Reading Acts

U. S. Readers' Interactions with Literature, 1800-1950

  • Author(s): Ryan, Barbara, and Amy M. Thomas, eds.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 0000-00-00
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $36.00 | Buy Now

“A strong, coherent set of essays that advance the history of reading by bringing together historical, cultural, and literary perspectives.”—David D. Hall, Harvard University

Drawing on such original sources as diaries, commonplace books, fan mail to authors, booksellers’ reports, and student papers, the contributors to Reading Acts recover a wealth of important historical information that expands our understanding of reading in the United States during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The emphasis throughout is on the act of reading and the attendant proposition that reading acts upon those who read.

Covered in this volume are a wide range of fascinating topics, including the cultural agency of women during the early national period; readers’ criticisms of the critics in the 1830s; readers’ relationships with beloved authors after the Second Industrial Revolution; and attitudes toward single motherhood in the mid-twentieth century as revealed in readers’ responses to a True Confessions magazine article. Contributors from diverse fields and disciplines highlight the ways in which human diversity—and often contrariness—are reflected in reading habits and enthusiasms. They show how a desire to read and a love of reading have impelled “average” Americans to voice their opinions, defend their tastes, and confront cultural arbiters whose dictates failed to match their lived experiences.

By focusing on documents left by readers deemed “ordinary,” the essayists raise important questions that existing approaches and methodologies often obscure. Their treatment of key variables in the act of reading—such as gender, institutional setting, and class—is consistently fresh, provocative, and illuminating.

The Editors: Barbara Ryan is an assistant professor of English at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Her articles have appeared in American Literature, Michigan Quarterly Review, Callaloo, and other publications.

Amy M. Thomas is an associate professor of English at Montana State University. She has contributed articles to Book History and the collection Reading Books: Essays on the Material Text and Literature in America, edited by  Michele Moylan and Lane Stiles.

The Contributors: Jane Greer, Leon Jackson, Mary Kelley, Regina G. Kunzel, Elisabeth B. Nichols, Jennifer Parchesky, Joan Shelley Rubin, Alison M. Scott, and Barbara Sicherman.