|TSQ No 61|
TSQ by FACEBOOK
University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies
Works by the authors rediscovered in glasnost (category III) deserve special attention. Whereas novelists such as Bulgakov, Platonov, Shalamov are named 30 times and poets of the Silver Age 26 times, works by Russian émigres get mentioned 15 times, with the only one person citing works by a religious philosopher Vasilii Rozanov. Pasternak, Akhmatova, and Mandel'shtam considerably surpass other poets of the Silver Age in popularity. Whereas Bulgakov is cited 30 times, his runner-up Platonov gets only 7 references. Dovlatov and Brodsky top the list of Russian émigre authors.
As has been noted, drawing statistically significant correlations among the variables is impossible in the light of too small a sample size. Even so, a number of expected trends, pending additional exploration in greater-scale studies, can be outlined.
As Table 2 suggests, within the youngest (26-34 years) and the oldest (50+ years) groups of immigrants, contemporary Russian authors are the least popular type, and reading authors rediscovered by glasnost is the favorite reading, whereas among middle-age readers (35-49 years), Russian classical literature is the least popular type of reading and works by Soviet authors are the favorite type. Russian classical literature and works by Soviet authors are greatly favored by the older (50+) readers as well.
Table 2. Reading of Russian/ Soviet Literature by Age
Table 3. Reading of Russian/ Soviet Literature by Number of Years after Immigration from FSU
Based on the findings summarized in Table 3, books by contemporary Russian authors are the least popular type of reading within both groups of immigrants: those who left FSU earlier than 10 years ago and those who left later. A smaller percentage of earlier immigrants enjoy reading Soviet authors, as compared to more recent immigrants. Overall, across all categories of literature of Russian origin, there is a larger percentage of recent immigrant readers than earlier immigrants.
Reading for leisure in English is a new feature of the Russian immigrants' reading realm. The English language environment, easy availability and great diversity of books in English to buy and to borrow combined with the practicality of mastering English as a second language through enjoyable reading serve as encouraging factors for leisure reading in English by immigrants. Undoubtedly, patterns of reading in English will first and foremost depend upon one's reading knowledge of English. Five (10.4%) respondents defined their reading knowledge of English as “fluent,” 21 (43.8%) as “good,” 18 (37.5%) as “satisfactory,” and 4 (8.3%) as “basic” (n=48).
Figures indicate that contemporary fiction in English is read by a larger percentage of respondents, 24 (70.6%, n=34), than classical books in English (read by 9 (27.3%, n=33) respondents). The situation is reversed with respect to foreign literature read in Russian translation. Whereas 33 (71.7%, n=46) answered in the affirmative about reading foreign classics in Russian translation, only 20 (60.6%, n=33) answered in the affirmative about reading foreign fiction in Russian translation. The difference between 60.6% and 71.7% (in the case of foreign literature read in Russian translation) is not as striking as between 27.3% and 70.6% (in the case of foreign literature read in English) and may be attributable to the widely different number of total responses received in the latter question; nevertheless, it is likely that the type of literature chosen (classics vs. genre fiction) is affected by and affects the choice of language preferred for leisure reading.
Crime fiction and romance genres, by consensus of the majority of respondents, are named as the most popular. Foreign science fiction and westerns are favoured more in their Russian translation, while historical fiction interests the majority of respondents in its English original. Peculiar is the fact that Russian readers list many foreign authors popular in the Soviet and perestroika years (Lovell, 2000, Mehnert, 1983, Stelmakh, 1998) as most frequently read, indicating that their works are read both in English and translated into Russian (see Table 4).
Table 4. Most Frequently Mentioned Foreign Authors
|Foreign Classics in Russian translation||Foreign Classics in English|
|Walter Scott||Walter Scott|
|Emile Zola||Emile Zola|
|George Sand||George Sand|
|Alexandre Dumas||John Galsworthy|
|Ray Bradbury||Rudyard Kipling|
|Theodore Dreiser||Theodore Dreiser|
|Agatha Christie||Danielle Steel|
|Robert Sheckley||Sidney Sheldon|
|Isaac Asimov||Agatha Christie|
|Arthur Hailey||Robert Sheckley|
|Sidney Sheldon||Isaac Asimov|
|Stephen King||Stephen King|
Danielle Steel, whose works are most frequently read in English, is also read in translation into Russian, although she is not included in the top 16. Diverging from the trend outlined by Stelmakh (1995) with respect to readers in Russia, who abandoned works by foreign classical writers (Stelmakh, 1995) over the last decade, foreign classics appear to be still popular among the immigrant readers.
