The Irresistible Lure of Russian Literature

Recently, a curious thing happened in the Library’s beloved Peak Picks collection (still very much available at a curbside location near you, by the way); we featured a not unscholarly explication 19th Century Russian literature. Admittedly, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, in which four Russians give a master class on writing, reading, and life is by the hugely popular, iconoclastic American author George Saunders. Still…

I couldn’t be more thrilled. My own love affair with Russian literature goes back over thirty years, when a bored teen somehow managed to draw inferences about his banal suburban angst from the inky depths of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. From that sub-basement up to the peaks of War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov, summited alone or read aloud with my wife, the great Russian authors have remained for me a source of awe, inspiration and rewarding perplexity. Clearly I’m not alone, to judge from the wealth of excellent books inspired by the varied and enigmatic genius of these writers.

My own favorite book on this topic – and probably the funniest – is The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, in which Elif Batuman depicts the colorful ranks of besotted Russophile readers with an antic drollery worthy of Gogol himself. A great follow up to this is Sarah Wheeler’s Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia With Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age, a vivid, lighthearted travelogue in quest of the Russian soul in its natural habitat, amidst the worst depredations of Russian life. Continue reading “The Irresistible Lure of Russian Literature”

Jack Nisbet on Vasily Grossman’s Volga.

Today’s post is by naturalist and author Jack Nisbet, whose latest book is David Douglas, A Naturalist at Work: An Illustrated Exploration Across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest. Nisbet, a Spokane resident and winner of the Washington State Book Award,  will be appearing at the Central Library on Tuesday, November 13.

The Volga is the great river of western Russia. Like the Columbia River of western North America, The Volga’s upper reaches drain vast coniferous forests, while further downstream it flows through productive wheat country and arid shrub-steppe. Continue reading “Jack Nisbet on Vasily Grossman’s Volga.”

Trying to judge a Russian book by its cover

russian novel cover 6One of the more interesting parts of my job as a librarian for Mobile Services is going on the monthly Russian Day bookmobile run. We visit six low-income housing buildings in Seattle that have a high number of Russian-speaking residents. We bring books, magazines, and movies in Russian and, most importantly, Leszek, a librarian from the Central Library who specializes in serving Seattle’s Russian-speaking community. 

Sometimes, though, Leszek goes on vacation. This is when things can get tricky. Finding the right books for a patron can be difficult in English, but it is especially challenging when there is a language barrier and you can’t even read the titles of the books because your knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is, shall we say, a trifle limited.  That is when the cover art comes in handy. Sort of. 

Russian Novel Cover 1

Russian Novel Cover 2

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Cookbooks, computer instruction books, and the like are easy to pick out. If the book is a translation of an American novel, it can have the same cover art as the English version. Historical romances frequently feature bodices being ripped, and if there is a guy in a trench coat with a gun on the cover, it is a safe bet that it is a detective novel. Some things, however, do not translate so easily between cultures.  

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image of Danielle Steel novel in Russian.

Russian Novel Cover 4


Thank goodness for Danielle Steel!

~ Robin, Mobile Services    

The Russians Are Coming

Seattle is a city of communities – neighborhoods, ethnic groups, churches, schools, clubs, etc. And even if you don’t belong to a particular group, they often sponsor events throughout the year that may be of interest to you.

One of my favorite annual smaller events is the St. Spiridon (Russian) Orthodox Cathedral Annual Bazaar, which is happening this coming weekend on October 4-5 at 400 Yale Ave. N. Although I am not of the Orthodox faith, this bazaar features several things that make for an interesting and fun afternoon. I really enjoy the window you get into Russian culture, and particularly the food. Weather permitting, the event extends from the cathedral itself, to the church hall, to the blocked-off street in front. Even if you don’t know anyone there except those you came with, people are friendly and it really evokes a sense of Continue reading “The Russians Are Coming”