Our bookshelf or Getting to know the Step Up teachers
Welcome to our new column, the bookshelf, where we reveal our teachers’ literary passions. We hope that our teachers will continue to share books with us here as time goes on.
Our fantastic, dearly-loved biology teacher, Avet Pogosyan opens up the first book on the shelf.
Avet Gennabevich Pogosyan, biology teacher
Students say “he is very kind but strict at the same time; you will not be able to resist biology!” 🙂
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Edmond Rostand, “Cyrano de Bergerac”
Out of all the books I have read, this one had the greatest influence on me, my fate and way of thinking- despite the fact that Cervantes warned that more chivalric tales would not be a good thing! So be it; I am nevertheless thankful for Rostand. “Why didn’t she call, I don’t mind. Why didn’t she call, she needs Cyrano!” I know almost two thirds of the play off by heart; I can still remember a lot of it now.
Jean-Henri Fabre, “The Life of Insects”
I received an ancient edition of this from the 30s. It had a dedication in it to my father, I’m not sure who from. For many years it was the reason for my wandering the mountains and forests with my camera. It taught me to live, finding lots of happiness in little things where thousands of people go, but notice nothing.
Grigori Gorin, “Forget Herostratus!”
Of course, I first saw this on the stage of my favourite theatre and only read it many years later. In the Theatre of the Soviet Army, however, the play wasn’t as well-staged; it “wilted”.
Semyon Nadson, “Poems”
Nowadays, these poems are forgotten by everyone except me. “So little lived, so much experienced, bright hope and youth and love… Mourned, ridiculed, forgotten, buried- and won’t rise again”.
Evgeny Schwartz, “To Kill a Dragon”
The whole tragicomedy can be pulled apart into quotes.
I hope that’s enough? I’ll continue next time with: Dumas, Shakespeare, Bruno Frank, Ogden Nash, Sabatini…
Howard Amos, board member of the Step Up Centre
Lots of my favourite books come from Russian literature, but I’ll choose from the foreign ones here.
My first book is “Border Trilogy” — it’s a large-scale work by Cormack McCarthy, who is one of my favourite authors. It’s made up of various stories which take place on the US-Mexican border in the middle of the 20th century, when life was simple and difficult and violence is on the horizon.
The next book is called “Leopard” by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It’s about the last generation in Sicily during the Italian Risorgimento. I also like Joseph Roth’s “Radetzky March” about the slow death of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. They are both very beautiful reads.
I also love to read about travelling, and one of the modern books I really enjoyed was by the British writer and politician Rory Stewart, called “The Places in Between”. In the book he described how he went through Afghanistan, on foot, in the winter of 2002 straight after the American invasion.
Taisia Yazrikova, geography teacher
Taisia outlines her bookshelf- everything is for relaxation, entertainment, philosophical reflection and a search for inspiration during a tough week.
“Lord of the Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien
Perhaps for some, this book seems to come from the point of view of the main characters- their view of the world order and life positions- but for the young heart, no book is better. In my opinion, it has everything you want- lofty characters and villainous villains, and there is not the slightest doubt about who is who. But of course, sometimes it does happen that you thought about a character in one way, but they turned out to be quite different (I’m not talking about life here, but how love constantly shocks the reader). Not to mention that it is written by the true master of words!
“Naive. Super”, Erlend Loe
In its time this book helped me to deal with life’s difficulties, taught me to treat- or at least try to treat- things more simply, solving problems gradually. If you find life is gloomy and dark and you can’t cope with all of its tasks and demands, you need to read this book.
“The Martian”, Andy Weir
I know that the film version was released recently and on the whole, it conveys the book well. Because of the film I wanted to read the book and I must say, the book is better =) It’s a very pleasant read and the author has thought over- I won’t say everything, because it is only truly clear if the reader is familiar with Mars- but there are lots of conceivable dangers and situations that really could happen to Robinson in a strange environment. And in general, for me, one of the main messages of the book was the idea that “it is so good that Earth is comfortable and we don’t need to calculate everything scrupulously in order to survive”. If you are interested in reading about a battle with severe elements, then I can also recommend “The Worst Journey in the World” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, which is about Scott’s expedition to the South Pole.
