(This was part of a larger job to help a journalist to create a name for himself, and this little assignment is a good example of silly things I do for a living.)
3/4 of the lower half on display was children’s books. Two town papers. Three to five regional adaptations of national weeklies. A few monthlies. Two history novels. The entire back was was full of magazines on nothing but health, beauty, gardening, and astrology.
Next I stopped by the library, a municipal establishment that toes the party line. Of course it was first sports, the current craze, lots of Olympic stuff, several magazines on guns and tanks, a couple of church periodicals, and then health, beauty, gardening, religion, and astrology. These were books upfront, booked you are supposed to read. But in the back, in the pile of books just returned, it was mostly love stories and local interest materials. Fantasy is on the rise. A large room was set out for legal and government publications. A small one, just teeming with activity, is dedicated to local (the town and immediate vicinity, certainly not beyond the Murmansk region) history.
Finally I asked my literati friend Alexandra. She sarcastially commented, as her custom is, on my low social IQ, snobbery, and ignorance of things obvious to everyone, but confirmed that health, beauty, gardening, and romances are the most popular reading for women, and car, arms, and sports is for men. Action and crime stories should be added here although they seem so be losing out, same as once ubiquitous astrology.
..Looked into another library in Niva-3, a district of Kandalaksha around the aluminum smelter. Crime stories are most visible of all genres. Not “detective”, nothing too intellectual, just descriptions of daily life of iconic thugs.
Hope that will do as a very crude answer to the question of what Russian read.
One last comment. The old image of Russians as a reading nation is hopelessly outdated. Occasionally I still meet a timewarp victim, usually an American over 50, who does not realize how profoundly the collective mind has changed in the last twenty years. Now Russians are ipad (whatever it is), smart-phone (also have but a very vaque idea), and of course TV nation. Literacy as it was understood last century – commas in the right places, clauses main and subordinate, agreement in number and tense, parenthesis around direct speech, and especially the ability and hardwired need to work with text – are gone. The picture on the left was conceivable 10 years ago but certainly not in April of 2014. We no longer read, play chess, assemble gadgets out of discarded refrigerators, or to that matter drink copious amounts of vodka. We can still act like dorks and accidentally offend the whole world but at the same time values and habits are inexorably moving towards your standard boring liberal model. We no longer run over pedestrians, we wear seat belts even though fines for this particular offence remain low enough for trafic cops not to even bother writing them out. Daily shower is not considered something extravagant as it was only 15 years ago. Leaving your bike unlocked or secured with a near illusory chain by the shopping mall and still finding it there when you come out is becoming the norm. The transition is not smooth and the pendulum will swing between anarchy of the 90s and current obsession with control a few more times. But if we don’t provoke WWIII in the process (and shit with this Ukrain business the possibility is not out of the range of imaginable) things will come to something reasonable, bland and boring but comfortable. Yes, even here. It’s been four years since the last time a fellow drunk approached me with an invitation to hear and discuss his poem right there behind the beer kiosk. Damn senile logorrhea again. The point is there is little in common between the current mood and character of the nation and the picture from the 70s. We are getting simple, and our reading tastes are already so basic that The Sun, if available in Russian, would be considered, if not “intellectual” then certainly a quality read. ..I wonder if anybody got thus far. If you did please manifest itself. Your patience makes you a deserving recipient or a discount, of a free service or favour of some sort, or the preferred client status.