Slapovsky and Girshovich.

I’ve just read two first novels that, while irritating enough that I was tempted not to finish them, contained enough good things that I withstood temptation (also, in the case of Girshovich, I had read a chunk of a later novel [see this post], so I knew he was worth the effort). The first is Я — не я [I am not I], by Aleksey Slapovsky (published in the journal Volga in 1992 and as a book in 1994). Conveniently, I wrote to Lizok about it after I finished it, so I’ll reproduce my report here:

I’ve finished Я — не я, though for a while I wasn’t sure I would — about seventy pages in, I was thinking “this is pretty silly and not what I call literature, maybe I should bail out.” But then I reflected I was almost halfway through and persevered, and eventually realized I had been looking at it through the wrong lenses. It’s not a Russian Novel like Tolstoevsky or Trifonov or Sokolov, it’s a snarky social satire of the kind that was so popular here in the ’60s and ’70s: Heller, Vonnegut, Roth (in his wild-and-woolly phase: Our Gang, The Breast, The Great American Novel). A shlemiel from Saratov acquires the ability to look into someone’s eyes and change places with them (each person’s self in the other’s body); this gives Slapovsky the chance to describe in loving and/or parodic detail every layer of late-Soviet life from the Kremlin to the lowest alcoholic bum. It’s the kind of book a clever reporter writes when he wants to write fiction (if he’s not the kind who writes lumbering ripped-from-the-headlines doorstops), and Slapovsky started out (per Wikipedia) as a school teacher, a truck driver, and a journalist for TV and radio in Saratov. (And one of the things I liked best about the book is the description of the city; I’ve complained at LH about the fact that Russian fiction ignores everything outside the two capitals and the countryside, and it’s a real pleasure to me to have an image of walking up the main drag, Prospekt Kirova — the Nevsky of Saratov — from the Lipki park to the Rossiya hotel/restaurant, which has since been demolished.) It gives a rich picture of Soviet life on the cusp of perestroika, and is worth reading for that if not for its meager literary virtues (the characters are standard-issue, the prose prosaic, the plot developments sometimes eye-rollingly silly). I won’t reread it, but I’ll read more Slapovsky (at least Первое второе пришествие [The first second coming] and Победительница [The victorious woman], both of which I have).

I should add that at one point Nedelin, the protagonist, changes places with a chicken (and nearly suffers a chicken’s predestined fate) and that Slapovsky inserts himself into the story as a Saratov reporter.

Here’s a Hatworthy excerpt:

It would be wonderful! You’re sitting there by the campfire, a shotgun lying right there, and in that… what do you call it…

“Lena, what do you call a hunter’s bag?”

“What bag? A bandolier?”

“Not bandolier — I mean where they put game and all that.”

“I don’t know.”

“You just don’t want to think. And you call yourself a philologist!”

“What are you mad about? And why do you need to know that?”

“Leave me alone!”

“Who’s pestering you?”

What’s it called, there are so many words! Backpack, duffel bag, wineskin, suitcase, what a lot of nonsense, it’s some complicated word, difficult to pronounce… What about… What about… Nedelin’s head even starts to hurt, he walks nervously around the room — no, it’s unbearable, he grabs his jacket.

[He goes out to call a friend of his who hunts, then suddenly remembers:] yagdtash [‘game bag,’ from German Jagdtasche], that’s it!

Yagdtash, what a relief. Yagdtash. Yagdtash.

We all know the feeling. Here’s the Russian:

Замечательно! Сидишь так у костра, рядом ружьё валяется, в этом самом, как его…

Лен, как сумка охотничья называется?

Какая сумка? Патронташ?

Какой патронташ, ну куда складывают там дичь и всё такое?

Не знаю.

Тебе просто подумать неохота. Филолог называется!

Чего ты злишься? И зачем тебе это нужно?


Кто привязывается?

Как же она называется, вот пропасть-то! Рюкзак, сидор, бурдюк, чемодан, совсем чепуха, какое-то сложное слово, труднопроизносимое… Как же… Как же… У Неделина даже голова начинает болеть, ходит нервно по комнате; нет, это нестерпимо, хватает куртку.

[…] Ягдташ, вот как!

Ягдташ, ффу, отлегло. Ягдташ. Ягдташ.

