Moscow Books Project, a reading club and community of conscious readers has existed for nearly four years now, continuously developing step by step. It was created for people who not only love reading, but who also try to find answers to common existential questions in books. I would say, Books Project is an intellectual rill, which is desperately missing in our lives.
Moskvaer talked to the founder of the project Maria Kislitsyna about the purposes of the community and her own goals, reading and the possibility of making a business of it, age and self-discipline and much more.
MOSKVAER: Maria, when I viewed the Books Project Facebook page, my first thought was: Thank God, someone was finally blessed with this simple and genius idea–to gather and read and discuss books. Years ago I did the same thing with my friends, calling ourselves a Nerd Club. So then, when I initiated this activity, I was lead by a sort of faith in my own educational mission in the world. But please don’t laugh at me, I truly thought that if not me, then who? So, what is your personal goal in that story and what are the Books Project’s particular tasks?
MARIA: Oh, I’m pleased to hear such an accurately put question. Usually there is everything mixed up together–goals, mission, tasks.
So my personal goal in terms of the Books Project is self realization. The thing is that I am deeply interested in two phenomenons in life: people (or better to say, humans) and books. Books, because they help to find out, what is human.
Talking about the community’s tasks, I think that the time of projects with one unified task for all the participants is gone. We provide the mechanism, but everyone has to decide for themselves how will it be used, and for what purposes.
By reading, one learns different languages (Plato’s language, Dostoevsky’s, the language of genetics, ethology, psychology), and then with those languages he can describe what is going on with himself. To describe means to get a chance to understand. To understand means to get an opportunity to solve his or her own private issue. An issue of self identity, freedom of choice, the development of happiness or finding love–it may be whatever.
M: How would you describe your target audience? Are there any kinds of filters?
MARIA: The main audience is people seeking an answer to the question “Why?”. Many of our readers that have already made decent money and have children, suddenly turned around and asked themselves: “What did I make all that for? Where am I going?”. I think those questions bother a minority of modern people. So there can be lots of participants in our community–those people that are ready for a serious search…
Apparently, when one becomes nervous because of traffic or the exchange rate, gets offended by a boss or relatives, one actually is stressed because of completely different things, but just can’t formulate the reason correctly.
It’s just impossible to actually be angry about traffic, the reason is always somehow deeper. And our filters are related to that, they are kind of natural. Some are ready to hear that the problem is not in the outer world, but that it is always inside, and others are not ready. And those, who are not, won’t stay. They will make up some reason and leave, and that’s fine. It’s understandable. Everything should be on time. One has to accumulate potential energy before they are able to start working on self-improvement.
M: What are the conditions of participation in the project? When registering for an introductory meeting I was informed that “the first meeting is for free.” How much does continued participation cost?
MARIA: Four meetings costs 5,000 rubles.
M: So it is a project with a commercial perspective?
MARIA: Yes, both for organizers and participants. About 40% of the readers have significantly improved their financial affairs being able to look at the possibilities with a refreshed view and to allow themselves to start earning decently, thanks to the Books Project.
M: Who picks up the books for your project? On what basis do you choose the authors?
MARIA: Our first large group studied for two years, during which we worked out a drawn up program with the first readers. Sometimes we add new texts according to the advice of readers.
Now we have three basic programs: a classical program (of which I will tell a bit more), business literature (for professional communities) and fiction (Russian and foreign classics).
The classical program is divided into two blocks. The first block contains books that are contemplating humans from different perspectives: psychology, ethology, military strategy, semiotics, philosophy. The second block contains books whose authors speculate about what a human is able to do. The purpose of humans and how to identify that purpose.
The books are selected in such a way that their authors are contradictory of one another, so the reader is able to select which view is more convincing to him, and whose ideas are more fit to become the base for his worldview.
We start the first block with Games People Play by Eric Berne, and we finish the second block with Merab Mamardashvili’s series of lectures Psychological Topology Path. A full list can be found on the website or on our Facebook page. The group administrator will be happy to give any comments on the texts of the program.
M: Tell us a little more about the mechanism of collective reading. If you plan to meet once a week, does that mean that there will be some designated volume to be necessary to read by a certain date? Or how else is the discipline of the project built, if such a word is appropriate here…
MARIA: In practice, our project offers to meet weekly in groups of 7-10 people and the discussion is supposed to last about 2 hours. Every week we will offer a certain amount of pages to read. To read or not to read is everyone’s private business, but we agreed that one book takes about two months on average.
However, you correctly ‘stumbled’ onto the word ‘discipline’. We are a community for adults. We are pleased, if necessary, to support each other, but we are not ready to take care of people and manage them. In general, I think, one can not give anything to another. A person can only take things by him\herself. From books as well.
However, people who understand the meaning of their participation in the project, read with pleasure. Reading is exciting, isn’t it one of the major pleasures of life?
M: How acute, in your opinion, is the issue of conscious reading nowadays? Do you feel, at some point, the decline of interest in literature within your environment, or is it more of a complaints inertia, sort of ‘the grass was greener’?
MARIA: If consciousness existed, there would be no problems.
There is a theory that we live in an era of instantaneous Internet-related invention. It implies that now everything that does not bring immediate results, is swept aside. Which explains many separations and bankruptcies. Few people are willing to invest for long terms. Conscious reading, as well as self-improvement work, is always a slow process. Therefore, we read slowly, making notes.
M: In recent years we’ve sees quite an aggressive policy toward the access to information in Russia. Literature was also put under fire–well, in some cases, it literally was. You might remember some unimaginable book-burning rituals, in addition to library closures, the controversy surrounding school literature programs… Where do we go in terms of education, what do you think?
MARIA: Of course, now the book How to cook pilaf is much easier to buy than, for example, to work with the title General Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. We move in the direction of getting pleasure here and now, in the direction of the increased amount of information and informational trash around.
Sixty years ago Marshall McLuhan wrote that we are going to unite our nervous systems into one. It happened. Now the whole world is going through the divorce of Pitt and Jolie. Although it would seem, ‘What is Hecuba to him?’. McLuhan would say that there is no longer a separate and private Jolie or Masha. Now everything is within one large matrix.
A return to the so-called big text, serious text, is a return to individuality. Every year it becomes less and less possible. But as long as we have books and an inner desire to know ourselves, there is still a chance to escape from the matrix. Not all together maybe, but each on our own.