|Age||Foreign Classical Literature in Russian Translation||Foreign Genre Fiction in Russian Translation||Age||Foreign Classical Literature in English||Foreign Genre Fiction in English|
|26-34 (n=9)||7 (77.8)||3 (33.3)||26-34 (n=6)||1 (16.7)||3 (50)|
|35-49 (n=26)||17 (65.4)||15 (57.7)||35-49 (n=21)||3 (14.3)||17 (81)|
|50+ (n=11)||10 (90.9)||2 (18.2)||50+ (n=5)||5 (100)||4 (80)|
As Table 5 indicates, foreign classical literature in Russian translation is still extensively read at present by immigrants across all three age groups (65.4-90.9% of respondents). The number of readers drops drastically in the category of foreign classical literature read in English among Russian readers of 26-34 and 35-49 years of age (from 77.8 to 16.7% and from 65.4 to 14.3% respectively). Table 5 highlights another very interesting detail: older immigrants (over 50 years of age) do read books in English, perhaps enjoying reading foreign literature in its original language more than in its Russian translation. This fact, in turn, may present evidence that a certain percentage of older immigrants can acquire sufficient reading knowledge of English even if they have difficulty in achieving oral fluency. The research with a larger sample could disclose whether this assumption is correct and how significant the percentage of older immigrants reading in English is.
|Number of Years after Immigration from FSU||Foreign Classical Literature in Russian Translation||Foreign Genre Fiction in Russian Translation||Number of Years after Immigration from FSU||Foreign Classical Literature in English||Foreign Genre Fiction in English|
|1-10 (n=30)||24 (80)||14 (46.7)||1-10 (n=22)||7 (31.8)||15 (65.2)**|
|11-20 (n=16)||10 (62.5)||6 (37.5)||11-20 (n=10)||2 (20)||9 (90)|
According to Table 6, overall, there is a smaller percentage of earlier immigrants (11-20 years after immigration) favouring reading foreign classical literature in both English and Russian translation as well as reading foreign fiction translated into Russian than that of more recent immigrants (1-10 years). However, the former group manifests a significantly greater interest in foreign fiction in the English original than does the latter group (90% vs. 65.2%). This may outline the following trend: the more time that passes since immigration from the country of origin, the greater the preference for leisure reading in English, at least as far as newer books are concerned.
Considered together, the findings in Tables 5 and 6 support the earlier inference that foreign fiction is more popular in its original English than in its Russian translation. This trend is consistently observed across all age groups (Table 5) and across earlier and more recent immigrant groups (Table 6). Conversely, consistently across all age groups (Table 5) and across earlier and more recent immigrant groups (Table 6). Conversely, consistently across all age groups (Table 5) and groups by time period passed since immigration (Table 6), Russian readers are much more likely to pull off the shelf a Russian translation of a foreign classic, with an intention to re-read a favourite book in Russian, than read a foreign classical author in the original. The fascinating question arises as to whether, when reading foreign literature in Russian translation, readers really appreciate an original work or its “Russified” version, which no doubt may be a rather different representation of the original. It is not accidental that two respondents in such a small sample indicated they like “Shakespeare in Pasternak's translation;” however, Pasternak's work, brilliant and conveying Shakespearean content and notions, is dressed in a Russian literary form, closer and more understandable to readers raised on Russian literary tradition.
In contemporary Russia, fiction is still “an important part of the book market but it has lost its dominant position in Russian print culture” (Lovell, 2000, p. 140). Readers exhibit increasing interest in reading non-fiction. Memoirs, historical works (Lovell, 2000), books on business, management, finance, law, religious literature, literature on home and family issues, books about other cultures and foreign traditions, different types of self-help manuals, reference books and dictionaries, and manuals on studies of foreign languages are in the greatest demand for both purchase and borrowing in public libraries (Genieva, 1998; Kuzmin, 1995; Lovell, 2000; Stelmakh, 1995; Urackcheeva, 1998, Zaitsev, 1996). The same pattern is observed in the reading of Russian speaking immigrants. Just as in the case of reading fiction, English language non-fiction titles become part of the Russian-Canadian reading milieu.
