Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Read Russia & BookExpo America 2012: A Few Things…

A week in New York for Read Russia and BookExpo America generated enough material for several posts… but I’m only going to write one, so please ask away if you have questions. A few things:

Favorite BEA things: The Read Russia booth at BEA was a great place to spend a few days: plenty of books to examine, thick carpet to ease pain and strain on the lower extremities, a never-ending stream of programs and guests, and numerous conversations with colleagues from various collaborating organizations… I had a lovely completionist moment (I don’t think this was a dream!) when I saw writer Mikhail Shishkin, translator Marian Schwartz, and publisher Chad Post of Open Letter together at the Read Russia booth. Best of all, Chad was bearing copies of Maidenhair (a 2011 favorite), Marian’s translation of Mikhail’s Венерин волос, which will be released in October 2012… I also saw Zakhar Prilepin and publisher Glagoslav’s translation of his Sin (another favorite) but they weren’t together, nor were translators Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas in attendance… One more book sighting: I was very excited to pick up an advance copy of St. Petersburg Noir, edited by literary agents Julia Goumen and Natalia Smirnova, from Akashic. I’m looking forward to reading it…

Favorite personal things: Seeing Margarita Khemlin, whom I’ve translated. First I heard her speak as part of a Read Russia program, “The Search for the New ‘Hero of Our Time,’” with Igor Sakhnovsky and moderator Keith Gessen, then we wandered… It was also a treat to hear Polina Barskova, with whom I share an interest in Konstantin Vaginov, recite poetry at a reading with Dmitry Bykov, Eugene Ostashevsky, Alexei Tsvetkov, and moderator/emcee Ann Kjellberg on the last night of Read Russia events. Polina’s words and voice complement each other beautifully…

Favorite new word thing: In a panel called “Uncensored: New Language for a New Century,” Alexander Ilichevsky mentioned that his grandmother, who came to the Apsheron Peninsula from Stravropol and accumulated an unusual vocabulary, would cool bath water for him when he was little, saying she was going to расстрастить (rasstrastit’) the water, make it less страстная (strastnaia), or passionate for him. (Ilichevsky tells the story online here.)…

Favorite reread thing: Dmitry Danilov, author of Горизонтальное положение (Horizontal Position), gave me a copy of his book after I told him I’d read it in the journal version (previous post). I don’t often reread but the book was perfect after long New York days (and evenings), knowing that Danilov’s character was also always about ready to lie down and go to sleep. And yes, the actual book version does read better than the journal version, perhaps because the additional detail give the story a touch more humor and depth, like a funny mention of Russian hockey players in the NHL that appealed to my hockey side…

Biggest disappointment things: I was very sorry that Vladimir Makanin couldn’t come to New York: he was refused a visa. Not only have I loved some of Makanin’s books—his short novels Escape Hatch and The Long Road Ahead (previous post) are big favorites—but Makanin is one of the reasons I began writing this blog. The short version of the story is that I started the blog because of the dearth of online English-language information about Makanin. A blog seemed easier to maintain than a Web site, so here I am… Another disappointment: Mikhail Gigolashvili also didn’t come…

Favorite roof thing: The wonderfully overstuffed Read Russia schedule included a series of evening-into-late-night “roof” events in the lounge and on the roof of the Dream Hotel… I hadn’t planned to go to any of them (so late!) but of course I did, a good thing because the weather was perfect for a languorous sit outside. And I enjoyed talking with Anya Ulinich, author of Petropolis (previous post). Anya doesn’t just write: she’s working on a graphic novel that you can watch develop, online, here. I also heard a bit of Psoy Korolenko’s performance though I don’t remember a single thing about it. Except Pushkin. The day was long, the hour was late!...

A few other things: An exhibit of experimental art from Russian children’s books from 1881-1939, curated by designer Vladimir Semenikhin, was colorful retro (hmm, can retro go that far back?) fun… the apparent merger of Russian publishers Eksmo and AST, following spring announcements of financial difficulties at AST, came up in a panel discussion about Russian publishing and in conversations with writers; here’s an article by Liza Novikova, whom I was very happy to meet in NY… drinking Champagne in the early afternoon, even in good company and in celebration of Pushkin’s birthday, isn’t such a great idea, at least for me… we’ll be reworking the focus of the Read Russia site this summer, away from events that are now in the past; more on that later…

Up next: Zakhar Prilepin’s The Black Monkey, which I finally have the time to appreciate.

Image credit: Read Russia colleague Jack Brighton.

Disclaimers and disclosures: 1) I worked on Read Russia preparations during spring 2012 and traveled to New York as part of Read Russia. This post contains my personal opinions and may not reflect the opinions, views, or preferences of organizations or individuals involved in Read Russia. 2) This is patently obvious because of my translation and writing work, but I feel compelled to mention it yet again because of blogger disclosure expectations: I have met and/or have professional and/or personal relationships with many of the people and organizations mentioned in this post. I have discussed literature in translation, including (on various levels of involvement) actual submissions, with publishers mentioned. Here’s my standard disclaimer/disclosure statement about all that. Also: Open Letter sent me a review copy of Maidenhair. I sent a spare copy of St. Petersburg Noir to another blogger for review.


  1. he was refused a visa

    What the hell?? This country is really cutting itself off from the world. I can sort of understand not letting Iranian filmmakers come here, if I put myself in the mindset of a paranoid functionary, but this is just ridiculous.

  2. What the hell??

    I know... I just don't get it.

  3. all of it sounds wonderful! the children's art especially, I love old story books for those images...would be interesting to compare.

    It sounds like you were super busy...get some rest! Maybe we can read Maidenhair together (but it sounds like you already read it last year?). Or the Noir book?

    1. Yes, the children's art was a lot of fun, especially when a friend was telling me how she remembered certain books from childhood.

      I'll probably read the Noir book soon... I loved Maidenhair but am definitely not ready to read it again, particularly because I have a couple other Shishkin books that are waiting for me, unread!