Dodo Magic Bookroom in Moscow, is five years old. They’re owned and run by six avid readers and professionals of publishing, including Shashi Martynova, a Russian translator who has put what she calls her whole life energy into the world of books. She believes in the power of the word to educate, as well as entertain, and she wants to ensure that books cross language barriers to reach as many people as possible—to free their minds, and make them laugh. For instance, Dodo is also a publishing house, and they’ve published the only book on Monty Python in the Russian language.
“It all began fifteen years ago,” Shashi says, “When I first prepared a very thick encyclopedia for print professionally. Some people in Russia say it’s quite difficult to get into the publishing industry, but once you’re in, it’s impossible to get out again. It captures you somehow.
“So, my friends set up a publishing house, and I happily ran it for them for six years. However, in 2009, I felt as though I really needed to go to the other side—to the post-production side. I wanted to see what happened there. I couldn’t shake the image and history of Shakespeare and Company out of my brain, and Magma Books too. I had to do it myself. There is also something about Lewis Carroll that encouraged me to make the change. He’s got a bit of a cult here in Russia, and a huge artistic following. Something about escape, new worlds and crazy imagination. There are so many different translations and illustrated editions of Alice here. Pretty much all of my generation in Russia grew up on it. So, I wanted to create a bookshop somewhat in its image. The Dodo in our shop name is from Alice in Wonderland and it’s also a play on words to jokingly symbolise the book industry in general—paperback books very much live on, despite what others might say.
“My plan was to open a type of bookshop that doesn’t really exist in Russia: a non-serious, but playfully profound, bookshop. Because Russians are generally damn-serious people; you can’t really fool around being Russian. Yet we wanted to try because, after all, reading is like a fun drug— only safe, legal and cheap!
“So, that’s what we did. We started off as one bookshop, and now we’re five bookshops (we’ve opened one a year across the city since starting). Each bookshop is pretty tiny, about eighty square metres, and not more than 10,000 books per place. We call our bookshops places where you can buy fairy tales for any age: Tolkien, Lewis and Gaiman... and pretty much anything legendary from world literature, stories with a twist, anything picturesque and weird.
“One of our bookshops is inside a cinema—there we have books on screenplays and visual art. Another one is in a huge cultural centre for children, so there we have more of literature on parenting and children’s arts and crafts, and we have two small bookshops within other department stores. The latter are to help keep our other stores open, and to spread the name of our brand.
“We manage to enjoy this survival trip. We do a lot of educational work, e.g. lectures and seminars on anything from literary studies to theory of communication, and we do city games, too—quests based on literature. This works really well with our customers, especially with youngsters.
“Bookselling is not about money; we need money to keep doing it, but it’s not our driving force; it’s not our passion. Post-Soviet publishing and bookselling is only twenty something years old here, so us being five years old is really cool to us. Our passion is in the word, the power of the word, its freedom and the ability of stories to take us to other places. To free our minds. To live as many lives at once, as the speed of mindful reading allows. That is what excites me, and everyone else who works here, and that is what encourages us to keep doing what we do.”