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December 1, 1998

What Do Russians Read?

[Editor's note: Julia Urackcheeva is a second-year university student in Rostov-on-Don, Mobile's sister city. Julia will be filing stories periodically about cultural life in Russia.]

by Julia Urackcheeva

Once the USSR was the most "reading" country in the world. Having a good collection of books showed good taste.

Now we read less. There are many reasons why, but only some of them are clear: The prevalence of TV, bad conditions in most of libraries, etc.

But still Russians enjoy reading.

About three years ago in Rostov, a book-fair was established. It takes place every Friday-Saturday - the whole night! It is a very popular place. Thousands of citizens come here just to have a good time. In Summer there is a crowd even late at night. You can find almost any book - any novel, any dictionary, any encyclopedia, or magazine, new ones, old ones... So -


The classics are read in childhood. For instance, the average Russian may study Dostoyevsky at school and then never turn to his novels again.

Memoirs are rather popular now. At the end of the century, famous artists, film-stars, and all those who have something to remember, tell their life-stories.

In the middle of the 80', when there was starting to be freedom, Russians enthusiastically read the truth about repressions, such as Stalin's secret affairs and the unmasking of the former Soviet bureaucracy. In Alexander Solgenitsin' books, people were finding the frightening facts. But now the revealings of the past are not astonishing anymore. There are no more secrets, no more idols, due to the freedom of speech.

Philosophical works by Hegel, Kant, Kafka (as well as Freud's psychological works) are among the bestsellers. The interest in European philosophers is also the result of the "ideological hunger." For many years of the Soviet epoch, Marxism-Leninism was the only admissible philosophy. Every library had the numerous volumes of Marx-Engels-Lenin' compositions. Those three were studied in each high school. Now these volumes are covered with dust...

Still a bulk of people read to relax.

Housewives watching soap-operas on TV look for the same stories in books, too. Common-size and pocket-size, thin and thick, in bright shining covers, all those "Seasons Of Passion" and "Indomitable Marianna"s - the publishing industry releases a huge amount of that kind of novels.

Men spend an evening with 'harsh' thrillers depicting present day Russian life (instead of once popular American crime stories).


There are plenty of periodicals in Russia. In Rostov we have more than ten local newspapers.

A few years ago many 'intellectual' families subscribed to 4 or 5 papers and 2 or 3 magazines for everyone in the family. The subscription rates were rather cheap. Russian intellectuals have always been reading "thick magazines"- literature almanacs, such as, Novy Mir, Neva, Zvezda - which contain new Russian writings, foreign bestsellers, reviews. Some of those magazines don't exist now. Others became more expensive but still have their regular readers.

Now a family usually subscribes to 1 or 2 editions. The most widely read ones are Komsomolskaya Pravda and Arguments & Facts. We also like international magazines - Cosmopolitan, Elle, and ten more. About a year ago new magazine Itogi appeared - it's the Russian analogue to Newsweek.

Only one thing is not in legal sale - pornography.

Of course some Russians never turn to books. There is a joke: Two lieutenants are thinking over a present for their captain's birthday. One says "Let's buy a book!" The other replies, "No, he's already got one."

But most of us got used to reading, analyzing, and respecting the printed word; most of us are sure that there is no intelligence without reading, to give us what the schools are unable to give.

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