Leonid Girshovich’s Обмененные головы [Transposed heads] is a longer and more substantial novel, and I started out with high expectations, but my balloon gradually deflated. The central character is the Soviet-born (from Kharkov) Iosif Gotlib, whose family decamps for Israel as soon as Jews are allowed to emigrate in the early 1970s; after his wife leaves him, he tries to shoot himself, then decides to try using his skill at the violin to get a job with a German symphony orchestra, which he does, winding up as substitute concertmaster with the Zieghorn Opera (Zieghorn is a fictional West German city presumably based on Hanover, where Girshovich himself played violin with the opera from 1979 to 2016). There’s lots of vivid description of Israel, Germany, German attitudes toward Jews, and of course life in an orchestra, all of which is interesting, as well as play with languages — the first word of the novel is “Чю-ус,” which a helpful footnote explains means “Bye!” and is from German tschüss (there are over 200 footnotes to the novel, some straightforwardly explanatory, some involving elaborate cultural-historical excursuses), the second paragraph includes шалом [shalom], and the third has пентхауз [pentkhauz], a Cyrillicization of penthouse. There are lots of literary, musical, and other cultural allusions. What’s not to like?

The problem is that the novel is soon taken over by a complicated story involving Gotlib’s family: his grandfather, who bore the same name and was also a violinist, is said to have been shot by the Nazis when they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and there’s a well-known photograph showing a German soldier pointing a gun at him as he holds a violin, but our hero becomes convinced he didn’t die but was saved by a famous (fictional) German composer named Gottlieb Kunze, who was notoriously anti-Semitic. (The title of the novel is taken from Kunze’s fictional opera Transposed Heads, which is said to have been the inspiration for Thomas Mann’s real 1940 novella Die vertauschten Köpfe, translated into English as The Transposed Heads.) There’s a whole farrago of violence and deception which I won’t bore you with; the thing is that it became increasingly boring to me. I didn’t understand why Gotlib cared about it so much, and I didn’t understand why Girshovich expected the reader to care about it. It develops into an increasingly absurd series of events, involving Gotlib inserting himself into the affairs of the remaining Kunze family and taking a trip to Portugal to try to find an incriminating document, and I got more and more fed up. What was he trying to do?

The answer, I think, is that he was trying to be Nabokov (whom he name-checks repeatedly in the text). The whole thing is reminiscent of one of VVN’s less successful novels, King, Queen, Knave. But Nabokov is… well, he’s Nabokov, and Girshovich isn’t. His prose style is perfectly adequate, chatty and knowing, but it isn’t magical, and it’s impossible to care about the characters. He’s trying to pull off a Nabokovian version of a Borgesian mashup of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (Borges is also name-checked), and it simply doesn’t work. The interesting question is why? I think the answer is that the stories in Hammett and Chandler are told from the point of view of a private eye, who cares about the tangled stories they uncover because they’re being paid to do so (and we care because we’re caught up in the excitement inherent in the genre). Here it’s told from the viewpoint of a violinist who for some reason is obsessed with the fate of his grandfather (and when he discovers the “truth,” he loses interest in what might have happened to the grandfather afterwards, so it’s not that he cares so fervently about the man himself). It feels like much ado about nothing. But as I know from reading the start of Суббота навсегда [Saturday forever], he got a lot better at achieving his effects, and I’m glad to have read this beginner’s attempt.

Here’s a Hattic snippet for you (this is from the part where he goes to Portugal and is trying to get information from a rural priest, who doesn’t speak German):

Things were bad but not hopeless. It would be ridiculous to offer Russian as an alternative, but in the first place I commanded a certain amount of broken English, and in the second place, working in the opera plus studying music on the violin from childhood (whence a special receptivity to the language) made Italian for me mare nostrum. At critical moments it was precisely bits of Italian that surfaced in my memory: operatic dialogue, musical notation. I feel that if I found myself in Italy, the following minute I’d be speaking with the locals in their own language.

But before trying out my charlatan Italian and compulsory English, I nevertheless, simply to maintain prestige, offered the choice of “russo” and “ivrit” – combined with the already rejected “alemeo” it was something. And then he revealed his knowledge of Hebrew. Was I Jewish? He knows that many Jews speak German. He then “guessed” from my Hebrew that, on the contrary, I was a German who had learned Hebrew, which in our penitential times is not uncommon either.

