What Russians Are Reading

On the Moscow subway, 10 readers open up about the books they’ve chosen for their daily commute.

Anastasia, 17, international relations student

The Raw Youth by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“It’s the second Dostoyevsky book I’ve read. The first was Crime And Punishment. I actually didn’t like it, but it gave me this urge to get to grips with his work. Dostoyevsky is difficult emotionally, there’s this psychological analysis in his work -- not even the tiny subtleties and nuances escape him. It makes me think but at the same time it’s tough. But it attracts me and that’s why I want to master him.

I read it in the subway because it’s an escape, but actually I only do it occasionally. Today was just one of those days.”


Vladimir, 58, engineer

Peter’s Death by Yulian Semyonov

“It’s a historical novel. I prefer history, it’s a mirror for our future. If you compare Peter the Great with all the other tsars and emperors, he really was the greatest. I was just reading about Peter’s memories, and he was recalling all the women he’d loved. Right now, it’s a very dramatic moment in the book. He’s watching over his daughter in her crib and at the same time he’s thinking of one woman he loved, about the life this lady has had, and the life his daughter still has ahead of her.

What I read in historical books speaks to our experience now: the attitude of the West towards Russia and vice versa. It’s complicated, and it hasn’t changed since Peter the Great’s time. I think if this author were alive today he’d be writing the same kinds of drama because history is just circling back around again.”


Vagan, 35, lawyer

Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett

"I read 3-4 books every week. My wife hated it, she was always telling me, ‘go and earn some money!’ Now I’m divorced and I have time again.

This series is set at the end of the 41st millennium. The people have made incredible progress but there’s still a lot of backwardness, for example they have spaceships, but at the same time they believe in spirit forces. I love this theme. Think about ancient Rome -- a highly developed civilization that collapsed and for 1,000 years humanity went backwards. We’re still making up for this today and who can say this collapse won’t happen again?

I’ve lived here for 23 years but I’m originally from Armenia. Russians definitely read more than Armenians. Because it’s warm in Armenia, you don’t want to hide in a corner and read. I’ve been to other warm countries: Cuba, Thailand. I’d just walk around and chat with people and go to the beach. But Russia is cold, you want to go home, shut the door, and read, read, read."


Angelina, 19, psychology student

The Coincidence Of Callie & Kayden by Jessica Sorensen

"“It’s a romance, I chose it randomly. I always pick my books like this, just go into the bookstore and grab something I like the look of. I’d never heard of the author but I really like the way she’s unfolding the plot. I’m almost at the final chapter. The main characters have returned home after these terrible events that turned their lives upside down. The worst was the rape of the girl, she’s 12 years old. After the rape she just wanted to run away from everything but then another man appeared in her life and he’s sheltering her from the world.

I read absolutely everywhere I have time and it helps me step outside from real life.”


Feodosia, “very old,” pensioner

A prayer book

“It’s my little prayer book, it looks very old but it’s only from 2005. It’s worn out because I carry it with me everywhere and I’m always praying. It was a gift from my sister. I’m one of 12 children and our parents taught us from childhood that God helps us in everything. He hears our prayers and he sees our love and our sorrow and our grief. You can’t imagine the sorrow I’ve had in my life.

I wake up at 4 a.m. to start reading the morning rules [in Orthodoxy, the outline of daily prayers], then I read the gospel and all the prayers. Right now I’m reading the prayers of the saints. We need to pray for those who have died because they can’t. They’re waiting for our prayers so that God can forgive their sins, because all of us have sins. Only God is without sin. The dark power wants us to stop believing in God, but it will never happen. Our faith is the most important thing in life because nothing is eternal on this earth. When a person is dying what do they take with them? Nothing, just their sins.”


Yuri, 21, management student

The Black Swan: The Impact Of The Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“My mom bought it for me, it’s a mix of philosophy and math. The main idea is that it’s impossible to predict anything. The author uses two terms, ‘know-how,’ and ‘know-what.’ Let’s say some random person is watching a surgeon do a complex operation every day, eventually that person will know how to do this operation perfectly. But knowing what is completely different. The economist might have all the data and the education and he decides that inflation will rise 3 percent -- he knows this for a fact, but then, as it turns out, he’s totally wrong!

Our world is so complex it’s impossible to predict anything. If everything goes smoothly we will be right with our forecasts. But in fact it’s only in a utopia where there are no unpredictable events. So we need to allow for this in our planning, even to set the federal budget, to account for this uncertainty.

I mostly read popular science books but my favorite fiction author is [Leo] Tolstoy. He’s seen as the coolest realist and I agree. In his Sevastopol novels he opened the topic of war 100 years before Erich Maria Remarque but Tolstoy’s was better.”


Tatiana, 22, pedagogy student

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno

“It was a gift from my boyfriend. I’m reading Star Wars because I want to have more constructive conversations with the other sabre fighters. It’s a kind of martial arts but in the style of Star Wars. It’s a real sport! My boyfriend and I do sabre fighting together.

The book somehow fits with my personality. I feel like I’m becoming really attached to this universe, and getting a clearer understanding of how it works. They have similar social and political systems to us here on earth, but they’re able to make them work, whereas we haven’t. There’s a harmony that we could achieve but somehow we’ve never been able to reach it.”


Yevgeny, 20, media student

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

“I choose books the way a girl chooses her dress in the morning. I have a whole cupboard full of the complete works of the great authors. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, he’s so multi-faceted. This book is about a girl who’s lost and alone and people are out looking for her. It’s more about psychology than horror. I like to see how different writers do things because I’m writing my own book now, a mystery detective novel.

The subway is perfect for reading, especially when you’re travelling from Kotelniki to Skhodnenskaya. For 55 minutes I can just be lost in my book.

Once I was sitting at home and I realized I just didn’t have enough books, so I started collecting them. I bought most of them from street stalls. Over two years, I’ve gathered 823. I did the math recently: If I read 50 pages per day, I’ll be 43 when I finish them all.

Will I have my own complete works? Ha ha, well, one day maybe.”


Artyem, 27, cook of Mediterranean cuisine

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

““I was really interested to read this book because she’s a Russian writer who moved to the United States and became famous there. A friend told me this was the best Ayn Rand book to start with. After this, I’ll read Atlas Shrugged. She’s not popular in Russia, I guess, because she’s not taught in schools or universities.

I’d never heard of her before I found this book but I love the way she writes about architecture. It’s about a man on a mission to complete a house, not to make it beautiful, just solid and complete. He refuses to build columns unless they’re needed to hold something up. The main character realizes that he’s going to be hated by society for not falling in line. I’m really excited about what’s coming next.

I also read Jack London and other old classics but I’m not so interested in contemporary books, as they never seem to have anything insightful."


Veronika, 24, hair salon receptionist

Book Of Man by Osho

“I’ve read three of his books. Actually this year Osho was the only author I read. It helps me with everything.

Osho explains how, when you’re a child, when you first come into the world, you don’t have any fear or negative opinions. But then everyone around you, your parents and society try to influence you with their judgements and way of living. That’s why, as you grow up, you start to become closed and fearful. I understand people better now, their way of thinking. But I’m also learning how to live a freer life. A free life is one with your own rules, you don’t have to follow any religious, political, or societal rules. It’s helping me in every single aspect of my life."

Interviews were edited for length and clarity.