Salon Goes to Summer School

Salon is starting a new series this week, in which they ask their “favorite writers” to read books they’ve always meant to read but never did, and talk about them. The first piece is by their resident critic, Laura Miller, who chose Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

I chose “War and Peace” for my Summer School assignment because my friend Sallie had given me the idea that — contrary to its reputation as the quintessential unfinished summertime reading project — the novel was something of an old-fashioned page turner, like “Our Mutual Friend.” This is not, strictly speaking, true. There are several long, detailed battle scenes and frequent expository interludes — essays on military strategy, history and the nature of free will — that make for some pretty heavy sledding. Instead, this is a book that, like a capricious wind with a sailboat, picks you up and sends you scudding along at an exhilarating clip then suddenly subsides into a lull.

The list of classics I’ve never read includes War and Peace, actually, so Miller’s essay was of particular interest. The trouble with some of these books is that I’m not even sure whether I read them or not. They seem familiar, and I’m never sure if the familiary is because I’ve read them or just read about them.