25 January 2009

Second-hand Bookstore Discoveries (with Annotations): January 2009

John Scott, Behind the Urals (1942): $3.00
First: "I left the University of Wisconsin in 1931 to find myself in an America sadly dislocated, an America offering few opportunities for young energy and enthusiasm."

Last: "These are the things that it takes to fight a modern war."

Claude McKay, The Passion of Claude McKay (1973): $5.00
First: "I am a black man, born in Jamaica, B.W.I., and have been living in America for the last six years."

Last: "I joined the Catholic church because structurally, traditionally and fundamentally it is the foe of Communism, and please remember that there is a formidable left wing within the Catholic church because it can accommodate all, even you."

Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution (1964): $6.00
First: "It is a common saying that man is constantly a challenge to himself, and that were he to claim that he is so no longer he would be denying himself."

Last: "Let us be sure never to forget it: the fate of all of us is at stake in the Congo."

Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel (1964): $5.00
First: "Any writer, reading over the typescript of a book for the last time before sending it off to the publisher, must wonder what all the effort was for."

Last: "One book of my life was closed and it was time to begin another."

Dhan Gopal Mukerji, The Face of Silence (1926): $8.00
First: "That a holy man, whom many of his followers called an Incarnation of God, lived in recent years near Calcutta, is one of the surprises of our time."

Last: "And only in so far as we ourselves become Sons of Immortality shall we be able to understand those Sons of God who have sought to help mankind."

M. Galler and H. Marquess, Soviet Prison Camp Speech (1972): $8.00
First: "The idea of compiling a glossary of Soviet labor camp and prison jargon, based on my own experiences in Stalin's camps and prisons, came to me in 1964 while reading the reminiscences of Maksimov, Krasnov, Margolin, and other former prisoners."

Last: "Ящик 1. за мягкое место и в ящик. See конверт 1. 2. за шиворот и в ящик. See конверт 2."*


*Note on usage from cross-referenced конверт entry:

1. "Иванов, как в тюрьму попал?" "Взяли за мягкое место и в конверт/ящик." "Ivanov, how'd you land in prison?" "They grabbed me by the ass and here I am." 2. "В 1937-м году, знаешь, кто-то напишет на тебя, тебя за шиворот и в конверт/ящик." "In 1937, you know, someone had only to denounce you and you were arrested."


C. Franz Rahe said...

That "Soviet Prison Camp Speech" book is a find! I have a couple of different dictionaries of 'blatnoj zhargon.' I also love the encyclopedias of Soviet prison tattoos.

Love your blog!

MasterGote said...

Oh, a little friend for the tattoo book, eh?

Buster said...

You know, I like to plan ahead, just in case. Can't you just hear me now, "Взяли за мягкое место и в конвертчик!" I bet I'd be a huge hit with diminutivized 1950s zhargon. Zone--here I come!

Charlottesvillian said...

Buster, I wanted to thank you first off for answering the question I asked earlier about whether it would be wise to go to Russia or not as a black man. After reading your post, I still think I am going to go, mainly due to the fact that I think I could survive there regardless of the racism if I know how to take care of myself. I think I can say that I probably am around your size(6'5" 300lbs) and so I don't think anyone is going to attack me because he/she thinkgs I am weak, I just know I need to watch my back and stay in groups. But the main reason I am responding to this post in particular is just to ask you how you learned to read Russian literature. I am dying to read Anna Karenina in Russian but am being a little lazy in my studies, so I was just wondering what is it that you did to advance your reading skills. I appreciate the advice!

Buster said...

Charlottesvillian, I gather that you enjoy challenges! Tolstoy is probably one of the harder authors in Russian (especially those parts that are in French!). Tips: (1) immerse yourself in Russian--if possible go to a non-Moscow/non-Petersburg location where you won't be as tempted to find English-speakers (though Moscow is really great and you should spend some time there) like the Russian Far East, which I've heard great things about (some MTBE readers could chime in here!); (2) get placed in a host family--but ask ahead of time about their feelings about having an African American student; (3) read the news in Russian, watch Russian TV, take in Russian movies, and so on; (4) study Russian history and art and all things Russian--people will be more likely to talk to you and take you seriously if you don't sound like an idiot; like I said before, despite my reservations about the contemporary situation regarding ethnic violence, I find the place fascinating.

Well, that should get you started. If you want, I can try to start an open thread for other people to give you input on where to start getting to know Russia. But be warned: there is little room for laziness in mastering Russian. Just today I read a note from a student in Moscow in the 1920s. He told his boss, "Sorry I have not mastered Russian yet. I have only lived and studied here for two years." So, WORK!

Lastly, I really have to emphasize the following point, based on the information you shared about your size/specs. Russian dudes WILL try to challenge you, perhaps not out of racial animosity, but just to "size you up." I definitely had guys intentionally bump into me, try to start verbal arguments, etc. in hopes of "getting my goat" and stirring things up. I usually relied on terrible humor that just left them confused or feigned misunderstanding and a smile. Don't ever try to engage this nonsense. There is no place for ego. Play it cool, always. Sorry if I'm being a little paternalistic with the advice, but I don't think I could handle the guilt if something bad happened and you weren't forewarned. If you need any advice or tips or whatever, feel free to drop a line here or send me an email.

And lastly, part two: do other folks have tips for Charlottesvillian for learning Russian?

Anonymous said...

An important part of learning language is reading books.

My native language in Russian, so when I started selecting English books for reading it was a big question for me: OK, I can read this; but why did I spent that much time reading a book that had perhaps no message? Selecting books is important, therefore.

