Reading Tolstoy, Alone.

My husband and I could not be more different from each other.  In a few ways, at least.  Case in point: I spent my childhood hiding under the covers with a flashlight and a copy of The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, while he spent his summers at Computer Camp programming the little Logo turtle to make triangles and squares.  I’m an avid reader and librarian; he’s a complete computer whiz who could program his way right into whatever industry he chooses.

When Aaron was just a little boy, his dad brought home the Commodore 64 that would seal his fate as a hot computer nerd.  As a mere seventh grader, he self-taught his way through a book of how to code in C.  While I was auditioning for high school plays, my husband was teaching himself database architecture via a little homegrown website called “Synthetic” that he’d built in his basement.  When he first wooed me, he wrote me a little program called “arrow_kill” to destroy all those nasty little carrots — “>>>>” — that show up in email trails.  I hate those things!  It totally worked.  Now Aaron predicts chemical / protein interactions using computer simulations.  This is cutting-edge, sought-after, super sexy stuff in the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

There are literally only a handful of books that my husband loves — the Tao Te Ching, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Neuromancer …  He hasn’t read a book that wasn’t related to programming since he was nineteen.  But on the other hand, I could barely squeak out a line of Python code if my life depended on it; a little html is about as techy as it gets around here.  So you see what I mean about being completely different.

Fast forward to two Christmases ago:  after receiving the book as a gift, the two of us decided to try to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace together.  I was excited about the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and Aaron didn’t want to be left out.  We thought it would be romantic.  It was twelve hundred pages.  We hunkered down on the sofa together.

War and Peace

The beginning was promising.  The story starts out at fancy soirees within Petersburg high society, and intrigue builds surrounding the inheritance of the ailing Count Bezhukov.  Aaron’s favorite early scene included fraternity guys drunkenly wrestling a bear.  Several hundred pages in we were still reading about romances, seductions, affairs, illegitimate children, duels, etc.  But the Napoleonic wars were also in full swing, and we were starting to read a hefty chunk about Masonic philosophy, too.  In other words… it was getting a little slow.  Aaron was losing patience.

After 22 months, it’s turned into a full-fledged war every time we try to read a few more pages of War and Peace.  From my perspective, we’re 800 pages in and we might as well hurry up and finish the last 300 (I refuse to read the Epilogue — I’ve heard it’s terrible!).  From Aaron’s perspective, he would rather poke his eye out with a stick.  The idea of sitting still through another 15 pages while one of our voices drones on and on sounds like pretty much the worst thing ever.  It doesn’t even matter if I do the funny little voices.  In fact, I think that makes it worse.

I guess it boils down to the simple fact that I’m a reader, and Aaron is not.  I’ll gladly subject myself to hours of sitting quietly with my eyes trained on a page, but Aaron needs a little more electricity to pique his interest.  It’s just what his brain prefers.  So tonight we finally called a truce: just over two-thirds of the way to the finish-line, I’m going to read the rest of War and Peace solo.

The thing is, I’m not even a stuffy traditionalist when it comes to reading.  I think video games are great, and movies, and comics, and whatever other forms you choose for your daily narrative intake.  It just so happens that I grew up hooked on books, while the love of my life was getting hooked on computers.  I’m more of a Moby Dick kind of girl, while he’s more Dwarf Fortress.

Yet even though we can’t have long erudite conversations about the weird structure of The Golden Notebook, no one gets me better than him.  No one else brings the kitties downstairs from the computer room to say hello to me when I get home from a long day at work, and then gives me a nice long hug. No one else knows my inner monologue so well.  I’m here to testify to you, dear Readers: a bibliophile and a computer nerd can, indeed, live and love together.  It just means that you may have to make a few concessions here and there. You may have to read Tolstoy alone.


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