“In the Union, Everyone Should Read”: Reader as an Institution of the Soviet Culture
[Rev. of: Reading Russia. A History of Reading in Modern Russia. Volume 3. Edited by Damiano Rebecchini and Raffaella Vassena. Milano: Università degli Studi di Milano, 2020]
The present review focuses on the third volume of the collective study Reading Russia: A History of Reading in Modern Russia and aims at analyzing the methods of studying reading practices proposed in the aforementioned publication. The articles included in the peer-reviewed volume are studied in detail against the background of previously published scholarly literature on the history of reading, as well as in relation to archival and previously (un)published materials that have so escaped researchers’ attention. The broad historical and literary material shows that the «narratives» proposed in the reviewed volume do not present a full-fledged history of reading practices, but describe only individual disparate reading strategies of typologically different readers. The forms of institutionalization of reading in the USSR that were left out are sometimes much more important in the context of transformations in reading practices than the total collection of the «cases» offered in the volume. At the same time, the case study review offers an opportunity to talk about ‘the reader of the 20th century’ as a special institution of Soviet culture. This is why much of the review presents an attempt to find other principles and strategies of analysis on which the history of reading in the «small twentieth century» can be based. The article offers a sociological portrait of the average reader, whose main features were formed during the Stalinist era and remained unchanged throughout the previous century. These features have existed in the same form for almost a quarter of the present century. The material that has been excluded from the present research can be divided into three groups: facts that characterize the Soviet state of affairs; information about the most important forms of institutionalized reading in the USSR-specific cultural environment; information concerning aesthetic and economic aspects of the book. A detailed commentary on each of these groups is intended to supplement and elaborate on the authors' concept. Along with the analysis of archival documents, we draw on materials from the funds of various public organizations and bodies, as well as periodicals, published memoirs, diaries and other materials available to us.
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