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

By Janice A. Radway

Janice Radway means that the numerous selection of books suggested by means of the Book-of-the-Month membership through the years has been instrumental in formulating middlebrow literary style in the United States and in defining the wishes of the center type. here's her passionate exploration of analyzing, literary pros, and the nature of tradition.

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Those differences I could only conceive at the time as inherent to the texts themselves, as a function of particular textual properties. When that dissertation won for me official entry into the profession and a job at an Ivy League university, I knew it was time to let my Book-of-the-Month Club membership lapse. I sent in my resignation. At the time I had no idea that the first half of my professional life would be spent attempting to comprehend and to explain the nature of the distance I had traveled between a small tract house in suburban New Jersey, furnished with only one small bookcase and Time, Reader's Digest, and Woman's Day on the coffee table, and a lectern in front of a literature class at the University of Pennsylvania, an institution founded by Benjamin Franklin.

The academic, it gradually became clear, was something the people at the Book-of-the-Month Club defined themselves against. They used the word "academic" to dismiss books they did not like in much the same way my academic colleagues and I had used the word "middlebrow" to dispense with texts we judged inadequate. It began to occur to me, then, that despite the traditional claim that middlebrow culture simply apes the values of high culture, it is in fact a kind of counterpractice to the high culture tastes and proclivities that have been most insistently legitimated and nurtured in academic English Page 10 departments for the last fifty years or so.

That culture was aimed at people like me who wanted desperately to present themselves as educated, sophisticated, and aesthetically articulate. The original impulse behind this book also had something to do with my own imperfect conversion to the secular religion of great literature. My conversion was imperfect, I suspect, not only because I selected popular culture as my area of specialization but also because I continued to harbor a secret but suppressed desire to read in a less cerebral, less aesthetically focused way than the one I was taught in graduate school.

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