Sunday, October 31, 2010

News Roundup: Award to Tait, More Chekhov, Snob, LA-Area Bookstore, and More

After a quick trip to the West Coast last weekend, I’m all about news this week... My thoughts on Ilichevskii’s Matisse, will be on the way soon: I finished Matisse on a flight to California and then wrote a draft post, but I don’t think I write well over the Great Lakes.

First English PEN Literature in Translation Award. I learned from the Three Percent blog that Arch Tait will soon receive English PEN Literature’s first translation award, for his translation of Anna Politkovskaya’s Putin’s Russia, published by Harvill Press/Harvill Secker. The award will be presented on November 8.

I’m still making my way through my first issue of Сноб (Snob) magazine… and I still haven’t decided what I think of it. One Bookshelf reader, Steven Lubman, commented that Snob is “opulent,” and that’s a very apt description: it’s beautifully produced, with heavy paper, inserted bookmarks (!), splashy design, and excellent photographs. My biggest problem with Snob (other than the irritating name) is the same problem I face with other magazines: it’s a magazine, and I prefer reading books, specifically novels, at the end of the day.

That means I don’t gravitate toward Snob, though I thoroughly enjoyed an interview with Igor Sutyagin and a story by Zakhar Prilepin about the removed intimacies of Russian apartment living. I have a mixed impression of Snob’s interview format: several Snob “project” participants interviewed Sutyagin, giving that piece varied perspectives. But I thought the participant count for Q&A with Boris Akunin was too high, making the piece read like a series of micro-interviews. It read easily but the lack of continuity made it unsatisfying. The new issue of Snob is still in my office in its cardboard sleeve; it contains fiction by Viktoria Tokareva and Dmitrii Bykov. I know I’ll get to it… but my books call to me first. Related: This week’s New York Times Magazine cover story is about Mikhail Prokhorov, Snob’s benefactor. I haven’t read the whole thing but a quick skim immediately turned up “Proky” saying, “I don’t read.” Snob editor Masha Gessen is quoted as replying, “Then I guess we can write whatever we want!”

Speaking of loving books: travel is always more fun with an excursion to a Russian bookstore, so I stopped at a shop just off Highway 101 in Tarzana, California, last week. I bought so many books for $76 that I went straight to the post office, filled a large flat rate box, and sent it home. I focused on the first half of the twentieth century but also bought a book of stories by Fazil Iskander – I’m still hoping to find a truly favorite writer whose name begins with I/И so I can continue my A to Я series – and saw lots of detective novels and books by popular literary fiction writers such as Rubina, Sorokin, and Ulitskaya. I was happy to find an affordable set of Sholokhov’s Тихий Дон (The Quiet Don/Quiet Flows the Don), which Steven Lubman also mentioned in his afore-mentioned comment… I’ve been wanting to try the Don again after not liking it, in translation, much years ago. I also bought a collection of Boris Vasil’ev’s short novels and Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle, which I read and liked years ago in translation. I’ve been so completely focused on very recent releases for so long that I’m looking forward to reading and rereading some modern classics.

Various Translation Releases &tc. The fall 2010 issue of Чтения/Readings focuses on Anton Chekhov. The journal is bilingual; the table of contents is online… More A.P. Chekhov news: Stanford University Press will release Five Plays, with new translations by Marina Brodskaya, in November. Tobias Wolff’s introduction is available online… New York Review Books released The Road, an eclectic collection of writings by Vasily Grossman, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Elizabeth Chandler, Robert Chandler, and Olga Mukovnikova. Ken Kalfus’s review from The New York Times Book Review is online here… Today’s New York Times Book Review includes a piece about Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, which reviewer Joshua Hammer called an “endlessly fascinating tale.” I enjoyed the excerpts in The New Yorker very much but am not sure I’m up for a 500-page nonfiction book now that I have so many thick novels on the shelf… One final note: my review of Martin Cruz Smith’s Three Stations, which I wrote for The Pennsylvania Gazette, my university’s alumni magazine, is online here. I’m especially excited because this is my first review for a print publication.

