Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Some Thoughts on Classics

I'd wanted to read something by Fyodor Dostoevsky for maybe five years now. I don't think I've read a single piece of Russian literature. I tried to read Notes from Underground once but I couldn't get into it for some reason. Every winter seems like the time to do it, and around Christmas I decided I wanted to plunge into Crime and Punishment (which I discovered was ironic because the entire novel takes place in the hot summer—spoiler alert!). For the last couple years I couldn't make it happen because I was too preoccupied with the fiction I was reading in my book club, but in December my book club called it quits and I decided—in a really difficult, complicated phase of my life—I'd finally read Crime and Punishment.

I've always assumed C&P would be somewhat long, slow, dense, verbose—dated. I remember in that Freaks and Geeks episode where Sam has to read it in English because when given the choice to read what they wanted, all his classmates picked “non-serious” books, so they had to read Crime and Punishment almost as . . . punishment. When Sam's dad asks, one night before going to bed, how he likes it, Sam responds that everyone's names are hard to remember. (Which is true—everyone in Russia apparently has at least three different names: a first and last [I think?], which are always both used, and then like a nickname which often sounds absolutely nothing like either of the other ones. Dostoevsky switches back and forth with seemingly no rhyme or reason. For example, Avdotya Romanovna is usually referred to as Dunya. Sometimes Dunechka. It feels like if my name was Charleskovna Pugslanovich, but most people called me Greg. It's not a judgment; it's just interesting.)

But it reads surprisingly smoothly and easily. I think it helped that I read a fairly new translation (pictured), in which the translators have included lots of helpful contextual information. And if I left off reading it for a week, it was always easy to pick right back up again. I've always tended toward fiction written like this: simply, with quick descriptions of the setting (lots of bare, dingy apartment rooms in this one), with inciteful, easy-to-relate-to descriptions of characters' thought processes and behavior. And I've always loved existentialism, which I think kind of goes hand-in-hand with the style I'm talking about.

Just before starting C&P I'd finished The Outsider by Richard Wright, whose claim to fame was his scathing fictitious examination of race in America, Native Son—one of my very favorite novels. But The Outsider took what Wright was saying with Native Son a few steps further, and reached into depths I hardly thought possible in a novel. It was so huge and sweeping, so engaging in a thrilling way, but at the same time, so expertly crafted and meticulously schemed. C&P feels a lot like that book to me, and I'd be very surprised if Wright hadn't been influenced by it. By way of an unthinkable, yet at the same time everyday behavior—namely murder (spoiler alert! But really it's no secret that C&P is about murder)—both novels explore the complexities and inherent contradictions in our advanced, civilized existence, peeling back the layers that most novels (and people) are afraid to examine. They both shove a big mirror in the reader's face, and at many points it's hard to keep reading, because it's hard to look, because it's ugly.


The aforementioned book club went strong for two and a half years and thirty-one books. We called it the Men's Feminist Book Club, and it was an important source of joy in my life. I had the idea of starting it one day when I was spending time with my friend Brad, right after I moved back to Columbus in the summer of 2015. I very badly wanted to start a book club, but I didn't know how to narrow it down to something specific enough that it could sustain itself—a purpose for it to have. (Without a purpose it's hard to keep up momentum in a book club, to keep morale high.) Then in what felt like an instant I realized what I wanted. I wanted to read as many feminist novels as possible, but with people who considered themselves men. Not to exclude women necessarily, because that's never my first thought; I'm a person who usually feels more comfortable around women than men—maybe because I grew up with sisters. But I wanted to create a space where we could discuss these books seriously, but also with vulnerbility. I wanted to attract men to the club who might not otherwise read these books, and who could quickly learn, yes, that they have a lot to learn—but also that that's okay. And we'd all be along for the ride together. Maybe I'm starting to sound a bit sentimental; that's probably because I am. I'll never forget that book club, and many of the conversations we had. I love all those men very much, and I'm grateful to them for their time and effort and willingness to get as real as we got. In retrospect it seems ironic that I was the one who ended it. Like I said, I was going through a very complicated, difficult time. I needed to scale back on some things, take inventory, and re-evaluate everything. Even book club.