At present, as the findings below indicate, Russians in Toronto still read more fiction than non-fiction in both English and Russian. Twenty-seven (58.7%, n=46) respondents affirmed they read non-fiction in Russian, whereas 43 (93.5%, n=46) respondents read fiction published in Russian. Similarly, 21 (56.8%, n=37) respondents read non-fiction published in English while 27 (77.1%, n=35) respondents read English-language fiction.
Table 7 shows the most frequently mentioned non-fiction subjects, listed in the survey responses, and highlights a great overlap between non-fiction subjects read by Russian immigrants in both Russian and English in five categories.
|Non-fiction in Russian, by subject area||Non-fiction in English, by subject area|
|Biographies/memoirs||Home and family, cookbooks, hobbies|
|Psychology||Health and nutrition, life style|
|Home and Family||History|
Among the books read in Russian, there are both original Russian titles and Russian translations of foreign books: memoirs about Lenin, Stalin, and L. Trotsky, memoirs by Nikita Khrushchev and Academician Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Tsvetov's Fifteenth Stone of the Reandzi Garden, N. Nekrasov's History of Pre-Columbian Civilization of Ancient America; books by Dave Barry, Eric Berne, Soren Kierkegaard, Dale Carnegie, Carlos Castaneda, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Aristotle, and Josephus Flavius. Specifically named foreign books are Hedrick Smith's Russians, works in psychology by John M. Gottman and Stephen R. Covey, books about the Titanic and Princess Diana.
Eventually, respondents were asked to indicate how many books they had read in the past 12 months in total. 15 (41.7%) respondents indicated they had read fewer than 10 books; 9 (25%) — between 10 and 20 books, and 12 (33.3%) — more than 20 books (n=36).
Whereas all 50 (100%) respondents stated that they read books for leisure, 43 (86%) of the respondents read for professional development and/or studies (see Table 8).
|Number of Reading Hours / Weekly||Leisure Reading(%) (n=49)||Reading for Professional Development / Studies (%) (n=41)|
|Fewer than 5 hours||33 (67.3)||20 (48.8)|
|5-10 hours||8 (16.3)||9 (22)|
|More than 10 hours||8 (16.3)||12 (29.3)|
As the figures in Table 8 suggest, a higher percentage of respondents devote more than 10 hours per week to reading for professional development/ studies than to leisure reading. Conversely, the percentage of people reading for leisure for fewer than 5 hours per week is greater than that of respondents reading for professional development/ studies for fewer than 5 hours per week. These findings may serve proof of the necessity of immigrants to read intensively for professional development and/ or school, cutting down on hours of leisure reading.
|Number of Reading Hours / Weekly||Employed||Student||Unemployed|
|Leisure Reading (n=33)||Reading for Professional Development / Studies (n=28)||Leisure reading (n=11)||Reading for Professional Development / Studies (n=9)||Leisure reading (n=5)||Reading for Professional Development / Studies (n=3)|
|Fewer than 5 hours||21 (63.6)||14 (50)||9 (81.8)||4 (44.4)||2 (40)||1 (33.3)|
|5 hours or more||11 (33.3)||14 (50)||2 (18.1)||5 (55.6)||3 (60)||2 (66.7)|
Based on Table 9 data, across all occupational categories, with regard to respondents reading for fewer than 5 hours weekly, the percentage of people reading for professional development/ studies is higher than that of people reading for leisure. Conversely, across all occupational categories, the percentage of people devoting 5 hours or more for leisure reading surpasses the percentage of people reading for professional development/ studies for the same number of hours weekly.
The majority of respondents 33 (67.3%) stated they are dissatisfied with the amount of leisure reading done, whereas 16 (32.7%) expressed satisfaction with the amount (n=49). Readers unhappy with the amount of leisure reading at present — and also four respondents who are overall satisfied with it — cited the lack of time as the main reason for not reading more. According to their responses, immigrants experience a severe lack of free time due to studies at college, in professional courses for the purposes of obtaining a license to practice in Ontario, learning English, and busyness with family problems and settlement in a new place; in other words, due to universal immigration-related factors, as have been discussed earlier. The next most frequent reason is the difficulty in finding an interesting Russian language book due to inadequate selections of materials in public libraries and often high prices in the Russian bookstores, a factor which is the most tangible when the person does not possess sufficient reading knowledge of English. This barrier forms an environmental immigration-related factor which may or may not be relevant to other ethnic community groups. Tiredness and health problems, i.e., personal factors, appear to be additional reasons explaining unsatisfactory amount of leisure reading at present.
