Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year & Reading Highlights from 2011

Happy new year! С Новым годом! I hope 2012 bring you plenty of fun and absorbing Russian books to read, no matter what language you read in. Before we finish with 2011, I thought I’d write up a quick list of books I particularly enjoyed during the year:

Favorite book. I can’t decide on just one favorite, so I’ll name two, listing them alphabetically by author surname: Mikhail Gigolashvili’s The Interpreter (previous post) and Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair (previous post). Both books felt especially exuberant, with lively voices and structures, and subject matter that’s difficult to summarize. I think this must have been my year for books of this type: I also loved Thomas Pletzinger’s Funeral for a Dog, which I read in Ross Benjamin’s German-to-English translation (post on my other blog).

Favorite newer release. I didn’t do so well with books released during late 2010 or 2011—an unusually high number of the year’s Big Book finalists were clunkers for me—but I did enjoy Iurii Buida’s Blue Blood (previous post) once I got past the first 50 pages and got used to Buida’s patterns. The book may be too quirky or collage-like (to borrow from Alexander Anichkin’s comment) for some readers but something (?) managed to win me over.

Favorite “what’s old is new” work. Andrei Platonov’s Juvenile Sea, sometimes Sea of Youth, (previous post) still rings in my mind… it’s probably those pumpkin sleeping pods. I think it’s safe to say that Platonov is my favorite writer who must be read slowly; I seem to read every paragraph at least twice. I love how Platonov arranges his words.

Favorite discovery. A few of Fazil’ Iskander’s Chik stories (previous post) and a novella (previous post) were enough to give me a new favorite writer whose stories I want to ration and read over time. I particularly love Iskander’s gentle humor and his ability to portray the everyday injustices of Soviet life.

Favorite work of nonfiction. I only read a few books of nonfiction this year but Frank Westerman’s Engineers of the Human Soul: The Grandiose Propaganda of Stalin’s Russia (previous post), translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, was my kind of book, thanks to its combination of socialist realism and irrigation in the Soviet Union.

Travel. Book-related travel was a treat, a big highlight of 2011: I met a lot of you at the London Book Fair, BookExpo America, and the American Literary Translators Association Conference. I hope to see and meet more of you in 2012, particularly given the market focus on Russia at BookExpo America—I’ve already been excited about BEA 2012 for over a year! I’m sure I’ll be writing more about BEA when details are available.

What’s next? This isn’t book news, but I’m also excited about 2012 because I’ll be teaching first-year Russian at Bowdoin College next semester. I particularly love teaching first-year courses so am looking forward to getting started. As for reading, I don’t make resolutions but I am planning on at least one geographically based book sequence, beginning with St. Petersburg: some of Gogol’s Petersburg stories, Bely’s Petersburg, and perhaps Bykov’s Ostromov. I’m already thinking that a Moscow sequence might be fun for the second half of the year. I still have a clump of Shklovsky books on the shelf, too, just waiting for a mini-marathon.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your visits, comments, book recommendations, and e-mail messages. It’s always fun to hear from you! I wish everyone lots of enjoyable reading in 2012… Happy new year!

Disclosures: The usual. Previous posts that I have referenced in this post contain further disclosure information about individual books and relationships.

Image credit: Fireworks in Bratislava, New Year 2005, from Ondrejk, via Wikipedia.


  1. A very happy new year to you too, and thanks for all your recommendations, which have given me much reading to look forward to!

  2. Better reading in 2012. Enjoyed your favourites.

  3. Thank you for your comments and holiday greetings!

    @Languagehat: I'm glad the recommendations are helpful. I'm also glad for your multiple mentions of Petersburg, which I'm very much looking forward to rereading soon...

    @Nana: Thank you for the wish of better reading! 2011 certainly wasn't awful but I read so many books that I loved in 2010 that it was a tough year to follow.

  4. Hi Lisa, thank you again for your contagious enthusiasm. While in Petersburg (or Petrograd), what about The Flood (Navodnenie) by Zamyatin? The city, more specifically the Neva river, is at the heart of this powerful and dramatic text (short). Very "modern" to this day, sadly.
    Wishing you the best of year, sounds like a great start :)

  5. And thank you, Catherine, for your comment and the excellent reading suggestion! I'm only on my second Gogol short story, "The Nose," a long-time favorite, but I'm already itching to pick up a novel again. But maybe I'll (re?)read "The Flood" between Bely and Bykov... it's been far too long since I've read anything by Zamyatin, and the Bykov book is very, very long! Bonne année!