Tolstoy’s Uncommon Sense and Common Nonsense

Yiyun Li at The Paris Review:

Books that I feel drawn to and reread, War and Peace among them, are full of uncommon sense and common nonsense. (Uncommon nonsense makes exhilarating literature, too, in Lewis Carroll’s case, but uncommon nonsense does better to stay uncommon: in less skillful hands, it becomes caprice or parody.)

One imagines that Tolstoy did not seek to write about uncommon sense. He simply presented the world, and the world, looked at closely, is often extraordinary. A line I never tire of in War and Peace: “The transparent sounds of hooves rang out on the planks of the bridge.”

Colors are regularly described as “muted” or “loud,” but sounds that are transparent make a reader pause. The ringing hooves take me back to my early childhood in Beijing, where cars were scarce, and flatbed horse trailers passed in the street, carrying coal, lumber, produce, and sometimes people huddled together.

more here.