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A Feeling for Books

The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire

By Janice A. Radway

448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4830-2
    Published: August 1999
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6397-8
    Published: November 2000

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 1997 Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Annual Awards, Association of American Publishers

Deftly melding ethnography, cultural history, literary criticism, and autobiographical reflection, A Feeling for Books is at once an engaging study of the Book-of-the-Month Club's influential role as a cultural institution and a profoundly personal meditation about the experience of reading. Janice Radway traces the history of the famous mail-order book club from its controversial founding in 1926 through its evolution into an enterprise uniquely successful in blending commerce and culture. Framing her historical narrative with writing of a more personal sort, Radway reflects on the contemporary role of the Book-of-the-Month Club in American cultural history and in her own life. Her detailed account of the standards and practices employed by the club's in-house editors is also an absorbing story of her interactions with those editors. Examining her experiences as a fourteen-year-old reader of the club's selections and, later, as a professor of literature, she offers a series of rigorously analytical yet deeply personal readings of such beloved novels as Marjorie Morningstar and To Kill a Mockingbird. Rich and rewarding, this book will captivate and delight anyone who is interested in the history of books and in the personal and transformative experience of reading.

About the Author

Janice A. Radway is Walter Dill Scott Professor of Communication and professor of American studies and gender studies at Northwestern University and author of Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature.
For more information about Janice A. Radway, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"The volume has great value as a history of the Book-of-the-Month Club and of the formation of middle class culture as ‘middlebrow’ culture. It offers special insight into the techniques by which American publishers managed to commodify books as objects which claim to reach beyond the world of commodities. But it is the best book I know on the mind altering powers of reading for pleasure."--American Quarterly

"[A] complex and richly rewarding book."--Epilogue

"Essential reading for scholars interested in the history of the book and popular culture . . . engaging and sympathetic."--American Literature

"Radway has written one of the most important books in this decade. . . . Provides a persuasive explanation for a set of human behaviors librarianship cannot ignore if it expects to prepare a prudent and democratic agenda for the next century."--Libraries and Culture

"[Radway's] book is ambitious and engrossing, and it leaves us with much to ponder."--Washington Post Book World

"What [Radway] sees most clearly is how those middlebrow books she read in her childhood gave her the appetite to keep on reading, until her mind grew powerful enough to produce this deeply penetrating book, which not only lays bare the forces that produced middlebrow reading but also explains a good deal of what is going on in the world of books today."--Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times