Up next: The Matisse piece, drafted aloft, soon to be edited on land. Then Dovlatov’s Зона (The Zone), which took time to hook me. I’m reading The Zone together with Danzig Baldaev’s Drawings from the Gulag, which is a tremendously useful and nicely designed documentary book about the Gulag system.

Image credit: Chekhov’s signature, from user 53RUStm, via Wikipedia.


  1. The begining of "Snob"

  2. You should read Ian Frazier's book. It's better than any novel I've read this year, and it's easily the best nonfiction book.

  3. George1212,

    Have you read the book yet? I read Ian Frazier's essays on his Siberian travels in last year's New Yorker and they were great.


    This autograph by Chekhov was the imprint on the 1950's edition of the Complete Works of Anton Pavlovich, familiar to me from the school vacations spent at my grandparents'.

  4. Thanks to all of you for the notes and links!

    @kolokolcev: Some of those bits were hilarious.

    @george1212: That's great to hear. I'm know I'll read it eventually, when the paperback comes out.

    @Steven Lubman: Yes, it's funny, isn't it, how those signatures on the covers of Russian books stay in the mind.

  5. Lisa,

    It's surprising to hear that you are finding Dovlatov's The Zone difficult on the uptake. To me, Dovlatov is one of those authors, who grip you from page one and won't let you go. Even though there's a condescending attitude among some towards him:

    Мопассан - Достоевский для добрых
    "Темные аллеи" - софт-порно для филологов
    Тургенев - Флобер-лайт для русских
    Довлатов - Чехов для тех, кто ниасилил Чехова
    Гришковец - для тех, кто ниасилил Довлатова
    Трифонов - для тех, кому скучен Кочетов
    Захер Мазох для тех, кто устал от Де Сада
    Бальзак - Дюма для умных
    Вальтер Скотт - Майн Рид для динамичных
    Голсуорси- это Толстой в картинках
    Г. Миллер - для мужчин, умеющих читать
    И.Ефремов - Ж.Верн для русских
    Улисс - Одиссея 3000 лет спустя
    Селин для тех, у кого "Тошнота" на "Слова" Сартра
    Коэльо - Ричард Бах для несообразительных
    Бердслей - Оскар Уайлд для безграмотных
    Ричард Бах - Гессе для обкуренных

    др. Пилюлькин - для страдающих сумраком головного мозга

  6. Steven, that's been my experience with Dovlatov, too, so I was surprised when this one didn't grab me from the start... it's probably a combination of the split narrative, and feeling tired after travel. (Red eye flights are a terrible way to start a week!) The good news is that I've gotten into the rhythm of the book.

    And thank you for adding the list of comparisons! Somewhere I'd seen the lines about Dovlatov, but not the rest, much of which is just as funny.

  7. I love, love love ulitskaya. of course i've only read her in translation but i've loved both of the books i've read. she's amazing!

  8. I agree, Marie, Ulitskaya is a pleasure to read. Since I'm so focused on novels over stories, I hope more of her novels are translated... Daniel Stein is my favorite, but I think her Sincerely Yours, Shurik is also very, very good.

  9. Anne Marie JacksonNovember 6, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    It was very interesting to read your comments on Сноб. I've been a subscriber since February, and I love it, although I cannot say I've ever read an issue cover to cover. I love the bookmarks - and the other surprises that turn up!

  10. Thank you for the comment, Anne Marie. The funny thing about Сноб is that I'm very inclined to buy a real subscription when the three-month deal ends... I can't take it out of the library (like, say, The New Yorker or Harper's), I like the photos (e.g. the smoky summer of 2010), it's lively, and I'm thrilled they publish fiction. And I, too, am very happy they include bookmarks -- I hope they keep inserting them!

  11. I got an e-mail from Сноб saying there was such unexpected demand that they've already run out of the November issue and will be starting my three months with Dec/Jan (which is the lit issue, apparently). Works for me!

  12. That's interesting, Languagehat... It's great to hear there's so much interest; I noticed their тираж for the U.S. is 20,000. The news story I read claimed the November issue is the literature issue but I don't have mine yet to be sure.

    Did they already send you a login so you access everything on their site?

  13. Yes, they did, and thanks for mentioning it, because I hadn't even noticed it in the apology e-mail! I just went back and found it.