Getting stuck in….Russian novelists for 2011

We have a library in Drumnadrochit, which is part of the new school building – it’s at the front in the round bit. I’ve just started going again recently as I fancied delving into Russian novelists once more and  it looks like I gave my own copies of Tolstoy etc away  a long time ago.

I had Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago out before Christmas and very much enjoyed reading it again along with the coincidence of the film being on the telly during the holidays. Very indulgent days along with a glass or two of Cava and florentines. Returning to the library today to only take it out again, I asked the librarian if  there was any Tolstoy. The shelves in the public part of the library were void of anything ‘old’.

“Yes”, she said. “In the back here we have all the Millenium Project fiction and non-fiction”.

And so they did. Books donated to schools through the millenium commission. ‘A series of 250 volumes in Everyman’s Library which have been distributed to 4500 state schools throughout the United Kingdom’. So why were they in the back I asked. The reply was that children at the high school showed no interest in the books, so they were given to the library. Apparently the children didn’t respond readily to the look of the covers. She was clearly disappointed, as are all of us who have worked with books, when people seem to dismiss a good story because they are judging the book by its cover. They were kept in the back as they weren’t that popular. The books I took out today hadn’t been touched since 2003 to 2006, Dr Zhivago being the exception – a year before  me.

If you look up The Millenium Library’s website, you’ll find that it doesn’t exist. But if you go to your local high school or library, they may well have those volumes in there, hopefully…..

I’m not going to break into a rant about the teaching of the subject known as English, our modern-day emphasis on plot-driven instant story-telling or cheaply made paperbacks with tacky type. Nor will I suggest that we should be more grateful for what we have been given.  So you can carry on reading from here. But what I would like you to do is to take a look at the list of the books and ask yourself what the relevance of them is to the interpretation of human existence and what we can learn from the stories told. 

The librarian and I shared a love for Russian authors, one visitor said she thought it was all too high-brow for her. But, I said to her, “They write so simply in our modern-day language”.  And they write about love, politics and pain. Maybe that’s what puts people off these days. Love hurts in real life, Hollywood offers fairy tale romances where all ends well. Alas, not so in these books. I will enjoy my Tolstoy, Pushkin, Pasternak and Dostoyevsky. I do meet people on occasion who have a similar taste in novels as I do -but not many….unless there are more to confess out there?

3 thoughts on “Getting stuck in….Russian novelists for 2011

  1. I came across your blog via your post at Sarah Correia’s Cafe Turco. It’s very interesting and at the same time very sad to read. I can’t believe that those (rather beautiful to my eye) book covers are considered so austere as to deter all readers. OK, a little bit of attractive illustration helps build a bridge to the reader but the idea that the cover is the only route into making that initial contact that engages the reader’s interest and imagination is nonsense. Blaming the cover is an admission of a failure to look imaginatively at the task of opening up young minds. It’s just throwing in the towel. It’s not a question of battling with kids to get them to give up their games or their Facebook page or whatever, they should be able to find a way to read alongside those other activities. They’re being asked to shop blind. If the cover doesn’t tell them what the product does, then they need reassurance that they won’t be wasting their time, and that comes from knowing that someone whose judgment they trust thinks the excercise is worthwhile. The trouble with so much of the Millennium was that it was simply big-bang stuff, with no emphasis on sustainability and long-term effort. It sounds like the Book Project was implemented, if not conceived, as a hit-and-run venture. It was an idea that deserved much better.

  2. Thank you for commenting Owen, and I agree with you re the Millennium programme – this project is an example of how not to do it – the legacy was the books, but not an educational programme built around them. And with the addition of film, so much more could be done to encourage young people to take a look inside this collection. As the librarian pointed out (and maybe she cold be the person to share her passion) even the introductions in the Everyman series were beautifully thought out and each book included a biography and chronology of the author.

    I have to say that the back room of the library appeals more to me than the public area. But perhaps time, politics and our uncertain world will be bring a group of young people back round to the Russian novelists and others….I live in hope and faith of the young mind; it is usually the adult that underestimates their thirst for adventure, truth and a cracking good story.

  3. Great blog! I truly love how it’s easy on my eyes and the details are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day!

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