Perhaps it won't be a bad idea to start with reading children books. Once you do them you are ready for greater advances in the language.

Again I just don't think it's much of interesting to read "international" books in Russian -- although there's Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and etc. I would advise E. Uspensky's two children books (I read them in the age of 7-8), which besides have certain cultural significance in Russia. (Despite being children books, they may be interesting for adults new to the country, as well.)

(note it's first page of 5, click "next" upon reading)


What you can read then? An important thing is the reading must be fascinating, so you don't ask what the hell you are doing. Anna Karenina would do well if you like it.

Can propose a bit of the modern science fiction -- if you like. Stories or novellas:







Hope this helps.


Lyndon said...

Going there (preferably for an extended period of time) is the right first step for improving your Russian. Before you go or while you're there, I recommend reading short stories to start with - Pushkin, Chekhov and Tolstoy all have some fairly readable short stories. Lermontov's Hero of Our Time might also be good - and I know it (as well as works by some of those other authors) comes in an educational version with a few English-language notes explicating confusing cultural moments.

I am ashamed to admit I don't know which contemporary Russian authors might be good reads for a language learner, but if you are looking for things that are more current you might check out some online newspapers or perhaps something like Bolshoi Gorod (bg.ru). If you're reading things online, you should have multitran.ru (or something similar) open in another tab so that you can look up unfamiliar words. The idea of reading things intended for younger readers is a good one, however the thing about some children's literature is that it contains elements of doggerel or nonsense words which could be confusing and/or hard to find in the dictionary.

Finally, great works of literature aside, I think the best possible way to learn a language is to have a relationship with a native speaker.

[end public service announcement]

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I also can't name good modern Russian mainstream authors.

There are popular mainstream writers like Pelevin and Minayev... An interesting writer (and good poet) is Dmitry Bykov.

Science fiction is in some ways a more vivid scene today. A recent interesting novel is Rybakov's "Our stars" -- it's much of good contemporary prose:


Best latest mainstream fiction I relatively recently read were 1980 A, Zhitinsky's "Lost House" and 1987 L. Alexandrov's "Two lives". First describes late Soviet Union, the second is focused on Stalin period.



Anonymous said...

There are also interesting Russia-based national cultures. Speaking about Chechen literature, I can name (for example) quite an interesting recent novella "Wild Pear Tree at Light River"



Buster said...

Good suggestions, folks.

Lyndon, maybe I'm a romantic, but I've always thought that that "have a relationship with a Russian" to learn the language thing to contradict the Kantian ends-means thing. But your marriage is your business!

Evgeny, the Uspensky suggestion is great--my teacher used that material in our 2nd-year course at the beginning. Tolstoy, by the way, also did a children's primer, though I don't remember getting much enjoyment out of it when I checked it out.

Along the lines of Lyndon's bg.ru suggestion, if you can get your hand on a print copy of the magazine Afisha, it is really good for picking up current hipster lingo. And the articles/reviews are usually short and less likely to wear out a beginner. I mean, idea-wise the magazine is sorta empty, but it's good for getting a sense of language and Moscow life.

Also, if you like rap, Russian attempts to rap may amuse you. Most of the practitioners are, in a word, weak. But you can pick up some little turns of phrase. Ligalaiz is particularly easy to understand (this is no great compliment to his flow--to call it 1980s choppy 1-2, 1-2 would be overestimating his abilities).

Good luck!

And more suggestions are welcome, folks.

Renegade Eye said...

Read Fanon than see the movie The Battle of Algiers.

Lyndon said...

Lyndon, maybe I'm a romantic, but I've always thought that that "have a relationship with a Russian" to learn the language thing to contradict the Kantian ends-means thing. But your marriage is your business!

Your ban on emoticons forces me to search for words...

...of course language learning shouldn't be the goal of the relationship (unless you really want to learn that language), but I still think it's the best way, if not always the easiest. In any event, I knew Russian long before I met my wife. I can honestly say, though, that without her I never would have learned Romanian (or rather the broke-down Romanian that is the Moldovan dialect).

My observations based on my own language learning are actually not likely to be very useful, since I haven't really learned any language "honestly" (i.e., through toiling over textbooks) - I learned Russian painfully but inevitably as a foreigner in a Soviet school back in the day.

Chinese was the only language I tried to learn in a classroom, and the only things retained from my three years of instruction (granted, those were three years in a DC public junior high school) are a few words and characters and a rough recall of how to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in Chinese.

Anonymous said...

A website you can also check is Leonid "Lleo" Kaganov's official resource.

He's a good science fiction writer, and there is quite a number of his stories you can read at his site (Kaganov's a proponent of freedom in the internet).



kg said...

As a native speaker, I have a hard time judging the accessibility of any given text, but of what's available on-line, my personal favorite is http://www.stengazeta.net, which is edited by very competent people and is a compilation of fine journalistic writing from a variety of sources, with interests ranging from criticism (music, literature, theatre) to political events, to historical essays, to randomiana.
Of the couple of the bigger-name contemporary writers, I would go with Pelevin and avoid Minayev. And before you aspire to read Tolstoy (a goal for which I have utmost respect), I'd heartily recommend reading some classic authors from the Soviet period. The language tends to be much more accessible and some of it (Bulgakov, Ilf & Petrov, Zoschenko) is absolutely hilarious. I know a friend in Germany who was learning Russian was assigned some Yuri Olesha short stories and really enjoyed them. I think they're available on-line.
In case access to books is a problem (I don't imagine it is, but still), http://www.klassika.ru/ is a good site and http://www.sovlit.com/ can be useful.
Hope this helps.