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 choice of books instructed via the Book-of-the-Month membership through the years has been instrumental in formulating middlebrow literary flavor in the USA and in defining the needs of the center classification. this is her passionate exploration of examining, literary execs, and the nature of tradition.

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Critical, analytical languages fail to do justice to the extreme specificity and idiosyncratic character of this experience, which I have heard the novelist Reynolds Price describe as a state of "narrative hypnosis," a phrase that underscores the deep involvement of the body in the act of reading. No matter the number of explanations I can generate linking the reading Page 14 choices and preferences of the Book-of-the-Month Club editors to their class position, to their professional training, or to the determining nature of earlier historical events, there remains something in their sentient, affective responsiveness to particular books that always manages to escape the categorizing imperative to fix, to pin down, and to control.

I suspect, in fact, that the disputatious, stringent, recalcitrant voices behind movements such as feminist criticism, reader response theory, psychoanalysis, a revivified Marxist criticism, and cultural studies solicited my identification in part because they duplicated the sense of distance I already felt from high culture in spite of all of my efforts to seek access to its mysteries. D. had declared, at least officially, to be mine. I stress the plural "languages" here as a way of underscoring the fact that I have not managed to construct a single, coherent intellectual perspective or method out of my particular reading of these disparate literatures.

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. 2 What I have been allowed to revisit, then, with the assistance of the editors at the club, is a time before my entry into graduate education in English, a time when I read fiction and nonfiction, genre books and bestsellers, and fashion magazines and Reader's Digest indiscriminately and all for the particular pleasures they promised and the sensations they might convey.

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