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One Hundred Best Books for Russia

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One Hundred Best Books for Russia


Good news for those who are not indifferent to Russian literature and school education: the internet voting has just started to choose “100 best books” for Russian schoolchildren. All those willing to participate and once again reflect on their own artistic predilections (without ignoring the requisite benefit for youth) should better hurry up, since the voting will last only one week until August 7.

The initiative to form such a list for extracurricular reading was taken by Vladimir Putin. In one of his articles during the presidential election campaign the current president suggested that a national list of 100 books be formed for each Russian school graduate to read. According to Putin, this is not part of “bureaucratic ideology”, but rather a nation building initiative.

Public officials quickly caught up the call of the then presidential candidate – laudable corner-cutting for our bureaucratic system!

Already this spring surveys were made in all Russian regions and on their basis regional “100-book” lists were compiled. In turn, these served as the basis for a universal national list drawn by experts. They included the books most often referred to in the regional recommendations and not included in the compulsory school program.

Now 213 books have been proposed for discussion – apart from prose and poetry, these also include journalism, philosophy and history. The “long eclectic list” will meet any taste. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are placed alongside Natalia Narochnitskaya (Russia and Russians in the World History) and Alexander Archangelsky (Alexander I), poems by Vladimir Vysotsky, The Heart of Parma by Aleksey Ivanov and Alice’s Adventures by Kir Bulychev.

It’s understandable that not all of the books will be included in the final list. Judging by the number of voters, such works as The Dawns Here Are Quite by Boris Vasilyev, The Garnet Bracelet by Kuprin, both novels by Ilf and Petrov as well as the works of Bulgakov, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Gaydar and Kaverin, Alexander Belyaev and brothers Strugatsky, the poetry of Vladimir Vysotsky and many other good books will also land in the list. Nevertheless direct democracy is hardly appropriate in this matter; neither is “the dictate of the rating.”

The voting was organized by St. Petersburg University upon request of the Science and Education Ministry. It began only last Tuesday on the specifically created “100 books” site.

It should be noted that well-known academics (not only philologists), officials from the RF Ministry of Culture as well as religious figures representing the Russian Orthodox Church and the Moslem community of Russia are members of the work group led by former rector and now President of Saint Petersburg University (and also Head of the Board of Trustees of the Russkiy Mir Foundation), Ludmila Verbitskaya.

The proposed “long list” has caused many questions and this is normal, especially when we are talking about our favorite books. Above all, these questions regard the personalities of the authors and specific works included therein. By the way, all volunteers may participate in the discussion on the “100 books” site where a special forum is envisaged for these purposes. In our opinion, the proposed list is quite representative, especially if one remembers that this is a complement to the main school program. And hundred books that will remain in the list are quite enough for our youth who read less with each passing year.

One more question naturally suggests itself: why were only works by Russian authors included in the list? “Is it possible to be a well-round personality without reading foreign authors?” one of the discussants reasonably asks at the forum.

The main point that remains unclear is how to motivate schoolchildren to read more. The Ministry of Education is silent to this effect. In the work group they take shelter in evasive statements that “100 books” is a program of self-education for youth. Perhaps it should be reminded that in his article Vladimir Putin proposed to add a composition on the topics covered by these complementary books to the program of graduation exams, or hold Olympiads and contests on these subjects.

Alexander Ryazantsev


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