Literature is powerful. It offers respite. It provides access to beauty and horror, to new places, new people, and new ideas. It can, as the phrase goes, change your life. Good things, all of them. But also somewhat limited goods: they’re all pretty passive, pretty private—you might even say self-centered.
Reading as Collective Action shifts our focus outward, to another of literature’s powers: the power to reshape our world in very public, very active ways. In this book, you will encounter readers who criticized the Bush administration’s war on terror by republishing poems by writers ranging from Shakespeare to Amiri Baraka everywhere from lampposts to the New York Times. You will read about people in Michigan and Tennessee, who leveraged a community reading program on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to organize support for those in need during the Great Recession and to engage with their neighbors about immigration. You will meet a pair of students who took to public transit to talk with strangers about working-class literature and a trio who created a literary website that reclaimed the working-class history of the Pacific Northwest.
This book challenges dominant academic modes of reading. For adherents of the “civic turn,” it suggests how we can create more politically effective forms of service learning and community engagement grounded in a commitment to tactical, grassroots actions. Whether you’re a social worker or a student, a zine-maker, a librarian, a professor, or just a passionate reader with a desire to better your community, this book shows that when we read texts as tactics, “that book changed my life” can become “that book changed our lives.”
Why do Americans read contemporary fiction? This question seems simple, but is it? Do Americans read for the purpose of aesthetic appreciation? To satisfy their own insatiable intellectual curiosities? While other forms of media have come to monopolize consumers’ leisure time, in the past two decades book clubs have proliferated, Amazon has sponsored thriving online discussions, Oprah Winfrey has inspired millions of viewers to read both contemporary works and classics, and novels have retained their devoted following within middlebrow communities.
In Reading as Therapy, Timothy Aubry argues that contemporary fiction serves primarily as a therapeutic tool for lonely, dissatisfied middle-class American readers, one that validates their own private dysfunctions while supporting elusive communities of strangers unified by shared feelings. Aubry persuasively makes the case that contemporary literature’s persistent appeal depends upon its capacity to perform a therapeutic function.
Aubry traces the growth and proliferation of psychological concepts focused on the subjective interior within mainstream, middle-class society and the impact this has had on contemporary fiction. The prevailing tendency among academic critics has been to decry the personal emphasis of contemporary fiction as complicit with the rise of a narcissistic culture, the ascendency of liberal individualism, and the breakdown of public life. Reading as Therapy, by contrast, underscores the varied ideological effects that therapeutic culture can foster.
To uncover the many unpredictable ways in which contemporary literature answers the psychological needs of its readers, Aubry considers several different venues of reader-response—including Oprah’s Book Club and Amazon customer reviews—the promotional strategies of publishing houses, and a variety of contemporary texts, ranging from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. He concludes that, in the face of an atomistic social landscape, contemporary fiction gives readers a therapeutic vocabulary that both reinforces the private sphere and creates surprising forms of sympathy and solidarity among strangers.
An unprecedented examination of class-bridging reform and U.S. literary history at the turn of the twentieth century
Reading for Reform rewrites the literary history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century America by putting social reform institutions at the center of literary and cultural analysis. Examining the vibrant, often fractious literary cultures that developed as part of the Progressive mandate to uplift the socially disadvantaged, it shows that in these years reformers saw literature as a way to combat the myriad social problems that plagued modern U.S. society. As they developed distinctly literary methods for Americanizing immigrants, uplifting and refining wage-earning women, and educating black students, their institutions gave rise to a new social purpose for literature.
Class-bridging reform institutions—the urban settlement house, working girls’ club, and African American college—are rarely addressed in literary history. Yet, Laura R. Fisher argues, they engendered important experiments in the form and social utility of American literature, from minor texts of Yiddish drama and little-known periodical and reform writers to the fiction of Edith Wharton and Nella Larsen. Fisher delves into reform’s vast and largely unexplored institutional archives to show how dynamic sites of modern literary culture developed at the margins of social power.
Fisher reveals how reformist approaches to race, class, religion, and gender formation shaped American literature between the 1880s and the 1920s. In doing so, she tells a new story about the fate of literary practice, and the idea of literature’s practical value, during the very years that modernist authors were proclaiming art’s autonomy from concepts of social utility.
