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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Crushing The Myth of Russian Readers




Last week I wrote that "once again it looks like books are spiritual bread for Russians, just like in the Soviet Union, which boasted the status of the nation that reads the most in the world." I'm afraid that even if this is true of Muscovites and St. Petersburg residents, it was over-optimistic for the country as a whole.


Earlier this week VTsIOM, the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, published the results of a recent survey. The situation is not very bright.


One-third of Russians don't read books at all. Gender doesn't matter, but age does: Among the non-reading Russians, 20 percent come from the age group under 24, while 60 percent are over 55. What do all those pensioners do all day? They can't watch television the whole time, can they?


Taking the Russian Federation as a whole, even people with university degrees spoil my bright picture: one-seventh of Russians with higher education don't read!


What is, perhaps, even worse is the shift of reading interests among those "highbrows" who answered that they do read books: Forty-one percent prefer crime novels and another 25 percent are addicted to romances.


Using the arithmetic of the survey, this means that among 66 percent of Russians who read books, 66 percent prefer the "lighter genres," and only every 10th citizen is ready to spend some time with something heavier than mass or pulp fiction.


That is not much, is it?


After all these figures I hesitate to write here about "serious" bestsellers. Better do it next week, and devote the remaining space to people's pulp favorites.


The grand master of the crime genre, Nikolai Leonov, died earlier this month. Last year he presented his readers with a couple of new novels featuring his beloved hero, Inspector Gurov - "My s toboi odnoi krovi" ("You and I Have the Same Blood") and "Odin i bez oruzhiya" ("Alone Without a Weapon").


Alexandra Marinina, unjustly called "the Russian Agatha Christie," last September published her 21st bestseller, "Requiem," which had a record-high print run of 250,000 hardcover copies. Two weeks ago she released her 22nd novel, "Prizrak muzyki" ("The Music Phantom").


Fridrikh Neznansky, assisted, rumor has it, by a team of ghostwriters, last month released about half a dozen new bestsellers with his hero, the investigator Turetsky. The latest two are "Igra po krupnomu" ("High Stakes") and "Chorniye bankiry" ("Shady Bankers").


And finally, the only non-Muscovite in the list, the very popular Andrei Kivinov from St. Petersburg, made millions of his fans happy last November with another book, "Ubivat' podano" ("Murder Is Served"), in his series about "ordinary" Russian policemen, usually called "menty."