September 01, 2007

An Inspired Publisher: Alexander Smirdin



Alexander Smirdin, 1837-1912 

If someone wanted to create a symbolic image of Russian culture, they would have to put a book in the very center of it. Art, music and theater have never been able to achieve the same significance in Russian life as literature. 

There is a reason why paintings in Russia are often valued for their subjects and not for how well they were painted, while people are judged by how many books they have read. And proud (if somewhat doubtful) assertions that we read more than any other nation on Earth were repeated throughout the entire Soviet period.  The writer Fazil Iskander’s offers an ironic treatment of this subject in his story, “Little Giant With a Big Libido.” The protagonist, a photographer, takes a candid picture showing a metro car where everyone sitting on one side of the car is reading, while on the opposite side nobody is. The photograph was rejected for publication, because it was felt it could be misinterpreted. Finally, one publisher advised cutting it in half and putting captions underneath: “Our Metro,” “Their Metro.”


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