He listened to me… by the way, was I perhaps a member of the Roman Catholic Church? I spread my hands and looked up: ani mitztaer [I’m sorry]. Hebrew as a means of communication between a fugitive Kharkovite and a Catholic padre in a tiny Portuguese parish somewhere – that probably doesn’t happen very often.

The Russian:

Дело плохо, но не безнадежно. Русский в качестве альтернативы предлагать ему было смешно, но, во-первых, какой-то ломаный английский в моем распоряжении все же имелся, а во-вторых, работа в опере плюс обучение с детства музыке, на скрипке (и отсюда особая восприимчивость к этому языку) делали для меня итальянский – mare nostrum. В критические моменты в моей памяти всплывали именно итальянские языковые реалии: оперные реплики, нотные обозначения. Мне кажется, попади я в Италию, уже в следующую минуту я заговорил бы с местными жителями по-ихнему.

Однако прежде чем пустить в ход мой шарлатанский итальянский и невольничий английский, я все же, для поддержания престижа исключительно, предложил на выбор «руссо» и «иврит» – в сочетании с уже отвергнутым «alemeo» это было чем-то. И тут он обнаруживает знание иврита. Я еврей? Ему известно, что многие евреи говорят по-немецки. Далее по моему ивриту он «догадался», что, наоборот, я немец, изучивший иврит, что в наши покаянные времена тоже не редкость.

Он меня слушает… между прочим, не принадлежу ли я к римско-католической церкви? Я развел руками и поднял глаза: ани мицтаэр. Иврит как средство общения беглого харьковчанина с католическим падре где-то в крошечном португальском приходе – такое, наверное, случается нечасто.

Incidentally, I was reading the novel because I’d gotten up to 1992 and that’s where I had it listed in my Chronology, but by pure chance (I put a phrase into Google Books and got an unexpected hit) I discovered that it had been published in 1989 in a Tel Aviv literary journal called «22» («Двадцать два»). That sort of information is easy to get for famous books like War and Peace, but this brought home to me that there will inevitably be entries placed in the wrong year because I didn’t happen to learn that an obscure novel appeared first in an obscure journal. Such is the life of the dogged but non-omniscient scholar.


  1. Dmitry Pruss says

    Leonid Girshovich sounded like a genealogist, obsessed with finding obscure details about the people of the past but more so, about the very process of discovery, and thus cooling down when the process of discovery ends. I had to peek into his social media but apparently he isn’t doing it, at least not doing it now. But he’s a darn sharp narrator.

  2. Yes he is, and I look forward to his later novels.

  3. The “sketch” with a word that a protagonist cannot remember but doesn’t really need is bound, for any Russian reader, to recall Chekhov’s A horsey name.

    I’ve read Exchanged heads (ok, let it be Transposed heads) and liked it. The plot is indeed somewhat primitive compared to the quality of side plots and vignettes, which I think is the best part. And I like mystery novels, it’s just a mismatch that leaves an unpleasant taste. I also think that Girshovich’s writing style is a bit pretentious. “Look how smart and well-read I am”. But not too much and you can live with it.

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    I think Tschü-uss is a realisation, like Bye-ee, conveying some message like “I really enjoyed meeting, but I have to go” or “I am a very enthusiastic person who would like to kiss hello/goodbye but this is Germany/Britain”. For nervno would this be “irritatedly” rather than “nervously” here?

  5. Huh, Russian for Hebrew is “Ivrit”? I guess I had no real way of figuring out till now, since most of the Russian I’ve heard was in Israel, so you could always assume a speaker was code-mixing when saying the dominant language’s name.

  6. . For nervno would this be “irritatedly” rather than “nervously” here?

    Раздражённо: conveys a certain attitude to what irritates you, an emotion.
    Нервно is more like a condition, similar to jumpy.

    Нервно ходить (especially по комнате) is a literary cliché, “pacing nervously”.
    Раздражённо / в раздражении is also possible, and is a variant of the cliché (somewhat different: see above).

    There is a more imaginative variation “из угла в угол” rather than “по комнате”. On the other hand “ходить” too is a simplification of canonical расхаживать).

    Such clichés are found in translated books in many langauges and do not even belong to “Russian” or “English”, but if in English (or someone’s Englsih) “irritatedly” combines with pacing better, then it is a good translation.

