When you start trying to transliterate old Russian records, you may not actually need a whole lot of reference works, but having reference works at hand will make you feel happier. One problem is that the language used in old Russian records and official notices tends to be a lot different from the "vodka, blini and taxi cab" Russian included in most Russian-English phrasebooks and translating dictionaries.
Your best bet might be to buy a small pocket dictionary with a page showing the Russian alphabet, then to check out the holdings of your local libraries and the nearest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family History Center.
Once you know what you can get for free, surf over to the Avotaynu Inc. genealogy publishing site with your credit cards fully charged.
One really helpful book is Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, $29.
I also make heavy use of Boris Feldblyum's Russian-Jewish Given Names: Their Origins and Variants, $35. If you have grown up in an Ashkenazic Jewish household, you should have an easy time recognizing most of the Jewish surnames given in 19th century Russian vital records, because they're your friends' surnames. The first names are a lot harder. How many Ovshiyas have you met? Feldbyum's book can fill in a lot of gaps.
You will also want a good road atlas, to help you identify some of the towns named in the records without having to use the JewishGen Shtetl Seeker every three minutes. The only good road atlas for Eastern Europe that I've found so far is the Ravenstein Road Atlas: East Europe Atlas, $15.95, which is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
Avotaynu also has some good maps on its site. The Ravenstein Verlag country road maps it sells show fewer towns than the East Europe road atlas, but the road maps do a better job of showing things like mountains and the boundaries of the Chernobyl ecological preserve.