Hitting the Ground Running in 2021

We had a great start to the acquisitions process here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. The first full week of 2021 saw six new books arrive.

On the top left is Box of Bones, by Ayize Jama-Everett and John Jennings, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign run by the ever-excellent Rosarium Publishing.

In the top middle is volume 2 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s A Writer’s Diary. I picked up volume 1 around 20 years ago, and I swore I had purchased vol. 2 at some point, but it is nowhere to be found and I suspect it was lost during a move or vacation or something. I had to buy this one used, as new copies sell for over a hundred dollars.

On the right is Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book The Ministry for the Future. I am already 400 pages in, and it is magnificent! I have been a fan of Mr. Robinson’s work since I first read Red Mars over twenty years ago. The Ministry for the Future is more in line with his works like the Science in the Capitol series or even New York 2140, of which this could well be a prequel. Robinson shows his work and imbues his novel with a strong sense of hope, though hope born of difficult struggles and terrible loss.

The bottom row is the result of an impulse purchase made after I discovered The Russian Library series published by Columbia University Press. I have recently started following Read Russia, and they are in partnership with CUP to publish lesser-known (outside of Russia) Russian writers of the past 250 or so years; from the late 1700s to well into the 21st century. So far they have released about two dozen books, and many more are scheduled for the next few years.

On bottom left is Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry by Konstantin Batyushkov, translated by Peter France. In the middle of the bottom row is Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski. On the bottom right is City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov.

(Yes translators are important, and they deserve as much recognition as the writers.)

So between these books, and Doctor Zhivago which arrived last week, and my slow but steady process through The Brothers Karamazov, I am in for an interesting few months of reading.

Speaking of reading, I am currently making progress in three books: The aforementioned The Ministry for the Future, the aforementioned The Brothers Karamazov, and Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. Cheerful stuff, here in the first full week of 2021, four days after an insurrection and attempted coup at the nation’s Capitol Building.

Assuming society still exists next week, I will post an update to my progress through these books.

Last of the Old, First of the New

And with that, we are in the first book post of the new year.

On the left is the last book to arrive during calendar year 2020: Some Kind of Monster by Tim Waggoner, from my subscription to the catalog of Apex Book Company. On the right is the first arrival of 2021: Boris Pasternak‘s magisterial Doctor Zhivago, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have translated so very many of the great works of Russian literature.

I am a bit ashamed to say that I have never read Doctor Zhivago, nor seen the movie. In the larger picture, despite devoting more than a little of my life to studying Russian culture and literature, I have many gaps in my education. To make up for this short-coming, I have just started reading Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov for about the fifth time. To clarify I have started it for the fifth time. I have not yet made it more than about 40 pages in, though this time I am pacing myself and have managed to stay focused for 30 pages. Pacing is the trick, and one which helped me read Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina to completion back in the mid-1990s when my attention span was much shorter than it is now.

2021 will be the year of Russian literature for me. I recently (re-) discovered Read Russia, an organization devoted to Russian literature and book culture. Through them I have found a wealth of contemporary and current Russian writers whose works have been translated into English as part of The Russian Library series from Columbia University Press. Currently they have over two dozen books in print, with more being translated and added to the collection every year.

Welcome to 2021, everyone! May your year be full of beautiful writing.

Post-Travel Post

And just like that, we’re back! San Francisco was wonderful. We stayed in the Warwick, which is right in the middle of everything, and we ate ALL THE FOOD, which is all I will say about San Francisco in this post. We visited City Lights Bookstore, of course, and more San Francisco stories will accompany the photo of my haul from there.

Just one book arrived when I was out; A Punk Rock Future, from a Kickstarter created by the excellent Steve Zisson. For the general public, the book is available for pre-order at Amazon and will hit the shelves in October.

This was extra-EXTRA-special for me because my friend Steven (not Zisson) has a story in the collection, which I only discovered when I scanned the table of contents. I love when my friends win!

On the reading side of things, the week leading up to the trip was hectic and didn’t allow for much quiet time. I did burn through Mary Robinette Kowal‘s short story collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. I have long enjoyed Kowal’s novels and podcasting, but this was my first foray into her short works. And they are great! Highly recommended.

Once vacation started, things settled down. The plane ride was about four hours each way, which gave me something which I very seldom have any more: big blocks of uninterrupted reading time. And who, historically, has written books meant for readers with big blocks of uninterrupted reading time? The Russians! Specifically, Ivan Turgenev. I brought with me the collection First Love and Other Stories, which I picked up in August of last year. Eight hours on a plane was just about perfect to read the six stories therein.

I like Turgenev’s writing. He has a deep understanding of how young men think and how they react to love, heartache, and stress. That said, the main characters are not particularly likable. They tend to be of a type. “Wanker” is, I believe, the clinical term, though Turgenev treats them with empathy and compassion, rather than as the butt of jokes. Not that there isn’t plenty of humor herein, of the satirical and sarcastic variety.

And that is how, early in my fiftieth year, I completed a reading assignment handed to me by my Russian Studies professor in January of 1991. I suppose I should let Dr. Rydel know I’m finally done.

Andrey Kharshak

Today, on a whim, I did a Google search for the ISBN of a book I picked up in Russia back in the summer of 1994. I figured that the number would be the one attribute of the book which would not need to be translated.

Lo and behold, I got a hit: Master and Margarita, written by Michael Bulgakov and illustrated by Andrey Kharshak.

So now I was curious: you can’t swing a cat on the internet without hitting a Bulgakov reference, but how about Mr. Kharshak? His illustrations are good enough that SOMEBODY must have heard of him… And here he is! Apparently Mr Kharshak is well known everywhere in the world except The United States and the Internet. I should do something about that…

Manuscripts Don't Burn Manuscripts Don’t Burn

Golgotha Golgotha

These are prints of works by Mr. Kharshak which I picked up while in Russia. They are reproduced in Master and Margarita, along with at least two dozen other illustrations.

And for your convenience here is a link to the English version of Master and Margarita (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky). It is, as they say, a Ripping Good Yarn.