Reading in Tudor England
Eugene R. Kintgen University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996 Library of Congress LA631.4.K56 1996 | Dewey Decimal 428.407104209031
Readers in the sixteenth century read (that is, interpreted) texts quite differently from the way contemporary readers do; they were trained to notice different aspects of a text and to process them differently.
Using educational works of Erasmus, Ascham, and others, commentaries on literary works, various kinds of religious guides and homilies, and self-improvement books, Kintgen has found specific evidence of these differences and makes imaginative use of it to draw fascinating and convincing conclusions about the art and practice of reading. Kintgen ends by situating the book within literary theory, cognitive science, and literary studies.
Among the writers covered are Gabriel Harvey, E. K. (the commentator on The Shepheardes Calendar), Sir John Harrington, George Gascoigne, George Puttenham, Thomas Blundeville, and Angel Day.
Reading National Geographic
Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins University of Chicago Press, 1993 Library of Congress G1.N275L88 1993 | Dewey Decimal 910.5
For its millions of readers, the National Geographic has long been a window to the world of exotic peoples and places. In this fascinating account of an American institution, Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins explore the possibility that the magazine, in purporting to teach us about distant cultures, actually tells us much more about our own.
Lutz and Collins take us inside the National Geographic Society to investigate how its photographers, editors, and designers select images and text to produce representations of Third World cultures. Through interviews with the editors, they describe the process as one of negotiating standards of "balance" and "objectivity," informational content and visual beauty. Then, in a close reading of some six hundred photographs, they examine issues of race, gender, privilege, progress, and modernity through an analysis of the way such things as color, pose, framing, and vantage point are used in representations of non-Western peoples. Finally, through extensive interviews with readers, the authors assess how the cultural narratives of the magazine are received and interpreted, and identify a tension between the desire to know about other peoples and their ways and the wish to validate middle-class American values.
The result is a complex portrait of an institution and its role in promoting a kind of conservative humanism that acknowledges universal values and celebrates diversity while it allows readers to relegate non-Western peoples to an earlier stage of progress. We see the magazine and the Society as a key middlebrow arbiter of taste, wealth, and power in America, and we get a telling glimpse into middle-class American culture and all the wishes, assumptions, and fears it brings to bear on our armchair explorations of the world.
Centering her discussion on two historical "ways of reading"—which she calls the Protestant and the lettered—Barbara A. Johnson traces the development of a Protestant readership as it is reflected in the reception of Langland’s Piers Plowman and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Informed by reader-response and reception theory and literacy and cultural studies, Johnson’s ambitious examination of these two ostensibly literary texts charts the cultural roles they played in the centuries following their composition, roles far more important than their modern critical reputations can explain.
Johnson argues that much more evidence exists about how earlier readers read than has hitherto been acknowledged. The reception of Piers Plowman, for example, can be inferred from references to the work, the apparatus its Renaissance printer inserted in his editions, the marginal comments readers inscribed both in printed editions and in manuscripts, and the apocryphal "plowman" texts that constitute interpretations of Langland’s poem. She demonstrates by example that what is culturally transmitted has not been just the work itself; it includes vestiges of past readers’ encounters with the text that are traceable both in the way a text is presented as well as in the way that presentation is received.
Conditioned more by religious, historical, and economic forces than by literary concerns, Langland’s poem became a part of the reformist tradition that culminated in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. By understanding this tradition, Bunyan’s place in it, and the way the reception of The Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates the beginning of a new, more realistic fictional tradition, Johnson concludes, we can begin to delineate a more accurate history of the ways literature and society intersect, a history of readers reading.
Often thought of as a solitary activity, the practice of reading can in fact encode the complex politics of community formation. Engagement with literary culture represents a particularly integral facet of identity formation--and serves as an expression of a sense of belonging--within the South Asian diaspora in the United States. Tamara Bhalla blends a case study with literary and textual analysis to illuminate this phenomenon. Her fascinating investigation considers institutions from literary reviews to the marketplace and social media and other technologies, as well as traditional forms of literary discussion like book clubs and academic criticism. Throughout, Bhalla questions how her subjects' circumstances, shared race and class, and desires limit the values they ascribe to reading. She also examines how ideology circulating around a body of literature or a self-selected, imagined community of readers shapes reading itself and influences South Asians' powerful, if contradictory, relationship with ideals of cultural authenticity.
