Finishing (one day at a time)

I just read the final chapter of War and Peace this morning. Tolstoy’s epic is long (my translation is 1455 pages) but it is divided into 361 very short chapters. Starting on January 1st, I read one chapter per day.

It is now December 27th, which is 361 days later. And sure enough, I am finished.

I suppose this seems straightforward enough, but any long journey can seem overwhelming. Not so much at the beginning. We all know the saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and yet you have lots of energy and enthusiasm for that first step. It’s the steps at miles 46, and 75, and 126, and so forth, that seem harder.

But when there is a plan, and the plan is straightforward, and you stick with the plan, then eventually you will finish. Reading one 3-4 page chapter per day was always doable. This pace allowed me to get to know and care about the characters in this sweeping saga of Russia during the Napoleonic wars. There is a reason War and Peace is considered one of the world’s best novels.

Now I will take a few days off, and then start my next reading project on January 1st! I’m looking at reading all the works of Shakespeare. The path isn’t quite as straightforward (Shakespeare didn’t divide his work into 361 bite-sized pieces…) but I have a calendar that involves reading about the same amount, roughly 3 pages in the collection per day.

So here’s hoping that in late December of next year I’ll be finished with that. Life is, in many ways, unknowable. But there’s a reasonable chance that 2022 will happen, and that 2022 will have 365 days, and that I will be around for them, and capable of reading a little bit here and there. Since those things are likely to happen, I could end the year not having read all the works of Shakespeare, or I could end the year having done so. I’d like to aim for the latter.

14 thoughts on “Finishing (one day at a time)

  1. I’m impressed that you both finished War and Peace AND that you did it on this particular schedule (it could be tempting to read ahead to give a buffer for days when it’s less convenient but I find that tends to backfire and I have a hard time getting back into the daily routine and ultimately fall BEHIND).

    1. @Elisabeth – I like the 20-mile march concept from (if I remember correctly) Good to Great. The idea is that you’re generally better off assigning yourself a doable amount each day (e.g. having your group march 20 miles). This allows you to finish predictably. On good days you quit while ahead and leave a little something on the table. On bad days, you can push yourself to get through the 20 miles knowing that is all you have to do.

      1. The link you provided is very helpful. It has a resource link to the Folger Shakespeare Library resources which has free downloads, among other resources. Here is the link: This is fascinating library is visit if you are in Washington, D.C.

        1. @Shannon- thanks for sharing this. This answers my question of how I’ll read any given work virtually if I’m on the road and can’t get to my collected works (very big book….)

  2. I love it and you’ve inspired me to do the same. Shakespeare seems harder somehow, are you going to carry around the collected works?

    1. @Cb – I never wound up carrying around W&P. I had the print copy on my desk, and then when I was traveling, I read the day’s chapter on my Kindle. I guess that would be my plan for Shakespeare too. I’ll keep my collected works book on my desk, and then if I’m going to be away I’d get the digital version of that work and read the amount I need to on my phone.

  3. Your stick-to-itiveness is inspiring! I tend to start things (with enthusiasm) and then fizzle out after a brief time. I wish I could fix that.

  4. That is very inspiring about how you read War and Peace, and very doable. I am not intimidated by reading big books but it can take me a while. I am going to try this for next year in 2022:)

    1. @Joanne – Jeremy Anderberg is doing a guided reading through W&P again for 2022 through his Substack – doing the one chapter a day approach and he has discussion threads and sends a weekly summary. Might be worth checking out if you like the accountability!

  5. Reading War and Peace was one of my 2021 resolutions as well! I have less er…patience though and so I read it in 9 days in February! Feels so good to be DONE and I can say for the rest of my life I read it hha

    1. @Aryssa- congrats on finishing! That’s about how quickly I read it through the first time. It is a good story!

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