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    Nervously is OK and would also be more typical in English if the person is jumpy. Reading the passage as quoted by LH, I thought the person was more irritated than jumpy, and things with “nerve” sometimes mean irritated/irritating, but evidently not in Russian 😊.
    Ozhegov has

    ИВРИТ, -а, м. Современная модификация древнееврейского языка,официальный язык Государства Израиль. II прил. нвритсхий, -ая, -ое. И. язык(иврит).

    So Ivrit is “Modern Hebrew” as opposed to “Ancient Hebrew” [drevneevreiskii jazyk]

  8. I think I use ivrít rather universally.

    drevneyevréyskiy is long and, importantly, it means “Old Jewish”. It can be inconvenient to discuss use of Hebrew as opposed to
    – spoken Aramaic 2000 years ago
    – written Aramaic 1000 years ago
    – spoken Arabic 1000 years ago
    – Yiddish, Russian …
    when your term for Hebrew means “Jewish” or “Old Jewish”:(

  9. нервно потянулся за сигаретой.
    or even
    стал нервно хлопать (похлопывать) себя по карманам, в поисках пачки сигарет.

    (clichés) And older нервозно makes the foreign source obvious.

    and things with “nerve” sometimes mean irritated/irritating, but evidently not in Russian
    Муля, не нервируй меня!
    One of the most famous lines by Ranevskaya characters… Though, “makes me X” does not imply that X is not a condition.

  10. I’ve read Exchanged heads (ok, let it be Transposed heads) and liked it. The plot is indeed somewhat primitive compared to the quality of side plots and vignettes, which I think is the best part. And I like mystery novels, it’s just a mismatch that leaves an unpleasant taste. I also think that Girshovich’s writing style is a bit pretentious. “Look how smart and well-read I am”. But not too much and you can live with it.

    An excellent summary. As for the name, “Exchanged heads” is the obvious translation and that’s what I called it until I actually read it and discovered it’s from the Mann novella, and since that’s called The Transposed Heads in English, so it must be for Girshovich.

  11. Just came across an excellent example of нервно in this (very interesting) reminiscence by the literary scholar Alexander Dolinin (Russian Wikipedia):

    Эйхенбаума я, кажется, смутно помню: в середине 50-х он приходил в гости к дедушке. Еще приходила Лидия Яковлевна Гинзбург. В конце 1952 — начале 1953 года их всех возили по ночам на допросы в КГБ: в связи с «делом врачей» стряпали большое дело на еврейскую интеллигенцию в Ленинграде. К счастью, Сталин вскоре умер, и дело прекратилось. Все это кончилось благополучно, но, конечно, было нервно.

  12. Also from Dolinin: “По дурости и по молодости лет я тоже возомнил себя будущим кинематогра­фистом.” I love “По дурости и по молодости лет.” (Because I was young and dumb…)

  13. I really like his style of self-deprecation:

    В филологию меня как-то не очень тянуло: я тогда думал, что и без того прекрасно знаю литературу, особенно русскую, и совершенно не хочу ею зани­маться. Меня уговаривали поехать учиться в Тарту на русское отделение к Лотману, но я самонадеянно и глупо думал, что и так, без Лотмана, все знаю.

    I wasn’t especially drawn to philology; at the time I thought I knew literature, especially Russian literature, very well already and had no desire at all to devote myself to it. They tried to get me to go to Tartu to study with Lotman in the Russian department, but I foolishly and presumptuously thought that I knew everything anyway, without Lotman.

  14. A gripping account of being with a group of Russian students in Bratislava during the 1968 invasion:

    Мы гуляли, смотрели, собирали огромное количество разбросанных везде листовок, в том числе на русском языке. Чуть больше половины наших ребят, наверное, сочувствовали чехам и словакам и переживали ужасный стыд за свою страну. С другой стороны, в танках сидели наши ровесники. И я понимал, что тоже мог оказаться на этой броне и что никто не знает, как бы я себя вел. И с одной стороны, чувствуешь, что это твои соотечественники и в то же время не совсем твои, что ты не хочешь быть с ними, не хочешь быть таким, как они. Эти чувства были очень сильными.

    We walked around, kept our eyes open, and collected a huge number of the flyers scattered everywhere, including some in Russian. I would guess that a little more than half of our group were sympathetic towards the Czechs and Slovaks and terribly ashamed of their own country. On the other hand, the men sitting in the tanks were our age. And I realized that I could have been one of them, and no one knows how I would have behaved. You feel that these are your compatriots, but at the same time they’re not really yours, you don’t want to be with them, you don’t want to be like them. These feelings were very powerful.