Would Russian immigrants read more for leisure if given a chance? 23 (50%) claim they would read more and 8 (17.4%) that they would read more and engage in other activities. Therefore, 31 (67.4%) respondents still desire to include more reading into their leisure activities if given an opportunity as opposed to only 15 (32.6%) respondents who would devote their free time solely to other activities (n=46). Aside from reading, other desirable leisure opportunities include spending time with family, travelling, sports and ballroom dancing, visiting friends, attending live theatre performances, creative writing, doing art, etc.
The levels of satisfaction with one's professional reading done on a regular basis overall converge with those expressed with regard to the leisure reading. Fewer respondents (n=43) are satisfied with the amount of professional/ school reading done — 20 (46.5%) — than dissatisfied — 23 (53.5%). However, the disparity in the number of people happy and unhappy with the amount of reading done in present is greater with respect to leisure reading than professional reading (46.5% and 53.5% vs. 32.7% and 67.3% respectively).
The reasons identified for not reading more professional literature repeat those cited by the respondents with respect to leisure reading, such as a lack of time, personal problems and prohibitive book prices. These are followed by an explanation that learning English takes the first priority over professional reading at the moment, a lack of need in professional reading due to retirement or birth of a child, tiredness, and health problems, and necessity to buy expensive books. One response reflects the fact that the person is performing a lower skilled job — “working only to survive” — and hence, does not have a need for professional reading.
Comparing the amount of leisure reading done at present to that done prior to immigration, only 7 (14.3%) respondents state they read a lot or a little more than prior to immigration, whereas 12 (24.3%) read about the same, and an overwhelming majority of 30 (61.2%) respondents read a little or a lot less at present (n=49).
A minority of those who read more than prior to immigration explain it by the fact that in Canada they do not work, being on the maternity leave or pension. Others maintain that their informal social networks, comprised by extended family and friends, are significantly smaller in Canada than in their home country. The usual socialization, which existed in their home country, is now partly replaced with reading books. Some people are happy to utilize the wider and easier availability of books in Canada compared to Russia to read more; obviously, it applies to immigrants possessing sufficient reading knowledge of English and/or higher incomes and thus able to purchase books in the Russian and/or Canadian bookstores.
Respondents who read less than before immigration, to a large extent, repeat the reasons cited in the previous question for not reading more for leisure. However, a number of new notions are added. Some people outline reasons for reading less in immigration than prior to it, not being dissatisfied, nevertheless. Other respondents maintain that in Canada, there is a wider range of leisure opportunities and point out the change of life style and interests. Finally, a lack of stimulus to read is mentioned. A number of respondents agree that prior to immigration, school and work environment, as well as friends, encouraged them to read more books: “[Before immigration] you were more popular if you read a lot;” “here [in Canada], my friends almost do not read and are not interested in new books.”
A comparison of the amount of reading for professional development/studies done prior to and after immigration reveals the reverse trend to that identified with respect to leisure reading. Thirteen (31%, n=42) respondents read about the same as they used to read prior to immigration, 23 (54.8%) read a lot or a little more (vs. 14.3% in the case of leisure reading), whereas only 6 (14.3%) read a little or a lot less (vs. 61.2% in the case of leisure reading).
It is fascinating to note that many factors accountable for reduced leisure reading seem to encourage professional reading and vice-versa. For example, the respondents who at present read less than prior to immigration appear to be women on the maternity leave and retired people. These are among the respondents who increased the amount of leisure reading while in Canada. On the other hand, respondents who in immigration do more professional/ school reading explain it by the following factors. The majority of respondents in this group are in the process of changing careers, learning new professions, and taking professional courses to obtain licences to practice in Ontario. Those who are employed in their professional fields cite the higher level of scientific and industrial development in Canada, competitiveness, and higher requirements for one's professional qualifications demanding constant upgrading of one's professional skills. Learning and getting comfortable with the English language professional terminology for both one's own use and communicating with colleagues is another frequently named reason. Immigrants who have had to go back to school point to an educational system different from that in their country of origin and requiring more intensive reading. The very same reasons are indicated as leading to tiredness and severe lack of time for leisure reading.
