• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site
vision

Today's Readers Want to Be Co-authors of Books

Reading is not a popular pastime for young people today. Classic and modern literature often lose out to fantasy fiction, which is often made into films and videogames and allows young readers to become viewers and participants of an alternate reality, according to Lyubov Borusiak, Associate Professor of the HSE School of Integrated Communications, who presented the findings from her study of young readers' preferences at the HSE's XVI April International Academic Conference.

Reading has long ceased to be popular entertainment for young people. According to Borusyak's paper* 'Reading and Its Value for Young Russian Intellectuals', only a small group of young intellectuals in Russia still place a high value on reading. Borusyak believes, however, that even this group has little interest in contemporary literature, at least when it comes to new books by Russian writers.

Borusyak's new study confirms her earlier finding that young people tend to appreciate Russian classics from the required school reading list and enjoy foreign fantasy books.

Borusyak conducted a content analysis of the Vkontakte social network, focusing on groups devoted to literature and reading and on personal profiles of Vkontakte users aged 17 to 23 who have included favorite books and authors in their profiles. Her sample totalled 6,350, with an equal number of males and females.

Poetry Not Widely Popular

Her study found that only 9% of young people mention their favourite books in their social media profiles. In her previous study, focused specifically on young intellectuals, 50% of user profiles mentioned favourite books. According to Borusyak, "this finding indicates that most young people no longer attach particular value to reading and do not consider telling others about their favourite books and authors as a good way of self-presentation."

Young people in general, including the most educated and intellectual ones, associate literature primarily with prose. They rarely mention favourite poets in personal profiles, and when they do, only Russian poets get mentioned. "Not just younger people, but all age groups have little interest in poetry today," notes Borusyak. “Even though a few poets do have fan communities in Vkontakte, interest in poetry is far from widespread."

Likewise, young Russians are not particularly interested in modern Russian prose, as evidenced by focus groups whose participants justified their poor knowledge of contemporary Russian literature by explaining that everything worth saying has already been said in the classics of Russian literature.

Romance novels are not popular with young readers, which Borusyak finds understandable, saying that "romance novels are a commercial genre targeted specifically at a much older, predominantly female, audience who find their lives a bit too monotonous and thus long for an emotional 'high'. Younger women do not have this problem yet," Borusyak explains.

However, younger female readers prefer fantasy novels with love stories in them, such as Stephenie Meyer's extremely popular Twilight. "Young women do not like and rarely read fantasy in its pure form, without elements of passionate love," according to Borusyak.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Break Records

Science fiction and fantasy are the most popular literary genres among young Russians.

The top 20 most popular authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephenie Meyer, Ray Bradbury, Dmitry Glukhovsky, Strugatsky Brothers, Sergey Lukyanenko, and also J.K. Rowling, since adults as well as children enjoy Harry Potter – a total of seven positions in the top 20.

Table 1. Top 20 most popular authors (with ranks for each group)

Total

Men

Women

Younger group

Older group

1. Mikhail Bulgakov

1

1

1

1

1

2. Paulo Coelho

2

8

2

5

2

3. Fyodor Dostoevsky

3

5

3

3

3

4. Leo Tolstoy

4

2

5

4

4

5. J.K. Rowling

5

3

6

2

6

6. Stephen King

6

7

7

6

5

7. J.R.R. Tolkien

7

4

13

8

7

8. Alexander Pushkin

8

9

10

7

10

9. Stephenie Meyer

9

20

4

10

9

10. Erich Maria Remarque

10

18

8-9

17

8

11. Dmitry Glukhovsky

11

6

20

9

16

12. Nikolai Gogol

12

11

16

11

15

13. Alexandre Dumas

13

14

11

15

12

14. Mikhail Lermontov

14

16

12

13

17

15. Oscar Wilde

15

19

8-9

14

18

16. Chuck Palahniuk

16

15

15

19

11

17. Arthur Conan Doyle

17

13

17

12

20

18. Ray Bradbury

18

17

14

16

19

19. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

19

10

19

18

14

20. Sergey Lukyanenko

20

12

18

20

13

Source: paper by Borusyak and Karpov

"Science fiction as well as adventure books with plot twists and action have long been young people's favourite reading. Today, even though science fiction writers such as the Strugatsky brothers still enjoy a high degree of popularity, young people tend to be more interested in fantasy books whose authors invent new and unusual worlds – this reading is considered more trendy," according to Borusyak. Fantasy books provide an escape from reality, transporting the reader to a different world.

The researcher notes yet another important reason why fantasy is so popular. "Unlike pre-internet generations, today's young readers tend to enjoy books in a different way and want to get involved as well as merely reading; fantasy as a genre creates plenty of opportunities for such involvement."

Many fantasy books are promptly made into computer and role-playing games. Fan fiction is another popular genre where fans use an original work of fiction to create their own versions or endings of the story. "Some authors go as far as to ask potential readers to suggest a plot twist or vote for one they like. Fantasy books today are often left unfinished to allow readers to co-author them, and many people enjoy this opportunity," Borusyak explains.

Love for The Master and Margarita Never Ends

In addition to science fiction and fantasy, many Russian classics are in the top 20, including Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol and Lermontov. Classic books which are not studied at school are mentioned less often, meaning that school today teaches students to appreciate these classics of literature – the question is whether it will continue to do so in the future.

Borusyak's study also found that young Russians know little about their country's literature of the 20th century; in particular, they have little interest in Soviet literature. "Today's young people find the realities of Soviet life totally irrelevant to their lives and thus of little interest. Young Russians find books written by foreign authors of the 20th century, such as Remarque, much more appealing than, for example, the moral ambivalence of Soviet intelligentsia in Yuri Trifonov's urban novels and the suffering of peasants in Valentin Rasputin's Farewell to Matyora. "Young people tend to perceive these books as having little to do with their own experiences, feelings and aspirations," says Borusyak.

The Strugatsky brothers and Bulgakov are the only Soviet authors in the top 20, and Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is the only top-ranking book which is not part of the required reading for school. "Mass consciousness resembles a mosaic, as Abraham Moles noted in his Sociodynamique de la culture, characterised by coexistence of seemingly incompatible elements, such as scientific knowledge and mysticism, religion and superstition. The Master and Margarita has all these bases covered and therefore has a unique appeal for the mass consciousness," says Borusyak.

___________________

*Maksim Karpov, Junior Researcher of the Ivanovo State University of Power Engineering, has contributed to the study.

 

Author: Marina Selina, April 09, 2015