Russian book haul

with 15 Comments


Confession time.

I’ve never really read a book in Russian.

This sends my husband into a tailspin. “Reading is the best way to learn! It’s how I learned English.” He moved to the US when he was 18 and pretty much knew only two phrases: orange juice and what he describes as his first English word ever- whoisondutytoday. (That’s how English classes in Ukraine would start. D first assumed it was just a really long English word.) But many years (and books) later, he’s crazy fluent. In fact, English is even easier to him now than Russian is. When I whine about how my Russian has flat-lined, he always says the same thing. “Katushka, just pick a book and start reading it. Seriously, trust me on this.”

All this time, I thought (incorrectly, it turns out!) that Russian books were lame. Sure, I have the requisite little collection at home. Aren’t all learners supposed to have this?

There’s the copy of двенадцать стульев that a former student gave me.

First two pages down, only three hundred and seventy nine to go.


There’s доктор айболит, the book I thought would be a more realistic goal.

Four pages read!


There was also a short-lived attempt at reading выскочка, a forty-two-year-old book with a Children’s Library of the Crimean Oblast stamp on the inside cover.


But like you can see, the highlighting would always disappear after a few pages and the book would go back on the shelf. D would be sad. What was the secret to reading in Russian? Where were all the good books??


You have to know exactly what you want to read.

Over the past few weeks I went to a Russian bookstore and an American bookstore. If you’re in the US and you want something to read in Russian, well… you get to pick from великие мертвые авторы, mighty (and dead) authors


or go the Twilight / Harry Potter route.


If you’re not an erudite reader of Russian novels, not enthralled by pop fiction sagas, and don’t want to read kid’s books, there’s nothing else on the shelf. How can you find something if you don’t even know what you’re looking for? Can I just google “random TEOTWAWKI books in Russian” and expect to actually find a book? Probably not.

And then along came the Russian bookstore in Nizhny Novgorod. Ugh, sooooo good! Here were the zombie books, the cookbooks, the grammar charts, the x-rated novels, the biographies. Here was stuff I wanted to read!!!


Er, well, I don’t want to read that one, but you see what I mean- there were books about every single thing you could imagine. I could have lived in that store!

Not wanting to go too wild (considering my track record of finishing books), here are the three books that I couldn’t pass up.


The Little Prince, which was the first book I ever read in Spanish.

Attachments, a romantic comedy written partially in email format.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, about the lives of two women in Afghanistan.


Maybe it’s a bad sign that everything I got is a translation, but I’m actually excited to read some Russian language books for once. In teaching terms, this is “compelling content”, something so juicy that the learner doesn’t even care/notice what language it’s presented in.

And for D? I brought him back one of his favorite sci-fi authors 🙂 (Again, in translation!)


We only have four months left in 2016, so my goal is to finish at least one of the new books. Honestly, it’ll probably take forever to read them, since I look up new words, put them in ANKI, and then re-read chapters. And read a thousand English-language TEOTWAWKI books on the side at the same time. But whenever I’m ready for a new Russian book (in three years maybe, haha), it’s going to be a purposeful endeavor. No more hoping for a miracle at the local bookstore or whining about how long the authors have been dead. My new formula: pick the author, find the book online. I will keep an eye out for Russian authors in the future, too, but it’s kind of like blind dating- it takes tons of some dates to find someone you like. In the meantime, I’ll probably go with translations of authors I already enjoy. Or who knows, maybe we’ll move to a Russian-speaking country at some point and I’ll just find a local bookstore to live in 🙂


What books do you read in Russian?

How have you found them?

Do you have any book suggestions?

15 Responses

  1. Irina Pidberejna
    | Reply

    I am so glad that you published this post! I remember that the best way that I learned Ukrainian more formally was when my mother would home school me during the summers I spent at my grandmother’s in Ukraine and all I would start reading is folk stories. The style they were written in plus the eastern Ukrainian dialect words made it dry but it was a perfect exercise for practicing reading aloud (for language purposes) and just forcing myself to read, or being forced to, which I did not mind.

    The first book I read in Russian completely was The Alchemist, and since the format of the story is very simple in any language, I was able to read the whole book.

    I would definitely suggest Russian authors and modern Russian authors because every time I read a book I know is translated, no matter how good the translation is, especially if it is from English, I always think about how I could read it in English. That really takes away from the text for me.

    There was an analysis by a Russian magazine which ended up creating this list of 100 books every Russian should read or really any person who considers themselves well-read should read. Some books are international and some are Russian but I think it kills two birds with one stone (language and reading with purpose yet pleasure.)

    Here is the link

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Hi Irina! Thanks so much for your reply! 🙂 That’s an excellent list to have around and I see a ton of Russian authors on there. Actually, there’s even one that I’d wanted to check out and forgotten about- Виктор Пелевин «Generation «П»» and a book that I have in English but never read- Евгений Замятин «Мы». Thank you for the reminders! And I think The Alchemist was the first book my husband read in English, so maybe I’ll copy you and track down the Russian version 😉 Good book!

      PS: Are you still teaching in Ufa?