But my reason for bringing up book club, and I swear I'll get to the point eventually, is to emphasize how very liberating and refreshing it was to read nothing by white men for such a long time. I remember hearing of women being public on their blogs about their plans to quit reading anything by a man for a year, and the swift and violent backlash they received from wounded male readers. Oy. Every piece of media we consume is male-dominated, because every media industry is male-dominated. That's how industry works. If it were female-dominated, it would be called something else. I digress. Anyway, I'm grateful for those women who were brave enough to do it first, and honestly folks, it shouldn't be that radical of an idea! Think of how man-heavy the books you read as a kid in school were. We can think of reading only women for a year as an attempt at balancing the scales, but I'm sure overall the tally would still be in the men's favor.


But at the same time, I want to defend “the classics,” but maybe not in the way you might think. I think many people have become disillusioned with them, and for good reason. They're drilled into us when we're adolescents—people who want to do anything but sit still and read. We have to write five-paragraph essays about them, in institutions that bear striking similarities to prisons: schools. And as might be obvious, they are predominantly written by dead white men. (Although some important female exceptions spring to mind: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, etc. Still, all white.)

Classics have achieved the status they have for good reason: they are well-written. And often when I read them now as a much more open-minded adult than I was an adolescent, I am stricken with how subversive they are. I wish I had been better able to engage with their words and ideas in high school, because in retrospect it feels like my teachers were nudging me with their elbows, trying to explain something to me about how fucked up our world really is, or how profoundly absurd or beautiful it is. But I was too distracted to hear. Often I didn't even read the book. And although the language of these books can make them feel dated, the messages never weaken with time. C&P and many other novels feel like downright premonitions sometimes.

I think maybe where we get tripped up on classics is in prejudging their white male authors for their white maleness. I think it's important to remember that these men were of their time, and not bad people necessarily. (Although I don't put much stock in the idea that some people are “bad” and some are “good,” but that's perhaps for another essay entirely.) Instead of deciding not to read anything by, say, John Steinbeck because of his less-than-super-respectful views of women that he gives us whiffs of from time to time, we can bear them in mind as we critically read his beautiful books, remembering that all people are flawed. I'd hate for someone to pass up the opportunity to read The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden because they didn't want to read anything by white men.

Then again, I'm not here to judge what people read, and in the time somone decides to not read The Grapes of Wrath, they can easily read something just as beautiful. And do I consider John Steinbeck more “classic” than, say, Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Nella Larsen or Gloria Naylor or—hell!—Octavia Butler? Absolutely fucking not. I still don't understand why so much black American fiction must be relegated to the status of black American fiction, as opposed to simply classic American fiction or modern American fiction or whatever pretentious academic words you wish to hold things up with. If The Color Purple isn't a classic, I don't know what is. It's as good as anything written in the English language.

Again, I digress. But I suppose the point I'm getting to is that I've found it unhelpful to be prescriptive for things like what one should or shouldn't do with their time, with their attention. People can read whatever calls to them. But I do think it's important to read whatever we read with a critical eye. To ask ourselves why a writer chose to write that way, why they chose to paint certain people a certain way. To perhaps not narrow ourselves down to a certain kind of book or certain style of writing, but to be open to something new. And when we do, to be critical and forgiving at the same time. This is the place where I feel like I get the most out of what I read.

Zine Workshop at ILLIO on March 9th

I feel like I've talked with lots of people in Columbus who've been wanting to make a zine. But I think zines can feel like daunting projects without any solidarity--because when we look around, no one else seems to be making them! But there is an ever-expanding zine culture in Columbus, and I'd love if we could come together more often. In that spirit, I'm hosting a zine workshop on Friday March 9th at It Looks Like It's Open in Clintonville. It'll be a relaxed, fun time--where people can bring their projects to work on, whether they know exactly what they're doing, they need a little help, or they need a lot of help. You can learn new ways of getting creative, or talk to no one at all--it's your choice! If you have things to cut up--like old National Geographics, security envelopes, books with great illustrations, whatever--please bring them! Starts at 7 pm.

