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COLUMNISTSRSS

The most reading country in the world?

by at 14/08/2008 23:00

Will the new outdoor advertisement campaign in the streets of Moscow help Russia to regain the status of "the most reading country in the world"?

In Soviet times, the fact that the numbers of books published in the country was bigger than in any other country on earth was often used by the communist ideologues to underscore the Soviet Union's superiority in all areas, including culture and education.

The status of "the most reading country in the world" was a fake, though, as many books of those published were collections of speeches and articles by Com­munist Party top leadership, which no one really read, and a lot of others were mere garbage.

Once the capitalist economy took over in the early 1990s, Russia immediately ceased to be a country where people read more books than anywhere else in the world. But still, Russia is a country where people read a lot. And, maybe it is possible to make people read even more?

A few years ago, some publishing house came up with a book series titled "Reading is Fashionable," apparently in a bid to attract younger people - those who'd willingly do what is "fashionable."

I don't know how successful the introduction of that series was, but reading never actually became fashionable here to the extent publishers and culture authorities would probably want it.

Complaints that the younger generation doesn't like to read, preferring TV, the Internet and mobile gadgets, became stereotypical long ago. And discussion of why that is happening is far beyond this particular column. Meanwhile, efforts are made to propagate reading, and one of the recent examples is an outdoor ad campaign in the center of Moscow.

Recently, I saw a bunch of expensive-looking billboards fixed at street lamp-posts, with portraits of well known domestic authors - from veteran poet Yevgeny Yevtu­shenko to popular science fiction author Sergei Lukyanenko - and their quotes in favor of reading.

I was unable to find out much about that ad campaign, but regardless of whether it was funded by Moscow authorities or the federal government, and which particular ad agency was commissioned to run the campaign, quite a lot of cash was apparently spent on it. No one would do that sort of "social" ad campaign for free. And, predictably, I asked myself the question if the cash could be spent in a better way.

Trying to think about possible ramifications of that ad campaign, I don't think there would be any. You can persuade people to stop smoking by showing them pictures of people dying of lung cancer, but trying to persuade people to read just doesn't seem to work. People will read more when there are more good books that they would be interested in reading, that's simple. So, maybe city and federal money should rather be spent on improving the work of the book industry, which seems to have enough problems, high retail prices for books and unauthorized distribution online being just a few of them?

By coincidence, the ad campaign propagating reading started around the time of the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Public reaction to his death was probably adequate to the writer's importance, but in essence, it seldom went beyond stereotypes about "the end of an epoch" and hypocrisy. A lot of political and public figures who commented on his death didn't probably hadn't read much of Solzhenitsyn's work, and certainly no one mentioned the fact that over the last years, Solzhenitsyn's ideas weren't taken seriously in the Russian mainstream political and cultural life.

A similar element of hypocrisy could be seen in the ad campaign propagating reading: it's easier to do something visible than something truly effective. 

By Vladimir Kozlov

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