  15. And a wonderful account of finding rare 17th-century American Puritan documents in the library (too lazy to translate, but the gist is that a sympathetic librarian told him how to find them — they had been hidden away as religious propaganda):

    Чтобы изучать американских пуритан как следует, надо было читать перво­источники — редкие, труднодоступные книги, которые в XVII веке выходили в Америке. Их очень мало сохранилось, и я никак не мог их найти ни в Москве, ни в Ленинграде. Я ходил в Публичную библиотеку, все, что мог, там нашел, заказал, просмотрел, но этого было мало. Я начал спрашивать библиографов, нет ли еще каких-то возможностей что-то разыскать. И вот одна пожилая женщина, с которой я подружился, мне тихонечко говорит: «Пойдемте со мной — только никому ничего не говорите». Она повела меня по второму этажу Публички в какой-то темный коридор, показала мне шкафчик, дала ключик и сказала: «Вот здесь лежат карточки отдела религии Публичной библиотеки, которые были выброшены как религиозная пропаганда. Может, там найдутся ваши пуритане. Вы тихонечко тут сидите — если кто-нибудь спросит, что вы тут делаете, скажите, что по поручению такого-то отдела сортируете карточки». Несколько дней я сидел на корточках у этого шкафа и разбирал эти карточки. И среди них я действительно нашел шифры редчай­ших изданий американских пуритан XVII века и смог их заказать. Потом я выяснил, что некоторые из них стоили на аукционах миллионы долларов. В мире сохранилось два-три экземпляра, и вот я нахожу четвертый, который пылился в далеком хранилище. Для меня это был просто подарок небес.

  16. In Alexander Dolinin’s quote нервно means “worrisome” or “unsettling”, which is not quite the same as “jerkily”, “irritably”. It’s interesting (to me) that нервно in the “unsettling” sense though remains an adverb describes a state of mind and not any action. There are a number of verbs like that хорошо etc. I bet they are researched to death by Russian linguists, but I never until now thought that there is something unusial in it.

  17. Two associations:

    1. the recent story with Lenin’s library in Moscow. They decided that they are now modern and вывезли to somewhere their шкафы с карточками and burned them down. This is highly perplexing:/
    Of course they insisted that everything was added to the electronic database, and of course no, not everything (particularly the catalogue of books in other soviet bibliotheques used for inter-library loans…).
    But WHY burn them in the first place?

    (code-switching is intentional, but “bibliotheques” was spontaneously triggered somehow, I assume by that I allowed myself code-switching. It surprised me, that I typed the word that I have never ever used in English so naturally).

    2. The Baltic language mentioned recently by January First-of-May. The story is that the guy was drafted, and when he returned from the army, he discovered that his parents threw away his collection of old books (including the only description of that language by a Polish priest). They were afraid that books will make him “religious”.
    A few years later Perestroyka began and we discovered that most of us are religious.

  18. the recent story with Lenin’s library in Moscow. They decided that they are now modern and вывезли to somewhere their шкафы с карточками and burned them down.

    Yes, I read about that on Facebook. Appalling. And of course libraries everywhere have been throwing out old “useless” books that aren’t checked out by enough people. More Harry Potter, the hell with boring old books!

  19. David Marjanović says

    Over here, when libraries throw books out, they give them away. I grew up with a bunch.

  20. I don’t think anyone who works in a library likes disposing of books. Unfortunately, unless you’ve got infinite space (or infinite cash) the choice isn’t between getting rid of books and not getting rid of books, but between getting rid of books and never acquiring any more.

  21. Sure, but they could (as DM says) give them away instead of trashing them. Librarians hate Nicholson Baker, but his Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a brilliant polemic and he’s one of my heroes.

  22. I’ve never read Nicholson Baker, but looking at reviews, the book seems to be primarily focussed on decisions made about preserving materials in American libraries in the late 20th century. Whether they were right or wrong, it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s not practically possible to keep everything. Baker was in the comfortable position of being able to criticise without having any responsibility (admittedly I suppose he took some with the American Newspaper Archive – I’m sure they’re going to start disposing of stock at some point though, if they haven’t already).

    Someone always has to make decisions about what to keep and how best to preserve what is kept, and they are always going to have limited means to do it.

