New Book: 2017 by Olga Slavnikova

2017 is one of those novels that I would get to if I lived in a world where I had all the time I wanted to read everything I wanted to. It was just published on March 18 in Marian Schwartz’s translation, Schwartz being the person behind many of the more interesting recent translations from Russian. Here’s a chunk from a review:

2017 is a novel that asks you to savor it slowly, bite by bite. Translator Marian Schwartz, one of the most accomplished Russian translators working today—who has translated the works of Nina Berberova, Edvard Radzinsky, and Mikhail Bulgakov, among others—has recreated Slavnikova’s dense novel in a smooth, eminently enjoyable English text. Passages describing the craft of obscure trades like gemcutting or rock-hounding flow from sentence to sentence with ease, making the translation seem effortless.

At its core, 2017 is a deceptively simple novel that explores the notion of authenticity in a modern life. . . .

I’m guessing I’m not the only one having to triage more and more these days when it comes to selecting which books to read. I’m probably going to read something like 80 books this year, and, actually, I feel like that’s too many, but also not nearly enough. I know there are people out there who will scoff at my 80, but, for me, it takes quite a lot of time to read that many books, and I think the point of serious diminishing returns probably hits somewhere around 70. So 80 is probably a little too much, but I’ll probably hit it by necessity. A good chunk of these books will be assignments that I have little or no say in, which I’m more or less okay with, since I tend to discover a lot of good literature that way, but still, every assigned book I read means one less book from a core author whose work I’d like to read in its entirety.

All that makes it very hard when I see something like 2017, a book that won a prestigious prize, is translated by a translator I have great respect for, and that has what sounds like a very interesting story. My position is that I have shelves of books such as this, and there’s no way to get to them all, much less get to them plus the older books I feel I need to read plus the assignments. It’s hard. I wish there was a way to get to all the books that look amazing, but there really isn’t.

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Scott — I know what you mean. For serious bibliophiles, reading is not just a passion but a lifestyle.

I’m always interested in other people’s literary habits (maybe so as to either justify or condemn my own). I try to devote 3 solid hours per day to books — if the work is extraordinary, then it sometimes possesses me entirely and I read for 6 or 7 hours straight — but I find those 3 blessed hours to be the sweet spot. I can productively read while still living a “real” life.

It’s a strange compulsion to have. I sympathize with feeling beleaguered and even stressed out when confronting shelves of unread books. But why? I suppose it’s a way of combating mortality — there’s only so much time, after all, and we’re loathe to admit that.

I hit 60 last year, and I was pushing myself. I’m a very slow reader and don’t know how I would be able to keep up if I didn’t have a relatively easy job that doesn’t come home with me. Also a few slim volumes (poetry, the shorter Bolano novellas) pumped that number up a bit (although I did read Underworld, Moby-dick, and the two mammoth Alexander Theroux novels).

[…] by Olga Slavnikova. Winner of the Russian Booker Prize.  My interest was piqued after Conversational Reading’s lament about not having the time to read all the good books such as […]

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