Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bookshelf Hits the Terrible Twos

This is it: today Lizok’s Bookshelf enters the Terrible Twos! Though my reading habits have taken on a life of their own – I never, never thought I’d crave so much contemporary Russian fiction – I don’t anticipate any blog-based temper tantrums or other forms of hysteria, mass or minor.

The best part of blog birthdays is looking back at the last year, at trends in readership and a few of the interesting search terms that brought visitors to the blog in the first place…

The vast majority of you are based in the United States, but many of you live in the U.K., Russia, and Canada. Quite a number of you have left comments, e-mailed me, or linked to my posts. I’ve even met two or three of you in person. I love to hear from readers about their interests and biases, so please write if there’s a book, writer, or trend you think I should know about.

Several of you have asked if I think American readers are interested in Russian contemporary fiction. Yes, I think they are, not just because Americans ask for reading recommendations but because the list of most requested pages on the blog show the interest. Though “The Overcoat” is still my most popular post, other top pages include posts about Liudmila Ulitskaya’s Daniel Shtain, Vladimir Makanin’s Asan, and nominations for the Russian Booker. (I discount the popularity of the 2009 National Bestseller long list post because it gets a lot of hits with search terms that include 2009 and bestseller, but not Russian.)

Popular pages on classics are Kuprin’s “Garnet Bracelet” and Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (The Devils). Dovlatov’s The Compromise, thank goodness, hasn’t lost its appeal, either, and the pre-revolutionary list of Top Ten Fiction Hits of Russian Literature is also an attraction.

As for search terms:

Can a pregnant woman eat gefilte fish?

I don’t know. But this question makes me glad the pregnant woman in Oh, Shabbat! (here) eats fried potatoes instead of gefilte fish.

Russian literature to read traveling.

I usually like either a short story anthology or a good, thick novel. I once sent an election observer off to Belarus with Master and Margarita, which he found suitably quirky for a long stay. Another thought: if you’re going to Russia, bring Pushkin. You’re guaranteed to find a statue, street, museum, or other landmark that honors him, and most Russians should be glad to know you read the writer known as “наше всё” (“our everything”).

As for anthologies, the Viking Portable Library Russian Readers (19th century and 20th century) provide good selections of poetry and prose, including novellas and a few surprises, though they also contain excerpts, which I don’t like. For something truly contemporary, try the new Rasskazy or Life Stories collections. Penguin’s Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, edited by Robert Chandler, brings classic and contemporary into one book. If bilingual is your thing, there’s the classic Russian Stories, edited by Gleb Struve. That book includes Gogol’s “The Nose,” which you have to read if you’re going to St. Petersburg.

Clockwork Orange vs. The Slynx

A Clockwork Orange. Though I admit I haven’t read it since college. (I didn’t like The Slynx very much.)

I read Russian novels.

As do I... and I can’t wait to head south tomorrow to stock up on books for the winter! And maybe eat a cupcake.

It’s been a very busy fall for both work and reading, so I’m a little behind on my blogging… But I’ll be writing soon about The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf, plus Rasskazy and Life Stories. Not to mention the slim choices for favorite writers whose names begin with the letter E.

For now, I send an огромное спасибо – huge thank you to everyone who visits and reads the Bookshelf. I appreciate all the encouragement you have provided over the last two years!


  1. Congratulations! This blog rapidly became a must-read for me, and I wish you many more years and posts.

  2. Congratulations!

    Through this blog, you have singlehandedly encouraged me to get over my chronic scepticism towards Russian literature and do some catching up with it, Makanin, Ulitskaya et al, which is something that none of the big names in "popular" literary criticism could do. Three cheers for Lizok's Bookshelf!

  3. Congratulations on your blogging anniversary! I've only recently discovered Lizok's bookshelf, and am enjoying it.

  4. Thanks to all of you for your very kind comments, both now and on past posts.

    @languagehat -- Thank you for the wish for longevity. Your blog is an inspiration.

    @Alex -- It's heartening to hear that the blog has encouraged you to get caught up with Russian literature. I'm even happier to know that you have been enjoying the books!

    @Sarah -- Welcome. It's nice to know of your blog... one of these years I need to read Trollope!

  5. Yes, congrats. Wishing you great longevity.

  6. Thanks, Amateur Reader! I'm watching to see what you add about Dracula...