The Meaning of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in One Sentence

“Look, listen, love – and try not to get run over by  history.”

There it is for those who have an assignment to complete in the next five minutes or who are generally in a hurry to wrap things up. If you have a little more time to spare, read on.

Sometimes people ask me whether I can see who lands on my website. The answer is no, although I do get reports on countries and cities where people have come from, so if you are a friend of mine and happen to live in Nauru I assume that it is you when I see that flag. (Certainly the most attractive small-country flag and probably also the best new-country flag with the way it neatly sidesteps symmetry and avoids too many details, staying sleek and memorable.) Nauru_mw
More interesting is the fact that I also receive reports on the searches which cause people to land on the website. I have spent a number of days trying to find a way to proceed in a seemingly logical way through the various kinds of searches I have noticed but I have found it impossible and therefore I am going to dump them into a few very ramshackle categories.  (I’ll put the searches in italics so you can distinguish between my spelling mistakes and other people’s spelling mistakes).
Category 1 – Searches which mystify me:
  • Hands and positions of ballroom dancing with meaning – There is a secret meaning ? were those films with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers full of messages ?)
  • Holes in socks potato – Potatoes prevent holes in socks ? Potatoes are remedies for holes in socks ? Potatoes cause holes in socks ?)
  • Balkan haiku war – Was there one ? Or maybe this is the answer to the next search, which is –
  • what is the most important thing to know about croatia
  • what is a sloths favourite – Are you one of those people who leave all their sentences hanging ? What is a sloth’s favourite what ?)
  • flowery chinese signs for olympic deportment – Which leaves me dumbfounded.

Category 2- Searches which make me think of stories:

  • how to open cans quietly. This makes me think of someone lying in bed awake next to his sleeping wife. He is holding a can of beer and dying to drink it. He is too lazy to get up but is afraid to wake her up if he opens the can. Perhaps he could try under the blankets ?
  • my three dogs, algebra solutions. This is someone who, having trouble with algebra because he can’t visualise it, has called his three dogs x, y and z. (Although it can’t be easy to get them into position. Think of “x equals y over z”.)

Category 3- Searches I know the answer to:

  • what is the poem ode to the artichoke about ? Artichokes.
  • where shoes get mended – At a shoe repair or cobbler’s shop.
  • people together to make a shape – Well, I could give you a very long description of the mass spectacle I once saw in Pyongyang, North Korea, entitled Monolithic Solidarity where a few hundred ferociously drilled eight- to ten- year olds adroitly manoeuvred coloured cards inside a stadium to bring up pictures of factories and mythical steel and coal production statistics. Or else I could point you to Garrison Keillor’s great story about the Living Flag on Flag Day in Lake Wobegon which you can listen to here
Some times I really felt that I would have liked to supply some helpful information to people in their searches. I’m sure that many other people with blogs feel the same way. So why not get into the habit of adding your phone number or e-mail when you are struggling with a search, maybe someone willget in touch with you with the answer. This could be very useful for my next category, which only has one item.

Category 4 – Emergencies

  • Is something wrong with my dog’s head if its sideways.

Now if I had had a phone number to call I would have said the following.
1 – Yes there most probably is something wrong with your dog’s head.
2 – How old are you ?
3 – Are you at home unsupervised ‘
4 – Did you use some kind of spanner ?
5 – Don’t try and put the head back where it was.

Category 5 – Why me ?

You might think it strange that some of these searches landed on my site, but they all use words which are in my posts. On the other  hand, there are a couple where I cannot understand what happened.

  • sikh
  • updated contact email addresses of mechanised farmers in newyork+2008

Category 6 – Searches I like

Some I like because I just think they are nice things to search for:

  • the most beautiful things to say to my kids
  • most beautiful poems for an aunt
  • a word for the most beautiful thing ever seen

or they make me interested in what was being sought:

  • snow falls dreaming of trees it loves most the things it cannot touch

in other cases, people are searching for things which I posted because I thought they were beautiful and the fact that I am helping other people to locate them as well gives me a feeling of satisfaction. For example, searches for words in my favourite passage from Nabokov’s Ada. (You can see the post here).

  • tower she answered and the wasp
  • softly he tower crumbled in the sweet silent sun

But often this feeling is spoiled by one word, which is usually…

Category 7 – Meaning

  • maggie and milly and molly and may meaning
  • ode to an artichoke summary
  • sabines the moon, interpretation

More than half of the searches for poems I see are followed by those lethal words – meaning, summary, interpretation. There were even two searches for poems by Issa which quoted the whole poem followed by “meaning”.

  • her row veering off, the peasant woman plants towards her crying child meaning
  • in a dream my daughter lifts a melon to her soft cheek meaning

That last poem abolishes time and space and takes you back to early 19th
century Japan and a little girl sleeping and an imaginary melon. Asking for the meaning of that is like getting the best kiss one has ever had in one’s life and then asking “What does it mean?” or getting served an amazing risotto with gorgonzola, mint and walnuts and asking for a metaphysical interpretation.

 I know it is reassuring to be able to pack everything up into boxes which one can wrap and tie and carry around subdued by neatness, but you just can’t do it with some things, like clouds, rivers, poetry and life. Or perhaps this is happening on account of a few teachers who can’t be bothered to do their job properly and are handing out that kind of assignment.

Anyway it will be interesting to see how many people are looking for a one-sentence explanation of War and Peace.

Category 8 – Guess what these have in common.

  • I go up the sun goes sideways
  • small sideways spoon
  • sliding through with your hat sideways
  • roll your boat out of the door sideways
  • where in the north carolina mountains is the house you can stand sideways
  • chinese is best read sideways

It seems that if you include the word “sideways” in your search there is a good chance you will  end up at Sideways Station. If I had known this when I started I might have used a longer name. I have examined Google’s most common searches for 2008 and after discarding some of the ones which should plummet in 2009 (e.g., thankfully, Sarah Palin) I am thinking of re-naming this site Sideways Financial Crisis Icecream (What is love ?) Station.


1 Comment

  1. Nick

    Dear Sideways,
    I found your site while engaged in a lethal search…sorry I am guilty. It took me two years to read War and Pearce and I have finally finished it tonight. I am pleasantly surprised by your site and am very glad I stumbled across it.

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