Books by the Strugatsky brothers: “Hard to be a God”, “Snail on the Slope”, “The Ugly Swans”
I don’t even know how to describe these books: they open up and analyse various philosophical questions which, against the background of an unusual world, seem all the more vivid. It’s interesting to think about.
There are other books which have influenced my world-view but I wouldn’t recommend reading them.
Lilia Brainis, literature and history teacher
At the top of the list of my favourite and most important books, for some reason, are children’s books. Probably because there is so much love for the world hidden in their pages. To this day, if I am sad, I choose one of these books and everything immediately improves.
“Anne of Green Gables”, Lucy Maud Montgomery
This is the story of Anne, who lives on Prince Edward Island in Canada at the start of the 20th century. It is the dearest, most life-affirming, beautiful book about love, friendship, faith, choice, fear and the desire to be better. I came across it at the age of 11 and since then I have read it every couple of years- or when life gets particularly tough.
“Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece”, Nikolai Kun
I wouldn’t be myself without my love for Ancient Greece. From the age of 8 I knew every single one of the gods and their complex relationships, I adored some of them and knew if an image or film adaptation wasn’t quite true-to-life.
“Eugene Onegin”, Alexander Pushkin
For a long time, I resisted my love for Pushkin because I thought it was too mainstream. I even tried to force myself to love Lermontov! But despite my efforts, Pushkin’s wit and irony outweighed Lermontov’s desperate misanthropy. I really love Pushkin and will quote him with or without prompting.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude”, G. G. Marquez
From the very first word I fell in love with the magical world of Macondo. While reading it, I always missed my metro stop. And my Skype username is still dedicated to one of the novel’s heroines!
“Journey into the Whirlwind”, E. Ginzburg
Everyone who reads this book has been influenced by a part of it. For me, it was the part about the camp commanders, Zimmerman and Puzanchikov. All the time one of them follows the rules and enforces rules upon others, to the extent that no one has a life. The other steals and turns a blind eye to the rules, while also allowing others to do the same.
Artem Sorokin, the head of the “Hands from There” workshop
Artem has a dream: to build, with his own hands, not just one house but houses for himself and for volunteers. He knows everything about birds. For example, did you know that rooks dig insects from the ground and feed on them, but have no interest in feeding-troughs and nesting-boxes? Many people don’t know the difference between the troughs and boxes, according to Artem. It’s about professionalism. The “Hands from There” workshop, over the course of its existence, has collected over one thousand troughs and boxes. If you are interested in birds, forest-life, greenery, wood, energy-saving or processing, seek out Artem.
It’s hard for me to choose my favourite books; it’s like choosing your favourite star in the sky on a warm July night. I will name three for literature lovers. Though these books may be seen as “unfashionable” nowadays, they are actually very relevant this year.
“Sketches and Stories”, M. Gorky
Brilliant depictions and stories of incredible strength and beauty and a desire for freedom and justice. To me, they are some of the best works of shorter prose.
“Memoirs of a Terrorist”, Boris Savinkov
Russia at the start of the 20th century. This is the story of a contemporary and active participant in historical events and of the young generation who chose to fight, ready to sacrifice their lives, opposing state violence.
“Ten Days That Shook the World”, John Reed
The Russian Revolution through the eyes of an American journalist. Reed describes events that he witnessed when he arrived in revolutionary Petrograd in the autumn of 1917.
Paulina Krestovskaya, biology teacher
Each of her lessons is like an entertaining movie- with unusual individuals as the main characters.
Only five books! It’s very difficult for me to choose my favourite authors, but I’ll try.
