Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.



Reader Response: War and Peace

I loved War and Peace from the moment Pierre bumbled into scheming Anna Pavlovna’s party and proceeded to horrify everyone by fawning over Napoleon.

I’m a sucker for an epic tale, and War and Peace contains all the elements of a great epic, with the bonus of also being a sweeping historical novel and intense work that explores love and the human condition.

A few notes on what kept me immersed and tearing through the pages of this work:

  • Interesting characters who are sometimes more than they seem, sometimes less than they seem, and sometimes precisely what they present themselves to be.
  • Complicated social constructs that confine every character, regardless of their social standing, and make them do ridiculous things that actually aren’t ridiculous at all in the context of time and place.
  • Glorious battle scenes that become decidedly inglorious when you zoom in for a closer look, revealing both the necessity and  futility of war.
  • Existential crises, the necessity for characters to make heart-wrenching decisions, and a dash of forbidden love kept me fully submerged and invested in wide sweeping historical  events on a personal level.
  • Prison time. A little time in captivity is always good for a hero to search his soul about what truly matters.
  • Self sacrifice, written beautifully, and undertaken by different characters for different reasons–for family, for country, for loftier ideals–was met throughout this work with varying degrees of success. There is no straight path to fulfillment or redemption for Tolstoy’s characters, which made their evolution that much more satisfying.

Similar to Prince Andrei, I had a mid-novel realization that I love everyone in this work because they simply are who they were meant to be. I loved that characters had moments of clarity that were profound and presumably life-changing, and that sometimes they remained changed by those moments and sometimes their return to “civilized” society pushed those revelations to the background.  I found that as I became more involved in this novel, I came to sympathize with everyone, but most especially Pierre, who was so sincere in his search for meaning and purpose that I couldn’t help but feel protective of him when he seemed he would never truly find his way.

And, just when I though I had come to the conclusion of this epic journey, Tolstoy endeared himself to me even more in the epilogues. I appreciated that Tolstoy did not fast forward to an idealized, soft-focus montage of Natasha and Pierre’s married life, but instead dropped us in the middle of a relatable and rather humorous description of squabbles, diapers, and the thought that goes into doling out gifts after a business trip. I also enjoyed the philosophical meanderings in the epilogue, but it was the unkempt Natasha and her family who made the epilogues worth reading for me.

While it is Pierre that I enjoyed getting to know most as a character, it is Prince Andrei whose thoughts resonated most strongly with me throughout War and Peace. Prince Andrei sums up my overall take-away from this multilayered tale of history, sacrifice, mortality, and love when he says to Pierre, “Here I am alive, and it’s not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.” Like Andrei, I find this concept both comforting and hopeful.

It has been a week since I finished War and Peace, and I’m still not ready to pick up another book just yet. It was that good.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

I’m not sorry I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.


I have a few words of caution for my fellow Mockingbird lovers still on the fence about whether to read Go Set a Watchman.

I wish I had approached this work as the rejected manuscript of a very talented young writer, and not as a companion to the well-crafted and beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. I suggest you do just that if you decide to jump off the fence and read it. I wrote the following observations as I was reading:

The Quick & Dirty Half-Way Review

  1. I found that my old friend Scout is just as earnest and charming as ever.
  2. It is a pleasure to read Harper Lee’s writing.
  3. I’m trying to make sense (right along with Jean Louise) of what is happening to my town, and to the people who used to be my beacons of fairness and common sense (namely, Atticus and Calpurnia).
  4. I think I’m going to love this book, but right now it is breaking my heart.

The Quick & Dirty Last-Half Review

  1. I found that my old friend Scout lost her voice in the last half of this work. While Jean Louis didn’t break character, her character lost its magic–she felt ordinary and rushed, and not nearly as engaging or as insightful as she was in the first half of Go Set a Watchman.
  2. It was hard to see Harper Lee’s writing, the promise of which shines so clearly in the first half of this work, become ordinary.
  3. I didn’t like that Atticus and Calpurnia don’t develop beyond the caricatures they are presented as in the first half of Go Set a Watchman. 
  4.  This book didn’t break my heart, but it came close. The story didn’t break my heart–it became a rather forgettable coming of age tale. The writing didn’t break my heart, either–the moments of Harper Lee’s promise in the first half of the book made my heart glad that such talent exists. The fact that this book was available for me to read cracks my heart. While I love the insight this work provides into writing as a craft, and the importance of the editorial process, I hate the questions that surround this work’s publication.

As an educator, I see the silver linings of this work’s publication. I see the dialogue this book spurs about writing, racism, and social justice.

As a reader, I am thankful for this peek into the past. I am thankful that editors did not accept and publish a rather typical and forgettable story, but instead saw the promise of this work to be made into something amazing.


Interested in learning more?

Check out the Go Set a Watchman Summary and Analysis on Thug Notes (PG-13)

Sweet Home Alabama by Adam Gopnik from The New Yorker on July 27th, 2015

Moral Ambition Sabotaged by Sarah Churchill from The Guardian on July 17th, 2015

Our Reading Summer

My favorite book this summer.

“Reading Summer” at our house is that brief time of year when we have the opportunity to read whatever we want, without the distraction of assigned reading. I enjoy reading. I  actually find my textbooks engaging. There is something, though, about having an entire three weeks to binge on my own reading choices that makes me giddy. My son does not enjoy reading like I do. For most of the year, it is a chore he must engage in to not fail his English Language Arts classes. During the summers, though, reading has begun to come alive for him. My husband is a voracious reader like me, but he was unable to participate in Reading Summer this year because he was reading legal manuals for an Army course–riveting, I’m sure, but assigned.

My Reading Summer wasn’t three whole weeks solely dedicated to reading, but it was three whole weeks dedicated to reading what I chose. And it reinforced for me everything I expressed in my early summer post Death to (Assigned) Summer Reading! Long Live Summer Reading! about how important it is to allow people time during which they are free to choose what they read–not from a list or for points, just for enjoyment. My fifth-going-into-sixth grade son’s quirky summer reading choices, which mostly involved kids-with-super-powers novels and informational texts, was a great reflection of his personality. It was also a relief to see the ease with which he read. He read with ease not because the material was “easy,” but because he had chosen it and could abandon it at any time for something better if he didn’t like it.

My second favorite Summer Read was our September book club pick! Serendipitous, eh?

I read with ease these last few weeks, too. I also abandoned books that didn’t work for me. It was liberating.

I hope you are able to carve out some space and reading time in your year to take a reading vacation, too. Not a vacation from reading, or a vacation from daily life, but a serious chunk of  time that you are able to set aside for the sole purpose of reading things that interest you–that you already love or may grow to love.

I would also love to hear about your favorite book to read for pleasure–at the moment or “of all time!” Please join the conversation by adding your favorite book (or for even more fun, you most quickly abandoned book!) in the comments below.

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