Pushkin and Pulp Rub Shoulders at Fair

Originally published in The Moscow Times on September 3, 1999

The two-hundred and two-month-old national poet Alexander Pushkin rules the world at the 12th Moscow International Book Fair that runs through Sunday and offers visitors a unique opportunity to stock up on recent Russian titles at cut-rate prices.

Even though the party is over - his birthday was on June 6 - Pushkin pops up in every nook and cranny of the two-floor exhibit in the shape of fresher, revised and ever more beautiful editions of his works. Taking center stage at the fair is the collective exhibit, Dedication of Russian Publishers to the 200th Anniversary of Pushkin, with about 300 works by and on the poet, published over the past two years.

"He is alive," said Galina Shetinina, spokeswoman for the Press Ministry, which runs the exhibit. "He was born with us. He appeals to each period of a man's life."

But is he commercially viable?

"C'mon, what about Tchaikovsky, opera and drama?" Shetinina said. "There are now new interpretations, new understanding of his works. Everything will go on."

As proof she cited the Russky Put publishing house, which will publish at the end of this year the first ever encyclopedia entirely devoted to Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin."

Alexei Panaiotti, advertising manager at the St. Petersburg-based Azbuka publishing house, said the Pushkin craze will fade away with the jubilee. Nevertheless, Panaiotti maintains that the classics are still viable, even if Russian's tastes have veered toward pulp fiction.

"It sounds strange, but people still read classics," he said, adding that his company produced a series of Russian and foreign classics two years ago that has now reached 1 million copies. And they still plan to issue five or six books this year.

Shetinina said Vladimir Nabokov and Andrei Bitov are now the most popular classical authors. "Many new authors haven't remained truly national writers," she said wistfully.

INFRA.M, a company at the forefront of the publishing industry since 1992, has decided to stay away from the Pushkin trend. Its marketing deputy director, Galina Zinkovich, said people are making money on his persona.

"You should sell books that educate people," she said, adding that she had felt "ashamed" after publishing a book on Monica Lewinsky earlier this year.

Zinkovich said that between 1991 and 1992, Russia's Union of Publishers collapsed, leaving publishing houses to fend for themselves. "For some it was better, for others it was worse."

INFRA.M kept its head above those troubled times by widening its range of books, and now publishes books and periodicals on law, economics and the English language.

As for the favorites in modern Russia, detective and romance novels still prevail. The array of encyclopedias and "do-it-yourself" books are also a rich novelty on the Russian market. Tatyana Derevianko, commercial director at ATC Press, said their most popular titles are from the Practical Psychological series, such as "Practical Psychology for Little Girls or How to Behave Toward Boys."

The one shadow hanging over the hundreds of Russian and foreign publishers and visitors at the opening of the fair Wednesday was the rise of book prices…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.