A feeling for books: the Book-of-the-Month Club, literary by Janice A. Radway

By Janice A. Radway

Janice Radway means that the various number of books prompt via the Book-of-the-Month membership through the years has been instrumental in formulating middlebrow literary flavor in the US and in defining the wishes of the center type. this is her passionate exploration of examining, literary execs, and the nature of tradition.

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Of course, those desires, here excavated through the use of ethnographic techniques and historical methods, may be little more than the ventriloquized projection of my own desires, which propelled me to renounce my passion for bestsellers, detective stories, and novels about women in favor of the approved tales of Isabel Archer, Jay Gatsby, Benjy Compson, Thomas Sutpen, Thea Kronborg, and Oedipa Maas. Even projected desires have a history, however, and it is the larger social history of the desire to display the tasteful signs of learning and education that I have been moved to tell as a consequence of my reencounter with the Book-of-the-Month Club.

But as I made my way eagerly into the literary branch of the academy, I also deliberately mastered its daily routines, participated in its habitual forms of gossip and self-discipline, and internalized its conceptual grids and evaluative hierarchies. As a consequence, when the OED was mentioned (as it frequently was) and we admitted with staged irony that we all had acquired our copies through the Book-of-the-Month Club, I concurred (I thought matter-of-factly) with everyone else in the additional, dismissive observation that of course it was impossible to find anything else good to buy from the Book-of-the-Month Club.

It is essential to acknowledge here that the Book-of-the-Month Club reader's reports came to me not simply as documents in a research project but also as the evocative emissaries of a personal past. " However, because I read the kind of books I did before I set my sights on the high literary, I was expected to disparage and to abandon that past by my chosen profession, deeply invested as it was in constructing and enforcing the boundaries of cultural hierarchy. That profession sought to maintain not only its right to specify what constituted literary excellence but also its particular, highly technical conception of the literary itself.

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