  2. J.T.
    | Reply

    Wow! You’re lucky to have found a Russian bookstore in your area! My only source of books на русском is my university’s library 🙂
    I recently finished reading Oleg Kashin’s Вперде роисся which was…not good. More about that on my blog later.
    You might want to read Человек, который знал все if you haven’t already. It’s a fantasy/action/spy/existentialism/morality tale/thriller novel that’s not particularly difficult for the non-native reader. Plus the book has relatively short chapters, making for a good feeling of progress.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      The Russian bookstore was from last month, in Russia. I went there on the very last day. Yeah, no luck for such places in Portland. There very well might be a small bookstore with Russian books in the area, but based on who most Russian-speakers here are, probably the only book for sale would be the библия.

      Thanks for the recommendation, J.T.! I’m a huge fan of the short chapter idea, haha. Are you going to post a review of this book on your blog? I searched for it but didn’t see a post. Looks like there’s a corresponding movie, which is cool. A book + movie combo would actually be quite useful!

      • J.T.

        I probably won’t be posting a review of Человек, который знал все on my blog…I’ve got a backlog of reviews stretching back a few months! 🙁 But I bet you can find some good reviews of it on Goodreads or

  3. Teango
    | Reply

    Privet, Katherine! I’ve taken a temporary leave of absence from blogging over the last few months, as there’s so much going on in my life right now, but I’ve kept up with your posts, and would like to say a big spasibo for keeping me inspired and entertained in my travels.

    That’s a really cool collection of novels you’re building up there, and I look forward to hearing how you get on with them. I still have «Ночной Дозор» collecting dust on my bookshelf, but one day…maybe even one day soon…I’ll do it…I’m not giving up! *grrr*

    I read Замятин’s «Мы» with a parallel text in English about 5 years ago, and found its futuristic and somewhat bizarre “mathematical” language much easier to grasp than many other Russian novels. I much preferred Orwell’s “1984”, which was originally inspired by «Мы», and chose this novel because I absolutely love dystopian fiction, and more importantly, the book was reassuringly short. 😉

    Anyway, happy reading, and when my feet start to touch the ground again, I’ll definitely join you in trying to decipher some fun Russian novels too!

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Привет, Teango! It’s really good to see you online again. I hope you and your wife had a great trip this summer!

      By the way, my mom-in-law is living in Hawaii now, on the big island. I was surprised to find out there’s a Russian community there. Did you know about this? Is there a Russian community on Oahu too?

      Maybe we can be book accountability buddies this fall 🙂

  4. Mikhail
    | Reply

    If you like sci-fi I would recommend you Sergey Lukyanenko’s dilogy Звезды – холодные игрушки This book impressed me some time ago. It’s a decent sci-fi novel critically re-thinking Strugatsky brothers’ heritage.
    And I even would love to see its film adaptation.

  5. Mikhail
    | Reply

    You can read it here
    along with tons of other books.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Wow! Thank you for sending all of this, Mikhail!! From the wikipedia page, it looks like those books have an extremely well-developed storyline. And while I was familiar with Ночной дозор / Дневной дозор from the movies, I had no idea this author had written SO many books. Very cool 😀 I’m already looking at the пролог of Звезды – холодные игрушки on that website.

  6. Natalie K.
    | Reply

    Woo! Good for you! Reading Russian books is amazing and your husband is right. It’s definitely a great way to learn. I’ve read some of the classics and some more contemporary stuff. I recently finished a great book by Ева Львова called Вердикт: невиновен. If you search the author and title, I think you can buy it online. My dad brought me back a copy from the old country, so that’s how I discovered it. I’ve also read my favorite Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix) in Russian. It was good, but I’ve found I prefer books that are originally written in Russian because translation quality can vary so greatly. I hope you enjoy the ones you bought!

    Enquiring minds want to know: where is this Russian bookstore you went to?!? Is it in the US?

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Спасибо, Наталия! No, the Russian bookstore was from the trip to Russia last month. But now I see that there’s maybe at least a small market in the U.S. for such a bookstore. At least, you and J.T. would come support it, right? 😉

      • J.T.

        Of course I would! 🙂 I hate having to leave my state or pay ridiculous prices on Amazon just to purchase good Russian-language books.

  7. Jasilyn Albert
    | Reply

    So cute he calls you Katushka. I call Anton, Antoshka (because when I first met him I learned about the song). ANYWAYS, I am going to send you this journal I have when I go back to the USA. It’s one of those “wreck this journal” type books. I only bought it because I use the illustrations as inspiration for my travel journal. I was going to give it to a friend but they don’t speak Russian so it will be no help. Look forward to that when I return. Also, I’d be happy to send you some books if you decide. It might be kind of expensive, but if you are desperate let me know.

    I don’t understand how people can do that. Read books, listen to music, watch tv shows and learn the language. I just get so bored doing activities in another language because I can’t focus. I’m always multitasking. But like really how did he read in English without knowing English? I’ve been trying to read fairy tales because there are a lot of repetitive words, but it’s still REALLY hard.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Aw, thank you, Jasilyn! I look forward to that!!!

      D started with ESL community college classes and then got right into books. He first read The Alchemist because he’d already read it in Russian and so could kind of pick up on the plot. Maybe there are things you’ve already done / are hooked on that you could start doing in Russian? Like, if you play Angry Birds, you could switch the language over to Russian? I think there’s something strange about fairy tales- they should be easy (right?), but they’re usually tough. But you’re on the right track… those things that you’re passionate about (exploring ruins, Lenin selfies, etc) will keep inspiring you to learn a little more even when your brain wants to give up.

      PS: Antoshka, that’s so cute! :p That must make him smile.

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