Panel discussion, Resistance + Refuge: Bookstores + Libraries

I am very excited to be on a panel to discuss bookstores and libraries as spaces of resistance and refuge as part of the Flyover Fest this weekend! The fest takes place all weekend at Used Kids Records, Wild Goose Creative, and Rambling House Soda. I'll be at Rambling House from 11-5 on Saturday May 13th for the book fair, and the panel will be there at 4:00. From the Flyover Fest website: "In an environment seen by millions as regressive, learn how bookstores and libraries are places of activism and refuge. Moderated by Bryan Loar and Andrea Dixon of Cbus Libraries, featuring Charlie Pugsley of Bookspace, Linda Kass of Gramercy Books, and Angela Grandstaff of Columbus Metropolitan Library." Click here for the Flyover Fest website, here for the Cbus Libraries page on the event, and here for the Facebook even page.


Interview with Off the Beaten Shelf's Mandy Sunnarah

Hi y'all! It's been a while since I've posted in the blog. But I was interviewed by Columbus blogger Mandy Shunnarah about Bookspace, books, and me. Her blog, Off the Beaten Shelf, is really nice and it's wonderful to see and meet other people in this city who are passionate about books. Also doesn't hurt that she is a very kind person who loves cats. Anyway, check it out here.

Fundraiser for Bloomington's Boxcar Books

Please consider helping out Bloomington, Indiana's Boxcar Books. They run the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project and are probably the coolest bookstore in the midwest. Due to some recent setbacks and policy changes in the area, they need some help staying alive. They are a vital resource to their community and to see them go would be tragic. Click here for more information and to donate. Support independent bookstores!

Book Clubs!

We are super psyched to announce that we're now facilitating three awesome book clubs! Go to our new Book Clubs page for more information and to get involved with one!

Bookspace podcast interview from Independents' Day 2016

I was interviewed by Amy and Burke of the Columbus! Something New podcast at Independents' Day a couple weeks ago, about Bookspace and books and lots of other cool stuff! You can listen to it by clicking here; the interview begins at about the 7:45 point.

Reading at Stauf's in German Village on August 18th!

Next Thursday August 18th, Bookspace and the Book Loft are co-hosting a reading at Stuaf's in German Village to celebrate the release of local author Andrew Miller's new book If Only the Names Were Changed. To back up Andrew we have a slew of incredible local writers reading as well: Hannah Stephenson, Sommer Marie Sterud, Scott Navicky, and Nancy Kangas. And we will be there selling our great selection of new and used books and zines, so come check it out! Click here for the facebook event page.

Recover Orlando benefit at Strongwater this Monday, June 27th

We will be selling books at a benefit for the victims and families of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The event will feature live music from Nick D and the Believers and New Thousand, as well as food trucks, drinks, art, and activity tables. It will be an opportunity for the city of Columbus to come together to pay their respects, provide solidarity and support for the victims and their families, and take a small step in working toward a better country and world by uniting in action and love. Along with all other vendors, a portion of our proceeds will go to Equality Florida. This event is organized by our good friends at Loose Films and sponsored by Stonewall Columbus. 401 W Town St; the event lasts from 6:30-9:30. Click here for more information.

Bookspace's last day at Studio 595 10% off BLOWOUT!!

We're having a huge 10% off everything sale this Saturday June 18th because we're moving out of Studio 595! It's been a lovely 3 1/2 months and we say goodbye with a sad heart. But we must move on to new things, and it's been such a wonderful way to gain experience managing our own shop that we will bring into the future. From here the plan is to continue selling quality used & new books & zines at flea markets around Columbus, and hosting poetry readings and other community-building events. We will eventually occupy a bookstore/event space of our own, but we have lots of work before we can make that dream a reality. Click here for the facebook event for more info.

Flea markets this weekend!

