This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 9, 1991

January 9, 1991 - Books to Russia

In 1976, my wife, Suzanne, went on a trip to Russia with a college group. She spent three weeks in Leningrad, and three weeks in Moscow.

Leningrad was once -- before the Bolshevik Revolution -- called St. Petersburg, and its citizens still stress that the city is more European than Russian. Designed by Italians, Leningrad is bright, airy, and colorful, with streets as wide as the buildings are tall.

Moscow, on the other hand, is thoroughly Russian. Suzanne remembers it as a study in grays -- bleak, heavy, oppressive. Stalinist architecture.

She remembers something else too: the people who waited around outside her hotel, hoping to practice their English by striking up conversations with foreigners.

You don't see that many Americans hanging around outside international hotels to sharpen their Russian, or Italian, or French, or even Spanish.

The other thing that impressed Suzanne about the eager would-be Russian conversationalists was their astonishing knowledge of world literature. Again and again, my wife -- a widely read woman, trust me -- found her knowledge even of American authors to be woefully inferior to people who did not have legal access to the books they discussed so avidly.

There are no public libraries in the U.S.S.R. There are research libraries -- but their patrons can't just fetch what they want from the shelves. Someone gets the books for them. But first the patron have to say why they want the books. Then -- at least until recently -- they might have to answer more questions.

Up to now, literature that didn't reflect the Party line was contraband, illegal. You'd think that would discourage a lot of unnecessary reading.

Maybe the opposite is true. Maybe the best way to stimulate a taste for literature is to ban it. Maybe if the U.S. Congress passed a law against the works of Mark Twain, and Mickey Spillane, and J.D. Salinger, and Tom Robbins, and Hunter Thompson, then the People would clamor for them unceasingly.

After all, the same basic strategy worked fine for "Satanic Verses," by Salman Rushdie -- a bestselling book that hardly anyone would have read had it not resulted in the author's death sentence.

But back to U.S. - U.S.S.R. relations. In 1976, America and Russia enjoyed one of their too-brief periods of detente. Things are once again more open between the two countries.

And now there's an interesting opportunity for Douglas County readers to slake the Soviet thirst for books.

A group called "One Society International" is collecting used books that will be taken to a "cafe environment" in Moscow, where many eager hands will snatch them up.

The books can be dropped off with Judy Pruim, at 510 Wilcox Street in Castle Rock, or at any monthly AAUW (American Association of University Women) meeting, or at any branch of the Douglas Public Library District (but do tell us if you want them to go to Russia, so we won't use them elsewhere).

Donate anything -- but consider especially books dealing with management, enlightenment, education, parenting, business, psychology, self-help, women's issues, and children's literature.

Can't you just imagine a gaggle of Russian intelligentsia listening intently to someone declaiming Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham"?

Wouldn't that be great?
Speaking as a librarian, I think it makes much better sense to trade books than bullets.

No comments:

Post a Comment