Of special interest with respect to reading by immigrants are the survey responses addressing the issue of choice of language for leisure reading (n=46). 20 (43.5%) participants choose leisure reading in Russian. The fact that Russian is easier and more pleasant for leisure reading since the reader reads faster, understands Russian better and can relax and enjoy nuances of wordplay is a recurrent theme in the majority of answers. Some respondents maintain there are still many books previously not available in Russian but available now that they would like “to catch up on;” others express interest in reading uncensored literature published in Russia nowadays. Fewer respondents indicate they have no choice but to read Russian due to inadequate command of English.
Eight (17.4%) participants, choosing English exclusively for leisure reading, explain that their main purpose of leisure reading today is improving English. Additionally, the respondents mention that in certain subject areas, such as psychology, the availability of books in English is incomparably greater than in Russian.
Eighteen (39.1%) respondents do not limit themselves to one language, relying upon such criteria as reputation of the author, subject of the book, quality of writing and original language of the book while selecting leisure reading materials. The level of English in the book is also a factor in decision-making. For example, one respondent mentions “a very difficult”, in his/ her opinion, English in William Faulkner's books. At times, the English version is chosen if the Russian equivalent is not available. The common notion among those choosing Russian only and both languages for leisure reading is that for relaxation and entertainment, or “reading for soul” as termed by many respondents, Russian is often preferred over English. Hence, conversely, it can be implied that when the chief purpose of the reading is consumption of new information, reading in English may be preferred by those lacking a linguistic barrier in reading.
The distribution of answers with respect to the choice of language for professional development/ studies creates an almost opposite picture from the one reflecting the choice of language for leisure reading with respect to one-language preference (either English or Russian) whereas a comparable percentage of participants do not have an unequivocal preference to one language (see Table 10).
|Language of Choice||Leisure Reading (n=46) (%)||Reading for Professional Development/ Studies (n=42) (%)|
|Russian||20 (43.5)||4 (9.5)|
|English||8 (17.4)||23 (54.8)|
|Both languages||18 (39.1)||15 (35.7)|
A dramatic minority of participants, who choose Russian only as the language of their professional reading, cite an inadequate level of their reading English and a necessity to read Russian for precise understanding of the reading matter. Those who combine reading in their native language with reading in English rely upon the quality and quantity of materials available in their field; they make a decision based on the subject of the book and its original language, just as in the case of leisure reading; they strive to mutually complement reading materials in both languages and gain as diverse information as possible. The vast majority of respondents choosing professional reading in English outline the necessity to learn professional terminology in English or use it for studies, claiming that reading in English helps them think “in a more professional manner in the English language environment,” communicate with co-workers, and keep up-to-date professionally. They also mention easier and greater availability of English language professional materials as compared to the Russian language materials.
* * *
Among other issues, immigration is inevitably associated with a loss of status, and the usual social formal and information networks, on the one hand, and adjustment to the new society on the other (Barankin, Konstantareas and de Bosset, 1989, Katz & Lowenstein, 1999). These phenomena modify immigrants' life styles, altering their priorities and habits associated with their home country (Katz & Lowenstein, 1999; Remennick, 1999; Taft, 1988).
From the analysis of reading habits of the Russian-speaking immigrants in Toronto and effects of immigration on the reading habits acquired in their country of origin three major groups of factors influencing reading habits and preferences of immigrants emerged: 1. universal immigration related factors determined by resettlement and the disruption of a habitual life flow; 2. environmental immigration related factors, such as difficulty in gaining access to a satisfactory variety and amount of literature in the Russian language; 3. personal factors.
The above groups of factors will affect reading habits of the Russian-speaking immigrants in terms of types of literature chosen for leisure reading, amount of leisure and professional reading done at present, and language chosen for leisure and professional reading.
