A lot of Russians do not keep any books in their homes
Despite all the hardships and absurdities of the Soviet era, the Soviets were fully confident (and with good reason) that the USSR was a nation with the highest number of readers. The situation implied a high intellectual potential, an implicit sign of brighter future when we “catch up and leave them behind.” However, the situation changed dramatically after perestroika. Nowadays specialists are raising the alarm.
According to an opinion poll commissioned by the Federal Agency for Print Media and Mass Communications (Rospechat), more than a half of Russians do not buy books, one-third of Russian citizens do not keep any books in their homes, and 37 percent of population do not read any books at all.
Books are expensive these days. That is part of the reason behind the decrease in demand for books. A record number of readers (280 thousand) bought books at the latest Moscow Book Fair in September because the prices at the fair were 20-30 percent lower than in bookstores. An average Russian does not attend libraries either. It is hardly a surprise since libraries are normally underfinanced and receive just a few new books every year.
In terms of popularity, books are falling behind other leisure products e.g. TV, cinema and the Internet. Those products are regarded more “aggressive.” “Russians spend their free time on any anything but reading,” said Vladimir Grigoriev, an adviser to the head of Rospechat. “Slowly by surely, books are becoming something obsolete and irrelevant to an ordinary average family. This is really scary. The consequences will have a horrendous impact on the society,” said he.
Russia has maintained its position among the world's top five countries with the highest number of printings. In the meantime, there is a significant lag in the number of books per person in Russia. Books and magazines became practically unavailable to residents of small towns (population less than 100,000) and rural areas due to disintegration of a centralized book distribution network. As a result, more than 40 percent of all books printed in this country can not be delivered to provinces.
“Russia holds the 33rd place among 40 developed countries with regard to the quality of reading, the situation impacts, without doubt, in a negative way on the prospects of the country,” says the director general of Shkolnaya Biblioteka publishing house Tatyana Zhukova. “You can tell a well-read person by the manner of their thinking and speech. All culture components improve thanks to reading. Reading is very important to children. The future of Russia largely depends on intellectual competitiveness of its citizens. That is why the Russian Book Union intends to launch a national reading program. The union comprises big book publishers and traders,” said Mrs. Zhukova.
Unlike Western governments, Russian authorities are still reluctant to allocate funds for nationwide programs to promote reading. The Russian government intends to proclaim the year 2007 "The Year of Reading."
Professor Sergei Kapitsa, vice president of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, TV host:
“Russia that does not read mirrors the crisis of our culture, our concepts, our society. Unfortunately, nothing is being done to oppose it with some creative process. Take a look at our TV, for example. It is largely a gang of criminals who impudently got hold of the viewers' hearts and minds. Violence and cheap thrills are in 24-hour rotation on TV. What about programs about literature, music, fine arts? They can be found only on the fringes of big TV air. There is a saying going round the TV center these days: “We make money, and if you are looking for culture you can tune in Channel Culture.” Given the circumstances, why should we still cry out about the lack of interest in reading? It is amazing how people managed to keep their intellect alive.”
Valery Zolotukhin, an actor and writer:
“People usually read books and look for the meaning hidden underneath when they are certain of what tomorrow holds in store. Today's life, in my opinion, does not agree well with reading. People spend all their energy making both ends meet day by day. I personally prefer the books which are being talked about and those recommended to me by my friends."
Vladimir Dashkevich, a composer:
“The sad figures show the cultural degradation of our society. I would not worry much about older generations which stopped reading. They were given a good portion of knowledge while going to schools and institutes during the Soviet era. A real catastrophe is young people who do not read. They get to know life by means of TV, radio and computer games. It means a very superficial way of learning how things stand in this world. Only the book can provide them a deeper knowledge about the world and man. But the majority of young people do not read books. What will they have to offer to society when they finally step into the adult life? Where will they lead this country to?”
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