    Giving stuff away is good (I have more ex-library books than I really have room for), but has its limits: there are some things that no one is realistically going to take (I’m not going to say ‘not going to want’, because wanting isn’t enough).

    I don’t know about librarians hating Baker (they did invite him to speak at an American Library Association conference, after all), but I can understand them being exasperated by him, the way anybody with a job to do gets exasperated by an onlooker telling them how much better it could be done if only they would do X, when they would love to do X but can’t.

    I sympathise with Baker, but I don’t think he’s likely to become one of my heroes. Libraries and librarians exist in the real world and have to deal with that (including with the people on the sidelines griping).

  23. Baker saved thousands of precious, irreplaceable newspapers containing masterpieces of comic art. He wasn’t just sniping from the sidelines, he spent his own money (more than he could afford) on that vital work. He recognizes the problems libraries face, and I’m glad at least some librarians recognize the value of what he did, even if he irritates them. Politicians don’t care for journalists like Izzy Stone, either.

  24. ‘More than he could afford’ is the problem. He went to great lengths to try and preserve those newspapers, and good for him, but libraries have budgets and have to do the best they can with them. It’s the implication that they don’t care, or are even actively malevolent, that disturbs me. They have to make hard choices (even truer of politicians, of course). Certainly they shouldn’t be above criticism if they make the wrong ones, and as I said, I haven’t read Baker, so I don’t really know if his criticism are fair, but ‘And of course libraries everywhere have been throwing out old “useless” books that aren’t checked out by enough people. More Harry Potter, the hell with boring old books!’ definitely isn’t. It’s not a million miles from criticising lexicographers leaving words out of dictionaries (Not identical, I admit. Words don’t cease to exist if people are still using them. But they’re both trying to fit what the best they can in a limited space.)

  25. I agree, and I’m not condemning librarians wholesale (I’ve worked in three libraries, and I have friends and relatives who are librarians). But I do think the culture of librarianship (so to speak) has shifted from agonizing over the hard choices and trying to mitigate them where possible to embracing the rightness of deaccessioning and scorning those who complain (cf. Beltway journalists who scorn those who refuse to dine with the politicians they cover). I’ve seen comments by librarians doing just that. Once you get into the bunker of “you can’t possibly understand,” you’ve lost the game.

  26. Mind you, this isn’t just about libraries. More and more, people are digging into their bunkers and glaring suspiciously at everyone else, expecting the worst. The assumption of good faith is a vanishing virtue.

    *waves cane*

  27. I’ve not encountered that, but I’ll take your word for it, though I’ll stick up for librarians if I feel they’re all being tarred with the same brush. (I should add I am by no means an uncritical admirer of librarians – I work in a library, I’m not a librarian, but my bosses are; draw your own conclusions.)

    On a lighter note, a few years ago, the management where I work started to refer to the acquisition and processing of new stock as ‘ingestion’ and ‘digestion’. I did ask a couple of people if they intended to extend this metaphor to withdrawing stock as well, and didn’t get an answer. But the terminology disappeared again quite quickly.

  28. Ha, that’s great! (For certain senses of “great,” of course…)

  29. Baker’s and others’ points about newspapers, I think, is not that libraries agonized over disposing them, but that they didn’t, because they figured microfilms contain everything anyone would ever want. Being enamored with shiny new technology is a constant ill to guard against.

    The credit for saving newspapers goes first to Bill Blackbeard (cartoon researchers are required to have cartoonish names.)

  30. I think in Moscow libraries are better funded now. My freinds played in an amateur theatre hosted by one of them. To my surprise, it also hosts a comic book artists club (not many people here read comics, except manga and manga because of anime), it has a room with board games (the same games that people love to play, not games that no one plays) and tries hard to become a modern community center.
    All of this is new and shiny: new shiny coffee machines, new shiny doors… Similarly, the library in my neighbourhood (the smallest type) also does its best to lure people in, also hosts many things and I was actually tempted to open the door and enter when I saw it.

    Leninka is the largest library in Russia, and it must be funded by the state rather than the city. But the story looks like an attempt at modernization. Such changes usually mean: money and new administrators.
    Particularly, burning the catalogue is not what one would expect form a librarian.

    If any of those also burn books, it is not lack of funding and not librarians.

  31. not many people here read comics

    As Samuel R. Delaney says, you don’t read comic books, you look at them. (I was at Philcon yesterday and so was he, but we never crossed paths.)

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