“The Brothers Karamazov”, Fyodor Dostoevsky. What can I say about this book? I completely understand those who say that they couldn’t finish reading it or didn’t like it. But it made an everlasting impression on me, even though it wasn’t the first of Dostoevsky’s books that I read.
“Glory”, Nabokov. When people hear Nabokov’s name, the first thing they always think of is “Lolita”. But they shouldn’t: Nabokov has written many absolutely incomparable works. When I read and re-read “Glory”, I can’t hold back the tears of love and sympathy that overcome me. His other books, such as “The Gift”, “Mashenka”, “The Voyeur” and “Other Shores” have the exact same effect on me…
“The Space Trilogy”, C.S. Lewis. Here three books are (cunningly) combined in one cycle. It is science fiction with (like all of Lewis’ works) Christian undertones. In England there is a fixed expression, “The other Lewis”. He is not just the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia”: he was an outstanding scholar-historian of literature, an apologist, a philosopher.
“The Glass Bead Game”, Hermann Hesse. This is the most complex book on my list. I have read it a few times, each time putting a lot of effort into gliding through it. It is a treatise on the life of an outstanding individual who will be interesting to anyone that cares about the education system and the organisation of society.
“Cakes and Ale, or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard”, W. S. Maugham. This is a simple enough book about the writer’s life. Luckily, the Russian translation is a very good one: it doesn’t read like a translated book, but one that has been written in Russian.
What impressions have these books made on you? 🙂
Petr Vasilyev, biology teacher
Now we come to Petr Andreevich. A teacher who can answer millions of questions questions about botany. And he fills his spare time with trips to museums or art galleries with his students.
Students say: “it’s interesting to listen to him and he always answers any questions you may have”; “a very good teacher”.
It’s hard to say which book influenced me the most. You never know for sure. Sometimes I can remember neither a book’s plot nor its author but, hidden, it unobtrusively influences my decisions- like some kind of morality. So for me, all books are good in their own way. Even the bad ones, the ones that I stumbled across by chance, taught me something. A negative result is still a result, after all.
Here are the first ones that come to mind, in no particular order.
“The Tatar Steppe”, Dino Buzzati
This is in some ways similar to Kafka’s “The Castle”, but I think it’s much nicer and more piercing than its “rival”. But of course, because I read “The Tatar Steppe” first, Kafka naturally seemed inferior.
“Life of Jesus”, Ernest Renan, and generally all “Stories of the first century of Christianity”
A beautiful book describing Jesus as a real person, with attempts to describe Evangelical history from a rationalist standpoint. Not at all diminishing the greatness of this individual and his holiness, the writer convincingly refutes many of the postulates adopted in the official church, based on subsequent interpretations of the Bible. For me, this book must be read with the Gospel. I read the reprinted edition, that is with yati, solid signs, etc. This format breathes the childish, romantic spontaneity of early Christianity.
Shakespeare. It is so accepted to love and admire him, or even to try and write something. I read. re-read, read once again and am still overcome with emotion. You just need to grasp that special mood. And a good translation, of course.
“Of Human Bondage”, Somerset Maugham
Simply put: a good book, one of the last ones I read. I often think about this book, there is something special about it, but I can’t explain why I like it so much.
I think we need to think about authors for teenagers, they are very important. For 14 year olds it’s Sabatin with his “Captain Blood”, while for 15-16 year olds it is, of course, Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
Ekaterina Popova, speech therapist
This teacher’s bookshelf is more relevant than ever- not everyone is given the ability to see things around them that they can rejoice in and share with others, but the magical Katya, our speech therapist and long-term camp volunteer in Belsky Ustye, always has a kind smile and warm words.
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, Richard Bach
This is a book which means a lot to me. I have read it a few times- at school, after finishing school, at university. And each time it opened up something new to me, something that I realised at that moment to be clear and important in my life. It is a story about how it is difficult to not be like everyone else, it is difficult to follow your dreams. But it gives so much to so many people: it is enriching, brilliant, it reaches unimaginable heights. If you feel down, pick up this book, read it and you will find hope; you will find faith in success, strength and determination.
