Opening Paragraphs.

I’m at one of those moments of changeover when I’ve finished up a bunch of reading projects and am starting afresh. To accompany the World Cup I was reading three (excellent) books on football/soccer, and I’ve now finished the last of these (Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round); furthermore, I’ve finally given up on Zagoskin’s Брынский лес (The Bryn Forest), a historical novel that has interesting descriptions of the Kremlin and nearby parts of Moscow in 1682 but otherwise is a stamped-from-cardboard panorama of heroic youth, a fair maiden with a mysterious past, and devotion to God’s chosen tsar (Peter the Great in this case) and the True Orthodox Church (as opposed to those nasty Old Believers) that I stopped trying to force my way through. So I’ve now simultaneously started one of my birthday gifts, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and Alexander Veltman’s novel Приключения, почерпнутые из моря житейского (Adventures drawn from the sea of life, published 1846-48 in installments and in book form in 1848 as Саломея [Salomea]). It’s great to be reading enjoyable fiction again, and to celebrate I’ll quote the first paragraph of each novel. The Sloan:

Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder. I am exactly halfway up. The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I’ve left behind. The tops of the shelves loom high above, and it’s dark up there—the books are packed in close, and they don’t let any light through. The air might be thinner, too. I think I see a bat.

The Veltman:

A daddy and a mommy had two little daughters. Period. This isn’t about them. Perhaps the reader has met Dmitritsky somewhere? A stately enough man, pale face, green eyes, covered in crosses and decorations, served both here and there, was in all the wars and campaigns, on dry land and at sea, in all countries and realms, knows everybody, is acquainted with everyone… Nothing of the sort! It’s all lies! Let’s open at random some page or other from his life. Here he is riding into the capital to look for happiness right and left — and he keeps getting angry.

У одного папеньки и у одной маменьки было две дочки. Точка. Не об них дело. Читатель, может быть, встречал где-нибудь Дмитрицкого? Довольно статный мужчина, бледное лицо, зеленые глаза, весь в крестах и знаках отличия, служил и там и сям, был во всех войнах и походах, на суше и на море, во всех странах и землях, всех знает, со всеми знаком… Ничего не бывало! все это ложь! Раскроем наудачу какую-нибудь страницу из его жизни. Вот он едет в столицу искать счастья направо-налево — и все сердится.

Both paragraphs exude a joy in storytelling that makes me laugh and want to read more.


  1. Good moment to also start The Grand Complication by Alan Kurzweil, also set in a library and with a research librarian as the hero …

  2. Hello Hat! I noticed you had Mr Penumbra on your want list and I’m so glad you finally got it. My library gave it to me as a birthday present a couple of years ago, and I really enjoyed it. It’s so light-hearted and clever. I won’t spoil the ending…

  3. Your library gave it to you as a birthday present?? What kind of library do you have, and do they bake you cookies as well?

  4. Two theories: She’s a library employee or volunteer, and spelling miscorrection.

  5. She’s an academic, so I think the first is ruled out. The second is theoretically possible, but I’m having trouble coming up with a likely original word.

  6. marie-lucie says

    Perhaps she uses the word with the meaning of French librairie ‘bookstore’, and the book is a reward for being a longstanding customer?

  7. But she’s English, not French. I think she just has a generous library. (Maybe it was a donation?)

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