Deleting Tolstoy

10/08/2013 11:37 am ET | Updated Dec 08, 2013


Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy -- the master Russian writer and epic novelist -- labored intensely throughout his life to create complex, and deeply moving works of art, including the acclaimed Anna Karenina, and War and Peace. You, the educated reader, place value on Tolstoy's words, set down on paper, when you choose to invest your time and soul into one of his monumental literary achievements. You also invest a fair amount of caloric brain energy into unraveling his take on world history, as well as hundreds of his different fictional characters.

Of course, after you initiate this heroic undertaking, you might decide the grandiose imaginings of Tolstoy aren't for you. Thanks to the advent of digital readers and e-books, that's no longer a major problem. Simply click on War and Peace, and hit "delete."

In the past, for those of you who didn't read Tolstoy for pleasure, or at the very least read him at school, a plucky historical fiction buff wanting to delve into a renowned classic would have had to save his or her money up, head down to a local or chain bookstore, peruse the shelves (or ask for help), decide on a hard or softcover edition, and if choosing a massive book like War and Peace, shell out some serious green before taking the novel home.

Tackling Tolstoy was an emotional, as well as a financial investment. Even if you couldn't wade through the hefty prose, that beautiful hardback edition would display prominently on your oak bookshelf, right next to your edition of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce. You could always take solace in the fact that these well-regarded novels were a part of your library -- even if you never got past page 12 in either book.

If someone happened by for a visit, and took a gander at your books, you could lean back in your chair and say something pretentious, like, "I'm waiting until I have more time, so I can really savor the text, and imbue every single fiber of the story into my being."

While you -- and most likely your guest -- would be well aware of the literary horse manure you were spreading about, no one could deny the reality of the sumptuously bound edition of War and Peace taking up space on your bookshelf. The novel, an intimidating and noble piece of literary street cred, turned out to be worth the money you paid for it after all.

Not so for the modern reader, who doesn't require a physical "artifact" in hand, or nearby, to engage with contemporary authors, or literary giants from the past. That file you downloaded to your e-reader last night might be legit, or pirated, but regardless of how you acquired your digital copy of War and Peace, the intrinsic value of the words on the screen, for a less-than-enthusiastic consumer, amount to absolutely zilch once the decision has been made -- often without much thought -- to delete Tolstoy. No recycling, visits to the used bookstore, or book burning (sorry fanatics) required.