English and Film Studies

ENGL 681 B1: Reading and Popular Culture

Danielle Fuller

 Why do you read?  What or who made you into a reader?

 We live in an era and a region of the world where less people are reading more books; where more books are published now than 20 years ago, yet educators and librarians fret that young people only play online games. Why, in a digital age, does the reading of printed books and the existence of a ‘bookish culture’ still matter? Why do some people, including government agencies, think that reading ‘good’ books makes you a more moral human being or a better citizen? How do literary prizes, publishers and bookshops affect what and how you read – and what have these got to do with globalization?  Why do people come together in book clubs and reading events to share their reading? 

 In order to explore and understand both the material and ideological aspects of contemporary book and reading cultures, this course focusses on the social location and cultural function of book reading in the 21st century. Drawing upon contemporary case studies from Canada, the United States, Australia and the UK, we will also consider how and why ‘ordinary’ people read books, how the contemporary mass media frame reading as a form of popular culture and why these practices matter – politically, socially and culturally. 

 This is not a traditional literary text-based course since it engages with scholarship and methods from reading studies and book history, but no prior knowledge of these fields is required.  Students will be encouraged to develop their own research projects within and beyond the three themed units: Reading As A Social Practice; Reading as Popular Culture; Producing Readers. Within each unit we will examine a selection of theories, artefacts and practices that will allow us to investigate the meanings and formations that contemporary book cultures assume. Our texts and case studies will range across media, genres and nation-states.  We will also read a selection of historical analyses by book historians and theoretical texts derived from cultural studies’ work on readers and about popular culture.  Through hands-on activities (e.g. an in-class reading group) and mini-research tasks (e.g. observing readers in libraries and bookshops) we will ‘test’ both theories of and popular ideas about reading and book readers as well as interrogating our own reading practices.

Possible texts:-

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Anne Marie MacDonald, Fall on Your Knees (1997)

Theory and Criticism:-

Pierre Bourdieu ‘The Forms of Capital.’ (1986)

Extracts from:  John Frow Cultural Studies and Cultural Value. (1995)

Extracts from:  Janice Radway A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire. (1997)

Selections from: Shafquat Towheed, Rosalind Crone, Katherine Halsey (eds.) The History of Reading: A Reader.  (2010)

Online media could include:-

Bookvlogs (e.g. Reader Skeeter)

Podcasts (e.g. Witch, Please)

Fanfiction (e.g. on Archive of Our Own and Wattpad)