The major hindrances in the process of resettlement are frequent mismatches of one's professional qualifications and those in demand in a new country, conflicting aspects of the homeland culture and mentality and those of the host country, and a lack of English language competency (Barankin, Konstantareas & de Bosset, 1989). English language competency (or a lack of it) appears to be of particular importance and is able to ease (or hinder) one's professional, cultural and emotional adjustment (Berry, Uichol & Boski, 1988; Gudykunst & Hammer, 1988; Nogle, 1994; Taft, 1988). Professional reestablishment, in most cases, is connected with re-entering some kind of a learning framework (courses, English language classes, college/ university programs, etc.). As a result, immigrants will devote longer hours reading professional or learning materials, often cutting down on a habitual number of hours of leisure reading. While probably different in nature and intensity, extensive and continuous reading to keep one's professional skills up-to-date and marketable is not an entirely new phenomenon for newcomers from the FSU. Over the last 15 years, in Russia itself, there has been growing demand for professional, specialist, and scientific literature for the reasons of the destabilized economy and alarming unemployment.
However, in a new country, former Soviet citizens have to re-learn their professions in English, adapt to the English work environment and daily interactions with people in a foreign language. Thus, English (alone or in combination with Russian) becomes a language of choice for the majority of immigrants trying to re-establish their careers in Canada. Taft (1988) observed a similar preference of reading in English to reading in Russian among former adult Soviet citizens living in Australia, although he did not specify whether his findings related to professional reading or reading for pleasure. The current study proposes that seeking practical, essential reading relevant to their daily needs and assisting in their daily concerns, immigrants are most likely to refer to professional and learning materials in English.
The situation, however, is different with respect to leisure reading. The majority of respondents in the current survey still choose Russian as the language for reading for pleasure and entertainment; an almost comparable percentage of respondents would read in both languages, with only a minority reading for leisure in English only. One should not downplay the “affective dimension involved throughout the [reading] process” (Ross, 1999, p. 796). Reading in the native language appears to be part of the affection connected with reading for pleasure. A desire to read in Russian will be determined not only by the willingness to preserve one's cultural identity and keep connections to their motherland alive. Reading in Russian appears to be very powerful as a coping tool assisting in maintaining emotional balance in the new conditions, where Russian speakers do not find their habitual mentality and culture.
The above statement is based on the researches done on Russian emotional expression and its tight connection with the Russian language (Wierzbicka, 1999). This research underscores that “Russian cultural norms allow and indeed encourage a greater expressiveness than do Anglo norms,” and there is “the wealth of linguistic devices for signalling emotions and shades of emotions” (p. 218) in the Russian language. Only to a limited extent does the English language allow for expressing emotions usual for Russians. If one views reading as a process through which a reader receives not only factual information but emotionally laden contents (especially, when it comes to reading for leisure and relaxation), one can assume that Russian speakers, particularly those who have not yet reached a sufficient level of comfort in perception of English due to a limited vocabulary and/or imperfect grammar, will feel a kind of emotional drought while reading English texts. At the same time, the ability of reading to evoke an emotional response is something historically integrated into the Russian mind but this can happen only if the book language and the reader's language are at the same lingua-emotional wavelength. In the largely English linguistic environment, the readers may develop nostalgia for the native Russian language able to articulate and convey a desirable range of emotions. This nostalgia for language will cause many immigrants to keep reading in Russian even if their command of English is good enough and especially when it is not. Recurrent adjectives used to characterize reading in the Russian language in the survey responses are “easier to read,” “faster to read,” “easier to understand,” “more pleasant,” “relaxing,” etc. Among others, immigrant readers are longing for the familiar, habitual, not associated with extra effort and strain.
The last inference seems logical if one takes into consideration that the stress and pressure the immigration are likely to be reflected in the immigrants' emotional state, often causing exhaustion, tiredness (Barankin, Konstantareas & de Bosset, 1989, Remennick, 1999), and a reduced (or a loss of) interest in hobbies and other leisure activities. As mentioned earlier, this factor accounts for less leisure reading done by immigrants at present. However, it can also partly account for the reading repertoire of Russian immigrants.
Nostalgia and longing for the familiar can explain the immigrants' desire to reread Russian classical works, books by Soviet writers, Russian authors rediscovered in the period of glasnost, and foreign classics of the 20th and earlier centuries that have become of little interest to the majority of the reading public in Russia itself over the last 15 years (Lovell, 2000, Stelmakh, 1995). “Old favourites are picked when the reader is busy or under stress. At such times, rereading a childhood favourite is the quintessence of comfort reading” (Ross, 1999, p. 790). The notion of “the book as a ‘friend’” able to provide “safety, reassurance and confirmation” will prompt immigrants to “reread old favourites or read new books by known authors that they can trust” (Ross, 1999, p. 790). Seeking “sameness” (Ross, 1999, p. 790) and believing that “the chosen book is ‘secretly about me’” (Ross, 1999. p. 793) may also explain the still preserved popularity of the books by Russian émigre authors among the Russian readers in diaspora. However, as follows from the survey data, books by contemporary Russian authors are less likely to become candidates for re-read favourites if one focuses on immigrants who left the FSU/ Russia within the last 20 years.
