Picture the scene: it’s February 2012. You’re in Waterstones in Piccadilly. You’re wandering around, browsing aimlessly, not really focusing on one thing or the other. Maybe you’ve got something on your mind. Did you lock the door? You’re pretty sure you locked the door. But then, you were on the phone when you left, so maybe… huh, there’s a lot of books in Russian here. Weird.
Anyway, you need to remember to pick up something for dinner before you… no, seriously, like, all of these books are in Russian. Nobody else around you is batting an eye at this. They’re all browsing quite happily. Some are reading books of poetry and letting out wryly ostentatious chuckles to let passers-by know they get it. It’s just like every other lazy Sunday afternoon in Waterstones, but with a significantly higher Cyrillic character count.
What’s going on? Have you fallen asleep watching Red Dawn again? Turning around repeatedly in a confused circle like you’ve always seen people do in movies when they start to hit this level of panic, you accidentally bump into a member of staff. He cheerfully turns to you and asks ‘Moguoo li ya vam pomochj?’
You run screaming from the shop like the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers has come true and isn’t just a metaphor anymore. Then you remember that you read this article on BookMachine a couple of weeks earlier about how Waterstones is opening a Russian bookshop within its Piccadilly branch at some point in February 2012, that your knowledge of Russia ends with the Cold War and that you should probably get over your latent xenophobia by going home and watching Doctor Zhivago with a bottle of vodka. Again.
Yes, Waterstones Piccadilly will, from next month, operate within its walls a self-contained Russian bookshop going by the name ‘Slova’, the Russian for ‘Words’. They’re to the point, these Russians. It will stock thousands of Russian titles and be staffed by Russian-speaking booksellers, to give it that real Omsk away from Omsk feel for what MD James Daunt calls ‘Russophiles, and the large, vibrant Russian community in London’.
Waterstones is, of course, now owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut’s A&NN Group, so it makes sense that it’s this particular cultural demographic of London that’s now being given its own quarters within Waterstones and not, say, the presumably thriving population of ex-pats from Tuvalu.
It should also come as no surprise that Slova will stock a healthy supply of titles from Azbooka-Atticus, a Russian publisher part-owned by one A. Mamut. Huh, that’s sure a funny coincidence! Say, you don’t think… no, surely not. That’s just your paranoid Cold War xenophobia acting up again. Drink up and get that dealt with.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.