“Pollyanna”, Eleanor Porter
This is a story about… HAPPINESS IN LIFE. It is about how to enjoy everything that happens to you. In any situation you can find a lot of different reasons to smile and be happy. In my opinion, we often lose this ability, but the young girl in this book sweetly and cheerfully reminds us of this. In her own childlike, naïve way, she teaches us to be happy. Play “be happy” with Pollyanna!
Sergei Zubkevich, chemistry teacher
Chemistry teacher Sergei Zubkevich reveals what’s on his bookshelf, remembering important works of world literature which you must read if you haven’t already =)
So, here’s my list.
“Lord of the Rings”, J. R. R. Tolkien
A stunning universe, created by a great writer, worked out to the finest detail. This book is so much deeper than it might seem at first glance- and even after you first read it. There was a period in my life when this world fascinated me, I didn’t even acknowledge other visions of fantasy.
“Night Watch”, Lukyanenko
Once again we have unrealistic stories about the real world, this time mostly about Russia. It is an easy, interesting read; the characters are quite similar. The world is very detailed and logically thought out without being far-fetched. You can follow this microcosm of society from the late 90s to the present and really enjoy spending your time reading these books. And don’t forget- we all live on the 7th level of Twilight.
“Smoke Bellew”, Jack London
Who hasn’t dreamed about discovering something new in our world? This book is just about that: it is about the “gold rush” in Alaska, with lots of new, unexplored things and of course, a diverse range of people and their aspirations, goals, personalities and declarations. This is a book about adventures, friendship, struggle and victory over oneself.
“A Hero of Our Time”, Lermontov
This is a romantic novel of the 19th century, written by a great Russian poet and writer. Although many years have passed since it was written, the “hero” has not lost his relevance- perhaps he is even more relevant nowadays. In the novel you can see so many features that are inherent in modern “heroes”. Places have been altered and exaggerated- but they don’t lose their significance. And of course, it is just an interesting and exciting read.
Tamara Pashinova, English teacher
Our English teacher, Tamara Pashinova, tells us what’s on her bookshelf, speaking of characters and events so tenderly that I want to sit down and read one of these books straight away.
“The Two Captains”, Veniamin Kaverin
I have loved this book since I was a child. For me the main characters are Sasha Grinev and Katya Tatarinova- a model of manliness, courage, honesty, dignity. I have always thought that Alexander Grinev is the perfect man. I also adore the atmosphere of old Moscow in this book.
“Medea and Her Students”, Lyudmila Ulitskaya
It took me a long time to decide which of Ulitskaya’s books is my favourite. She has a lot of good ones. I got to know the author through Medea and, although I read the book over 5 years ago, I still remember that very warm feeling it gave me (perhaps that was because it took place during the summer in Crimea). The novel tells the story of a family whose members live very different lives but in the summer they all gather in a house that is very dear to them all. It is a calm book, pleasantly and effortlessly evoking the atmosphere of a Crimean summer. Now I’ve thought about it again, I want to go there.
“Nine Stories”, J. D. Salinger
Everyone knows Salinger for “Catcher in the Rye” but in my opinion, “Nine Stories” is a much deeper and more piercing novel. It is almost offensive that “The Catcher in the Rye” in some ways overshadows the rest of Salinger’s works. It’s hard to say exactly what these stories are about. I find them to be about loneliness- not about oppression, which we need to fight against- but about loneliness as the natural state of a person. I really love the story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”. Salinger has a magic style; he really speaks to the heart.
“The Compromise”, “Ours”, “The Zone”, “Pushkin Hills”, Dovlatov
I love all of Sergei Dovlatov’s works. He has a magnificent sense of humour. I sometimes re-read his works to lift my mood.
“Flowers for Algernon”, Daniel Keyes
A very, very touching story. For me it is a reminder of how much is given to us and how shameful and dishonest it is to not use our abilities due to laziness, scepticism or anything else.