A person who reads a book for self-improvement rather than aesthetic pleasure is “reading up.” Reading Up is Amy Blair's engaging study of popular literary critics who promoted reading generally and specific books as vehicles for acquiring cultural competence and economic mobility. Combining methodologies from the history of the book and the history of reading, to mass-cultural studies, reader-response criticism, reception studies, and formalist literary analysis, Blair shows how such critics influenced the choices of striving readers and popularized some elite writers.
Framed by an analysis of Hamilton Wright Mabie's role promoting the concept of “reading up” during his ten-year stint as the cultivator of literary taste for the highly popular Ladies' Home Journal, Reading Up reveals how readers flocked to literary works that they would be expected to dislike. Blair shows that while readers could be led to certain books by a trusted adviser, they frequently followed their own path in interpreting them in unexpected ways.
Reading With Lincoln
Robert Bray Southern Illinois University Press, 2010 Library of Congress E457.2.B83 2010 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
Through extensive reading and reflection, Abraham Lincoln fashioned a mind as powerfully intellectual and superlatively communicative as that of any other American political leader. Reading with Lincoln uncovers the how of Lincoln’s inspiring rise to greatness by connecting the content of his reading to the story of his life.
At the core of Lincoln’s success was his self-education, centered on his love of and appreciation for learning through books. From his early studies of grammar school handbooks and children’s classics to his interest in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the Bible during his White House years, what Lincoln read helped to define who he was as a person and as a politician. This unique study delves into the books, pamphlets, poetry, plays, and essays that influenced Lincoln’s thoughts and actions.
Exploring in great depth and detail those readings that inspired the sixteenth president, author Robert Bray follows Lincoln’s progress closely, from the young teen composing letters for illiterate friends and neighbors to the politician who keenly employed what he read to advance his agenda. Bray analyzes Lincoln’s radical period in New Salem, during which he came under the influence of Anglo-American and French Enlightenment thinkers such as Thomas Paine, C. F. Volney, and Voltaire, and he investigates Lincoln’s appreciation of nineteenth-century lyric poetry, which he both read and wrote. Bray considers Lincoln’s fascination with science, mathematics, political economics, liberal social philosophy, theology, and the Bible, and devotes special attention to Lincoln’s enjoyment of American humor. While striving to arrive at an understanding of the role each subject played in the development of this remarkable leader, Bray also examines the connections and intertextual relations between what Lincoln read and how he wrote and spoke.
This comprehensive and long-awaited book provides fresh insight into the self-made man from the wilderness of Illinois. Bray offers a new way to approach the mind of the political artist who used his natural talent, honed by years of rhetorical study and practice, to abolish slavery and end the Civil War.
Rediscovering Nancy Drew
Carolyn Stewart Dyer University of Iowa Press, 1995 Library of Congress PS3545.I774Z87 1995 | Dewey Decimal 813.52
"Rediscovering Nancy Drew is a rich collection of literary memories and insightful cultural comments."--Journal of Children's Literature
"Nancy, especially the Nancy of the original story, is our bright heroine, chasing down the shadows, conquering our worst fears, giving us a glimpse of our brave and better selves, proving to everybody exactly how admirable and wonderful a thing it is to be a girl. Thank you, Nancy Drew."--Nancy Pickard
"Nancy Drew belongs to a moment in feminist history; it is a moment, I suggest, that we celebrate, allowing ourselves the satisfaction of praising her for what she dared and forgiving her for what she failed to undertake or understand."--Carolyn G. Heilbrun
"Rediscovering Nancy Drew lights up the territory. It informs, delights, and acknowledges through love and scholarship a debt long overdue."--Dale H. Ross
In 1991, women staff and faculty at the University of Iowa discovered that the pseudonymous author of the original Nancy Drew books, Carolyn Keene, was none other than Mildred Wirt Benson, the first person to earn a master's degree in journalism at Iowa. The excitement caused by their discovery led to the 1993 Nancy Drew Conference, which explored the remarkable passion for Nancy Drew that spans a wide spectrum of American society. The result: a lively collaboration of essays by and interviews with mystery writers, collectors, publishers, librarians, scholars, journalists, and fans which presents a spirited, informative, totally enjoyable tribute to the driver of that blue roadster so many readers have coveted.
