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January 29, 2012

Vladimir Putin plans 100-book Russian canon all students must read

Vladimir Putin talks to students in the Siberian city of Tomsk on January 25. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian prime minister prescribes his top 100 books for the nation

By Alison Flood

Vladimir Putinhas laid out his plans to compile a canon of 100 Russian books “that every Russian school leaver will be required to read” in an attempt to preserve the “dominance of Russian culture”.

In an article running to more than 4,500 words in Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, the Russian prime minister writes that “in the 1920s, some leading universities in the United States advocated something referred to as the Western Canon, a canon of books regarded as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture”, adding that “each self-respecting student was required to read 100 books from a specially compiled list of the greatest books of the Western world”.

Putin, who is running for a third term as president in March, says that Russia has “always been described as a ‘reading nation'”, and proposes taking a survey of the country’s “most influential cultural figures” and compiling “a 100-book canon that every Russian school leaver will be required to read – that is, to read at home rather than study in class or memorise. And then they would be asked to write an essay on one of them in their final exams. Or at least let us give young Russians a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and world outlook in various student competitions.”

Journalist Alexander Nazaryan, who is writing a novel about Russian immigrants in New York, called Putin’s “cultural-unity-through-literature proposal” the Russian leader’s “most chilling [plan] of all”.

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December 15, 2011

The Most Beautiful Books of 2011

Matt Kish

BY Alexander Nazaryan

A recent New York Times article described the effort of publishers to make printed books more handsome, in an attempt to pry readers’ hands off their Kindles (good luck with that). One publisher was quoted as saying, “If we believe that convenience reading is moving at light speed over to e, then we need to think about what the physical qualities of a book might be that makes someone stop and say, ‘well there’s convenience reading, and then there’s book owning and reading.’ We realized what we wanted to create was a value package that would last.”

I am not exactly sure what a “value package” is, but I’d like to think I know a beautiful book when I see it. Here are two that resist the diminishment of the printed page. And both are extremely clever riffs on classics, artfully approaching canonical fiction with a curious design sense that never diminishes the original work itself.

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October 5, 2011

Why American novelists don’t deserve the Nobel Prize

From left, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Don Delillo (Credit: reuters/Thousandrobots)

An American hasn’t won in 20 years. The Academy finds our writers insular and self-involved — and they’re right.

By Alexander Nazaryan

America wants a Nobel Prize in literature. America demands it! America doesn’t understand why those superannuated Swedes haven’t given one to an American since Toni Morrison in 1993. America wonders what they’re waiting for with Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon. America wonders how you say “clueless” in Swedish.

OK, enough. But the literature Nobel will be announced this Thursday and if an American doesn’t win yet again, there will be the usual entitled whining — the sound of which has been especially piercing since 2008, when Nobel Academy permanent secretary Horace Engdahl deemed American fiction “too isolated, too insular” and declared Europe “the centre of the literary world.”

Boy, were we upset. Over at Slate, Adam Kirsch penned a scathing essay declaring that “the Nobel committee has no clue about American literature,” arguing that Philip Roth should have won the prize. New Yorker editor David Remnick said, “You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lecture.” He added John Updike (then living) and Don DeLillo to the mix of worthy laureates.

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