Buying books in Russian
As with buying books in general, there are two possibilities here: online and in person.
Again there are two possibilities: businesses in Russia and outside Russia. For online bookshops in Russia, you can usefully start with findbook, which will automatically search the catalogues of 27 online booksellers. (But some will not send books outside their own city, never mind abroad.)
Of these, I normally end up using Ozon.ru out of inertia, though I’ve also used books.ru in the past. I’ve not had any trouble with either of these, though it is interesting to note when someone has handwritten your address and a private return address and stuck on a load of stamps, presumably to make it look like something not worth stealing. (I’ve now completed some successful purchases from labirint as well.)
In general, I find that airmail postage and packing to the UK costs a bit more than the book itself. (Personally, I would avoid the DHL option.) All of these online stores have a lot of books in their catalogue that they turn out not to have at present on closer inspection, so you need to be a little bit careful.
Outside Russia, there are many shops that sell popular Russian books to the diaspora, but I don’t think I’ve used any that are still in existence.
If you want academic-type books, mippbooks can be very useful, especially since an awful lot of books are printed with very small print-runs so they disappear rather quickly. I’ve used them with success. There’s also PanRus, which appears to do the same kind of thing but more expensively, and Natasha Kozmenko–I’ve not used either of them. I did once send PanRus an email query about a book they were advertising and never got an answer.
Or if you want to search in mainstream booksellers as opposed to specialist Russian ones, you can brave the mysteries of differing systems of transliteration and try bookfinder .
Then there is Thornton’s, and also Marijana Dworski Books, who are very helpful and often have interesting Russian or Russian-related books. The Russkiy Mir place I mention below now has a separate website here for online sales, and they tend to have a lot more on their online catalogue than they do in the shop. UK postage is free if you spend £15 or more, and I’ve made a couple of successful online purchases from them. I’ve also had a recommendation for setbook.net, but never used them myself.
In person (starting from London, England)
The specialist shop would be Russkiy Mir in Goodge Street which looks promising, but I’ve yet to find anything I wanted to buy there. It’s located in a basement underneath a sex shop, and while I’m not saying that you have to go through the sex shop or anything–they’re completely separate businesses–you might wonder about the sheepish-looking men hanging around outside.
Then Foyle’s has now absorbed Grant & Cutler together with its Russian books, while Waterstones Piccadilly has now opened a Russian section which is rather good. You don’t have to leave your things in lockers as in a proper Russian bookshop, and it now has a sensible well-signposted home on the fourth floor, with the foreign-language and EFL books.
Meanwhile the European Bookshop has a small but sensible selection and the Russian/Baltic groceries you find around the place have a few thrillers…
I usually do the following if I want a particular book:
i) look to see if Russkiy Mir online have it;
ii) look on findbook to see if the book I want is generally available;
iii) if not, try mippbooks;
iv) if that doesn’t work, transliterate it into bookfinder;
v) if that doesn’t work, try Google (both Cyrillic and transliterated).
As with anything else you want to buy, you can always try eBay if all else fails. And the books there are less likely to be stolen property than most things I suppose.
There’s surely more to be said on this topic–comments will be welcome!
One final point is that the texts often appear for free on the Internet somewhere, so you can either read them onscreen or print them off. In many cases they’re posted quite legitimately by the authors themselves, since the parlous state of distribution means than no-one outside a lucky few in Moscow and St Petersburg is going to read them otherwise.
In spite of the preceding paragraph, Russian publishers don’t seem to be that keen on e-books as an alternative to hard copy, probably because they’re afraid of industrial-scale piracy. Lizok’s Bookshelf reports on some experience here, and as she indicates kniga.com has plenty of e-books on offer. A discussion on SEELANGS in January 2015 recommended LitRes for e-books.
The London Library has a very good–to me, surprisingly good–Russian collection. Membership is not cheap, but it does mean you don’t have to find space for all those books in your home.
Do write to me with any corrections or new information!
See here for selling Russian books, something I’ve never tried myself.