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The Right to Read and Not To Read

On 16 February, The Tip Of the Iceberg, an open readers' club, gathered most loyal members at a Sunday meeting to discuss international book awards and exchange recommendations for reading modern foreign authors.

The issues for the talk were posted beforehand, but the participants did not know which writers and which books would be presented for the discussion. As a result, a spontaneous hype arose near the book exhibition - 25 editions of the last decade were displayed for future readers to enjoy. More than half of the books represented Nobel laureates, winners of the Man Booker Prize, the International Dublin Literary Award or the European Literature Award.

The participants of the meeting had to draw cards with questions “blindly”, took a moment to think it over, and the dialogue was kicked off.

One of the most controversial questions was: how important are the author’s political views, biography details, nationality or other factors outside the text when evaluating the book. According to many, the text has an independent existence. Near-literary or biographical circumstances should not affect our reading or appreciation of the story. However, there are many examples when the author-laureate could become an object of criticism because of his or her political or public views. This was the case with Nobel Prize winner in Literature Peter Handke and Svetlana Aleksievich.

All the participants agreed that the book prize in literature is not necessarily a sign of quality. Readers have their own intimate relations with the theme of the book, plot, heroes, style and imagery. Neither the Booker, nor the Russian Big Book, nor Yasnaya Polyana Award, nor Hugo, nor even the Nobel prize guarantee that the authors selected by the jury will appeal to you. Disappointments cannot be avoided, but viewing short lists of prestigious awards makes sense if you wish to discover new names.

Librarians are guided by lists of nominees and winners in the selection of modern literature for the library collections. On the other hand, they do not have the opportunity to read all the masterpieces, but readers have the choice to read or not to read.

To wrap up the meeting, we imitated a secret ballot 'nominating' the authors we deem worthy of literary awards. The winner was Dina Rubina (40% of votes). The readers, mostly female readers, gave their votes to her for "deep understanding of a woman's heart and a woman's fate", for "the scale of emotion and immersion in the theme", for "her outstanding style, imagery, lyricism and poignant commentary on the time", for "exceptional character portrayal" and "amazing command of the language". 

Other "nominees" and favourites were Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón with bewitching stories from The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, Polish writer Janusz Leon Wiśniewski ("for the surgical dissection of a human soul"), Russian author Leonid Zorin ("for the touching experience of being carried away into the time of youth"), British novelist Diane Setterfield for Once Upon a River ("for the best story"), Syktyvkar author Petr Stolpovsky, Mikhail Elizarov ("for the irresistible avant-garde charm, musicality and humor"), as well as literary works by Russian philologist Nora Galle ("for congenial translations of The Thorn Birds and The Little Prince").

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