-turner, exactly, it's not that. But you just can't stop reading it. There's something that's just so good about it!"

"You're absorbed in it."


"And aren't you just so glad that you have so much more to go?" I flipped towards the back. "Imagine when you're here, how devastating it'll be that you only have 200 pages left."

"I know! And 200 pages. That could be a book on it's own for some writers."


"Tolstoy is a genius! It's so good, what he does with the words."

He allows me to take a couple of photos of his cute self, then goes back to the page. I try to collect myself as he mutters, "Footnote 17," and flips to the back.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one moment when I've found myself breathless with awe at this child, who is all mind and all heart. Tolstoy!


  1. I am tearing up reading this!! Priceless!! Totally priceless! Makes me want to read War and Peace!!!
    Thanks so much for sharing this! I will have to ask him how it is going!

  2. Great story! Reminds me (a little) of myself when I was younger, and my continued obsession with books and reading. This kid's got a big future!

  3. I read War and Peace as a child several times before understanding it really well. Your son is going to grow up to be an advanced reader and writer, I can tell!