Over the past half-century, bookselling, like many retail industries, has evolved from an arena dominated by independent bookstores to one in which chain stores have significant market share. And as in other areas of retail, this transformation has often been a less-than-smooth process. This has been especially pronounced in bookselling, argues Laura J. Miller, because more than most other consumer goods, books are the focus of passionate debate. What drives that debate? And why do so many people believe that bookselling should be immune to questions of profit?
In Reluctant Capitalists, Miller looks at a century of book retailing, demonstrating that the independent/chain dynamic is not entirely new. It began one hundred years ago when department stores began selling books, continued through the 1960s with the emergence of national chain stores, and exploded with the formation of “superstores” in the 1990s. The advent of the Internet has further spurred tremendous changes in how booksellers approach their business. All of these changes have met resistance from book professionals and readers who believe that the book business should somehow be “above” market forces and instead embrace more noble priorities.
Miller uses interviews with bookstore customers and members of the book industry to explain why books evoke such distinct and heated reactions. She reveals why customers have such fierce loyalty to certain bookstores and why they identify so strongly with different types of books. In the process, she also teases out the meanings of retailing and consumption in American culture at large, underscoring her point that any type of consumer behavior is inevitably political, with consequences for communities as well as commercial institutions.
Although Rembrandt's study of the Bible has long been recognized as intense, his interest in secular literature has been relatively neglected. Yet Philips Angel (1641) praised Rembrandt for "diligently seeking out the knowledge of histories from old musty books." Amy Golahny elaborates on this observation, reconstructing Rembrandt's library on the evidence of the 1656 inventory and discerning anew how Rembrandt's reading of histories contributed to his creative process. Golahny places Rembrandt in the learned vernacular culture of seventeenth-century Holland and shows the painter to have been a pragmatic reader whose attention to historical texts strengthened his early rivalry with Rubens for visual drama and narrative erudition.
Romance and the Erotics of Property examines contemporary popular romance from a number of different points of view, probing for codes and subtexts that sometimes exploit and sometimes contradict its surface tale of romantic attraction, frustration, longing, and fulfillment. Cohn argues that a full understanding of the contemporary romance requires an investigation of its literary and historical sources and analogues. Three principal sources are examined in the context of women's history in bourgeois society. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Erye, and Gone With the Wind demonstrate the development of romance fiction's themes, yet in all three the central love story is complicated by issues of property, the sign of male power. Jan Cohn further considers the development of the genre n the fictions of Harriet Lewis and May Agnes Fleming, prolific and popular American romance writers of the late nineteenth century who developed the role of the villain, thereby bringing into focus the sexual and economic struggles faced by the heroine. Romance and the Erotics of Property sets romance fiction against a historic and literary background, arguing that contemporary romance disguises as tales of love the subversive fantasies of female appropriation and male property and power.
In nineteenth-century London, a clubbable man was a fortunate man, indeed. The Reform, the Athenaeum, the Travellers, the Carlton, the United Service are just a few of the gentlemen’s clubs that formed the exclusive preserve known as “clubland” in Victorian London—the City of Clubs that arose during the Golden Age of Clubs. Why were these associations for men only such a powerful emergent institution in nineteenth-century London? Distinctly British, how did these single-sex clubs help fashion men, foster a culture of manliness, and assist in the project of nation building? What can elite male affiliative culture tell us about nineteenth-century Britishness?
A Room of His Own sheds light on the mysterious ways of male associational culture as it examines such topics as fraternity, sophistication, nostalgia, social capital, celebrity, gossip, and male professionalism. The story of clubland (and the literature it generated) begins with Britain’s military heroes home from the Napoleonic campaign and quickly turns to Dickens’s and Thackeray’s acrimonious Garrick Club Affair. It takes us to Richard Burton’s curious Cannibal Club and Winston Churchill’s The Other Club; it goes underground to consider Uranian desire and Oscar Wilde’s clubbing and resurfaces to examine the problematics of belonging in Trollope’s novels. The trespass of French socialist Flora Tristan, who cross-dressed her way into the clubs of Pall Mall, provides a brief interlude. London’s clubland—this all-important room of his own—comes to life as Barbara Black explores the literary representations of clubland and the important social and cultural work that this urban site enacts. Our present-day culture of connectivity owes much to nineteenth-century sociability and Victorian networks; clubland reveals to us our own enduring desire to belong, to construct imagined communities, and to affiliate with like-minded comrades.