The entire history of the printed word in the FSU/ Russia suggests that Russian immigrant readers are predisposed to seek a cure for tiredness, sadness, and stress to a large extent in reading. Perhaps the high prices of contemporary Russian-language books and easier availability of older titles through the public libraries or personal book collections compared to those of newer titles also shape the readers' choice (or non-choice), or rather compel them to re-read a certain set of books. However, it seems to me that there is often a conscious decision to select an old, very familiar book in Russian for leisure reading.
I would like to remind the reader that these survey results are to be viewed with caution, especially when classical Russian and foreign literature is concerned. Lovell (2000) notes that Russian readers' mentality has not changed dramatically, and thus, it is highly possible that a certain percentage of the respondents felt uncomfortable that at present they no longer read classics.
Despite the obvious differences, a number of trends observed in the Russian-speaking immigrant community in Toronto resemble those noted in the reading and readership in Russia itself, if one compares the results of this survey to the findings provided by Lovell (2000), Stelmakh (1995), Stel'makh (1998), Stelmakh (2001), and Babicheva (1998). Fiction enjoys the greatest popularity among Russian Canadians just as it does among readers in Russia. Crime fiction, romance, adventure novels, science fiction, and thrillers, as well as historical novels constitute the most favourite genres. Non-fiction is becoming increasingly attractive reading among immigrants, as among readers in Russia. Nevertheless, works by Russian religious philosophers, both those who were banned before perestroika and those who emerged in post-Soviet years, were almost entirely missing from the immigrants' responses even though religious literature is mentioned as a subject of interest. Moreover, this study discovered that Russian fiction loses readers to fiction in English, given that the readers are proficient in both languages. As has been emphasized, preference to reading fiction in English grows with the number of years passed. As a number of respondents noted, a desire to improve English through pleasurable reading motivates them at first to do leisure reading in English. It can be assumed that as time goes on, as immigrants' command of reading English improves and they become more integrated culturally, intellectually and emotionally into Canadian society, they will choose reading English fiction not due to the “instrumental need for English” (Taft, 1988, p. 164) but following a genuine desire.
Such factors as an undeniably greater variety and easier accessibility of reading materials in English to buy and to borrow, defining the reading preferences, cannot be ruled out either.
As Lovell (2000) maintains, nowadays, Russians still read plenty, despite the transformed character of reading, and so do the Russian Canadians. The current research underscores that reading is still an indivisible part of both Russian Canadians' leisure activities and professional growth. Readers' interests are largely diversified and differentiated. Some immigrants, just like a large number of readers in Russia proper, “have no free time, and have no free brain” to read “serious prose and poetry,” preferring “escapist books to take their minds off the hardships of their daily lives” (Ford, 1996, para. 11-12). Others, interested in serious literature and / or leading a more settled life, select “more demanding and unfamiliar materials” (Ross, 1999, p. 790). Some resort to rereading old favourites as “comfort food” (Ross, 1999, p. 792). In fact, reading is “as important to them [Russian immigrants] as food;” they “will buy a book in Russian or a Russian newspaper — whether they have the money or not” (Poizner, 1991, p. 2). Only a rare former Soviet citizen can go on without the printed word. Reading still seems to be more than just mere information consumption. It is still a source of emotional strength and a coping tool. A pleasure. Comfort. A reward
On Tuesday, June 25, 2002, The New York Times published a photograph of an unidentified Russian woman from Staraya Stanitsa in southern Russia salvaging books from her flooded house. Walking in the merciless water above her knees, she is embracing and carrying to safety as many books as she can seize at once. Her genuine treasure Should the disaster, God forbid, strike the Russian immigrants' homes, they are likely to do the same: rescue books, carrying piles of book away from the troubles Well, perhaps, topping the pile with brown immigration papers.
* Numbers do not add up to 100% because of the rounding.
Keren Dali © 2002
|University of Toronto|