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Couch potatoes but not bookworms: Many Greeks don’t read because it bores them, survey finds

One in two Greeks has never read a book. Nor do they read newspapers. Nor magazines. In fact, they don’t even read comics. Instead, they watch television, and plenty of it (on average, over 200 minutes daily), according to a nationwide survey conducted for the National Book Center. Carried out by pollsters VPRC, the «Survey on reading patterns and cultural practices» suggests that Greece has become a nation of passive consumers of information. People excuse their absence of reading by pleading lack of time, or, with disarming frankness and cynicism, by saying, «Reading bores me.» According to the survey, 43.8 percent of the population say they don’t read at all, a figure that rises or falls according to social status, sex and whether resident in urban or rural areas. Sociologist Nikos Fakiolas attributes the causes chiefly to a lack of education and of a reading mentality. «Let’s not forget that a large percentage of the population, mostly elderly people, are illiterate,» he pointed out. «In addition, the Greek education system bears considerable responsibility, due to its mechanical nature, which does not cultivate critical thinking and thus causes functional illiteracy. We have university graduates who can’t read a newspaper. The culture produced by education extends into daily life.» Greeks’ extroversion, Fakiolas said, is another factor. «We circulate in the open air, we are a people fond of company, of groups.» That hardly favors book reading. Neither does the high cost of books in relation to wages and income. «How can pensioners buy a book on their meager income?» asked Fakiolas. «At the same time, we live in a time of general pressure. Reading a book requires the right mood.» Higher social strata read more, as do educated people, women, those under 45 and people living in urban areas. By geographical region, people read more in the Ionian islands (an area with strong cultural traditions) and those of the southern Aegean and in Attica. By contrast, the islands of the northern Aegean, western Greece and Crete have high concentrations of non-readers. Internet and books The burden of maintaining a household appears to leave no time and mood for reading. For this reason, single people read more than people living together or married couples, with or without children. Interestingly, users of new technology or the Internet are book fans as well, in contrast to those who neither surf the Net nor are acquainted with the new technology. As to why they don’t read, respondents gave as a first reason the lack of time (43.7 percent), regardless of their social class, sex, educational level or place of residence, while a significant proportion either declared they did not like reading or that it bored them (17.1 percent). Sixty-two percent of respondents had not bought a single book in the past year, while only 10 percent had bought over 10 books. On average, respondents spent no more than 14 euros a month on books and CDs while only three in 10 borrows from libraries. What they read Along general lines, readers opt for literature, Greek and foreign, chiefly short stories and novels. There is little interest in memoirs, less in poetry and almost none in drama. Stories with social and historical content are the most popular with the reading public. Also popular are romances and thrillers, while science fiction is showing an upward trend. Novels with political, existentialist or philosophical content are less popular. Preferences also vary from area to area. Foreign literature, history, science, books with social content and poetry are more widely read in urban areas as well as in suburbia, with the slight difference that residents of the latter are greatly interested in psychology. kThe countryside tends to consume more Greek fiction and less foreign literature and books with social content. Notably, books on the family have a high percentage of rural readers. Women read more than men, especially fiction, short stories and poetry. They read very little philosophy, ancient Greek writings, history or generally what might be termed heavyweight tomes. But they are interested in self-knowledge and psychology. Women’s reading mainly focuses on feelings and romance, while they read more than men on medicine, children and fashion. No time or money for reading Ioanna is a radio producer and chemist at multinational company. Working at two jobs from morning to night «to meet obligations,» she is too tired to read. «If I had a little time, I would use it to rest: comfortably seated, listening to music and not thinking of anything. In the past, I used to read. Now I don’t, or at least not as often as I would like. It’s not just fatigue, it’s my mood. A book is best read when we don’t have to deal with difficulties. When there are simmering problems, we spend our time thinking about the solutions. After this difficult period is over, then there’ll be time to read a book, to do what I want. To read, to see friends I’ve lost touch with…» Lack of time and high book prices explain why Giorgos, a Panteion University graduate, reads little. «We don’t have time. That’s a fact. But while you can find the time, you can’t find the money. The price of books is sometimes beyond reason. I see a book that really interests me and it’s so expensive I don’t even think of buying it.» Newspapers get the thumbs-down as people turn to television On average, people spend 35.5 minutes reading the daily papers and 41 minutes the weekend ones. Men, singles, better-educated people, suburbanites and anyone interested in politics read newspapers the most. On a daily basis, 22.3 percent read the paper, 15.9 percent read two to three times a week, 11.9 percent read one once a week, 5.7 percent, two times a month while a huge 39 percent never read a newspaper. People in the age groups 55-64 and 45-54 are more likely to read a paper than those aged 15 to 24. Television, however, gets a huge «yes» from Greek society. On average, Greeks watch 204 minutes of television daily and 209 minutes over the weekend, with women, married people, the less educated and the elderly watching more hours on average. In all, 86 percent of respondents declared that they watched television every day, with those in rural areas watching the most. News programs, Greek and foreign movies have the highest viewing figures. But publishers bring out increasing number of titles Despite low reading figures, there was a rise in the number of new book titles brought out every year over the four-year period 1998-2002, according to the BIBLIONET database. In this period, the total number of new titles was at significantly higher levels than those in the period 1989-1998, when annual book production reached 4,000 to 5,000 titles a year. In 1998, 5,795 new titles were brought out, while 6,826 new titles were published in 2002. The developments are considered favorable for the book market, which seems to be stabilizing at 7,000 titles a year.