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Russian Books

Old Books: a Tale of an Addiction

I love old books. Don’t take me wrong, I am a creature of modern conveniences and reading on Kindle or listening to audio-books is probably how I consume most of my books these days. Still, holding a book in my hand brings me a different kind of joy. But when I talk about old books, I especially mean that I have a fascination and almost an addiction to old books from my childhood. They seem to me like a physical representations of different phases on my life, my mental and emotional development, they were instrumental in how I ended up viewing the world.

So when during my last trip to Russia I got to bring and ship some of those books, I was so excited. It was the highlight of a rather sad trip for me.

Once I got them all to the US (and by all I mean about 40 kg worth of books, which is a tiny fraction of my collection. Most of them are children’s books that I intend to read with and to my own kids as they are coming to the right ages for them), I realized that lots of them are in rather pitiful condition.

I wanted to be Dr. Doolittle and Dr. Aibolit to these books. The companions of my childhood. I am sure that their condition was partially due to my own bad habits (dog-earing the pages where I left off, taking them to weird places to read (yes, I was known to read in in a bathtub!), leaving them upside down open in the place I just finished reading – all the little things we do as kids that are not quite gentle enough to keep the books “healthy”). Definitely the sheer passage of time did not help either, some of them were printed originally on substandard quality paper and it is not maintaining well throughout the years. Time is not kind to the books, especially if they are used and read. And definitely the storage: no perfect temperature, light etc. was allowed available for these books. Just dust and shelf life in a city apartment for many years. However they survived! And I decided to see what I can do to bring them back some of their former glory.

I researched and found some pretty nifty book tapes that help put the old pages back in and bring the bindings back together and I got to work. A couple books later I realized that it is HARD WORK putting them back together, it takes time and precision and I did not move fast.

I researched some more and found out that lots of libraries that work on repairing books and periodicals use a weird contraption (book tape dispenser) that they swear by. I got it. Yes, I ordered it and waited for it patiently and now it is sitting on my table. So today was my first experiment with the device. It is better than i anticipated and I love it. It speeds up the process a ton and I feel like I can actually tackle the task of fixing all the poor books that need it.

The first book I attempted to fix is “ Neznaika”. It is actually my Dad’s book, published in 1963 that he read before me and that I afterwords “borrowed” (to never return) from my grandma and spend many hours (days? weeks??) reading and re-reading in elementary school. I read all the sequels too! So now I got to enjoy putting the book back together. I forgot to take the picture form before, but let me tell you that the front cover and the first 20 or so pages were completely separated from the rest of the book and most of the pages were torn and in bad shape.

I did my best. Probably a librarian or a book restorer who does this for a living will look at my hack job and be terrified, but this is my first attempt and the book is looking a million times better than before. I am so proud. I cannot wait to share it with my kids, to read it together to let their young fingers turn these old pages and be fascinated by the yellow paper and all the old book smells and textures.

My almost 7 year old has been reading Dr. Aibolit (top left on the photos) with me and loves the illustrations in this old book. It’s her first real chapter book that she is successfully reading and conquering in Russian. Finding the right book for her has been a little challenging but this one turned out just perfect. The language is simple enough, the story is interesting and the chapters are not too long. It’s full of colorful illustrations. Usually we read one chapter together (she reads one paragraph and then I read one) and then I read a chapter to her by myself of with some help from her younger sister.

My 4 year old has been especially favoring reading about the life of Uncle Fedor, Cat Matroskin and Dog Sharik from Prostokvashino with me – she has progressed to three syllable words in part thanks to reading this book to/with me. The characters are familiar to her form the cartoon and the story plot is too. So it is easier for her to puzzle out longer or less familiar words as she is comfortable with the context. In addition to the text on each page there are speech bubbles that contain short phrases, she especially likes reading those!

What books are your childhood favorites and what are you reading to/with your kids in Russian? What are their favorite Russian books?

P.S. Some of my childhood favorites are (and it is not a complete list at all): Робинзон Крузо, Приключения Незнайки (и все продолжения), Волшебник изумрудного города (и все продолжения), Сказки ( русские народные, народов мира (у моих друзей была на них подписка), европейские, и т.д. – кучу сказок перечитала!), Старик Хоттабыч, всё что было у друзей и в библиотеках А.Р. Беляева (до сих пор обожаю хорошую фантастику), Золотой Ключик, Приключения Карандаша и Самоделкина, всё Сутеева (и брату младшему их читалаб не знаю помнит ли), ну всех не перечислить. Сфотографировала,что привезла из детских в этот раз.

P.P.S. These are not ALL the fairy tales I read or own, just the ones I managed to bring with this time around. Fairy-tales obsession anyone?

About the Author


AnnaOriginally from Russia, Anna has a Bachelor’s in Education and Linguistics from Moscow State Pedagogical University in Moscow, and a Master’s Degree in International and Interactive Communication from University of Lille 1, IAE Business School in Lille, France. Anna speaks fluent Russian, English and French and also knows some Spanish, German, Japanese and Italian. Her education, work experience and many years of teaching and tutoring both in the actual classroom and online helps her understand the needs of students as well as the design, management and promotion of language courses, textbooks and learning materials. As a voice actor Anna has contributed many tracks to the audio components of this course and you can see her on the videos as the lead teacher. Anna is very interested is supporting and promoting the study of the Russian language, as well as introducing Russia’s language and culture to a variety of people world-wide. If you notice any issues or mistakes in the digital or audio components, are interested in reviewing Russian Step By Step Series or in purchasing large quantities, please contact Anna.View all posts by Anna →

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