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Reading in Russia

16.July 2011

I often hear foreigners stating that Russians read much less now that 20 or 30 years ago. And of course there is some truth in this. If you take the tube, you will see some persons reading either newspapers or magazines, either books and something which has became quite common now electronic books, but with a more careful look, you’ll soon discover a whole generation playing with their phone and listening to music.

The most “reading” country in the world

Once Soviet Union was the most “reading” country in the world. But things have changed, TV took a larger place in every house, video and computer games are getting as popular as anywhere else; and simply, people have more money to enjoy other activities. Russians have replaced bookshelves by more modern hobbies.

Times have definitely changed in Russia, and the value systems we used to know have gradually disappeared. Education that was once a top priority has given way to opportunity and the power of money. And it became more important to choose friends and acquaintances among wealthy people, no matter their education level. And of course in order to get more money, people need to work more, taking on their reading time to do so.

It is important also to realise that during the Soviet period, some topics could hardly be mentioned, such as politics. Thus, talking about literature, was a way to still communicate, to share time with others safely.

What do Russian Read?

But I think the main point is not to know if Russians read more or less now than before, but what kind of literature they are reading now.

During the Soviet Union, you could find all Russian and foreign classics. Then came a time, after the collapse of Soviet Union when it became possible to find all kind of books, with of course what it implies with the quality of literature.

Bookshops were suddenly filled with beautiful, bright coloured covers’ books while classical literature was removed to darker corners. The language in literature changed in such a way that it became difficult to find something you would like. Critics, that one had once trusted for his good judgement lost their truthful readers as their new choices were hardly comprehensible to them.

Bookshops are still popular

But what still is amazing is the number of bookshops that can be found in Russia, especially in big cities. And the place is usually crowed, people being curious, they are still buying books, best sellers, practical books about cooking, fitness, or the best way to make money.

And if you want to find cheaper or more unusual books is to look on small stands standing on the street. In general, books which are sold there are a lot cheaper than in any shops, and you can find some really good stuff.

And don’t forget to have a look at children books. They have a wide range of them, and they are just great. Russians are extremely good in this genre, with beautiful drawings, pop-up books, great colour and an extraordinary imagination. It seems that childhood is never far from each of them.

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  1. I was very surprised in Moscow to see so many people using ebook readers on the subway. At first I was quite hesitant to use mine as I didn’t want it snatched out of my hands but after seeing the number of people safely reading, I started using mine as well.

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