I feel like it's been a while since I posted about flea markets around town--but the market scene has been poppin'! There are two this weekend that we're participating in and I thought I'd let y'all know about 'em (click on the event name for the corresponding facebook page for more info):

-Saturday, June 11th: the Moonlight Market on Gay Street downtown, 6-11 pm

-Sunday, June 12th: the Cassady Collective Block Party in Bexley, 1-5 pm

(The shop will be closed both days.) Come say hi and check out our sweet books and zines!

A talk about reading and books at Bookspace on June 15th!

On Wednesday June 15th we're hosting a workshop/talk about reading and books led by yours truly, Charlie Pugsley. The flyer on the right pretty much gives you all the info you need, but I'm mostly trying to reach out to people who would either like to read more than they are and could use some tips and tricks to get going, or who would simply like to shift their perspective on some things like books, art, movies, mindfulness, technology, empathy, reality v. fiction, culture, learning, etc. This event is absolutely FREE, and it will most likely be the very last event we host at this location--so come check it out, people! Click here for the facebook event page.

Reading/show at Bookspace on June 4th!

On Saturday June 4th we're hosting an event featuring some lovely readers and music makers for your early summer enjoyment. This will most likely be the last event like this at the current Bookspace location (Studio 595), so make sure to come! Tess Pugsley is coming out of poetry retirement with some sweet new material for this one, and who knows if that'll happen again! And of course the Bookspace shop will be open during the event for anyone who wants to browse through our wonderful selection of books and zines. Click here for the facebook event page.

Monster House Press reading 4.11.2016!

Thanks to all the lovely readers who came to Bookspace on Monday to share their words!--including Michelle, Wendy, and Morgan as part of their Psychogynecology/Pretty Pretty Prison reading tour! And a huge thanks to everyone who came out to support the readers and Bookspace! If anyone is interested in any of the readers' books, they are in stock in the shop.

Monster House Press poetry reading at Bookspace on April 11th!

On Monday April 11th we're hosting another fantastic reading, this time at the beautiful shared workspace where the Bookspace shop is--Studio 595! For anyone who attended the last reading (or even if you didn't), you don't want to miss this one! There'll be five lovely readers who have books out on Bloomington's Monster House Press, plus one Columbus ex-pat in Yellow Springs. You'll be able to check out the Bookspace shop if you haven't already, and as usual, we'll have some free snacks and drinks available for everyone who comes. Click here for the facebook event page.

Bookspace shop at Studio 595 is OPEN!!!

The shop at 595 3 3rd St in German Village opened on Wednesday! The space will always be evolving, but here are some photos of the shop in its infancy. A big, huge thank-you to all my friends who have helped support the idea of Bookspace and to make it a reality! Right now we're having a sale on all NEW books: 20% off paperbacks and 40% off hardbacks!!! Come on by and check it out! Hours of operation: Wed-Sat, 11am-4pm. 

Benefit reading at ILLIO 2.27.2016!

A big, extra special thanks to everyone who came out Saturday to show your support for all the lovely readers and for Bookspace! And thanks again to all the readers--I think we can all agree how appreciated it is to see and hear you stand up in front of a big group of people and get vulnerable and real! I just enjoyed it SO much! It was truly a humbling and inspiring night--we'll have to do it again soon!

Pop-up shop in Studio 595 opening March 2nd!

I am very excited to announce that Bookspace finally has a physical shop! The plan is still to eventually open a full-sized shop/space in Old North, but for probably six months or so Bookspace will occupy a room in Studio 595 in German Village--a creative coworking space at 595 S 3rd St, very near the Book Loft! Opening day is Wednesday March 2nd and our hours will be Wednesday--Saturday, 11 am--4 pm! Photos forthcoming as we deck out the space with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lovely books and zines!

With Poetry reading at Milo Arts 2.7.2016!

I want to thank the kind folks from the With Poetry Reading Series and poets Joy Sullivan and Jeff Tigchelaar for inviting Bookspace to be a part of your lovely event on Sunday! Click here for more information on With Poetry, and stay tuned for another reading in the next couple months!