The Growth of Reading Groups as a Feminine Leisure Pursuit: Cultural Democracy or Dumbing Down?

Anna Kiernan
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Reading groups have historically been conceived of as a feminine leisure pursuit. The rationale of the reading group is predicated on an appreciation of literature, rather than its analysis. Reading groups are therefore often ascribed a low cultural value as opposed to the high cultural value of discussing a Great Work of Literature in an academic context. As Nicholas Clee, former editor of the Bookseller explains, 'With the promotion of reading for shared enjoyment and uplift…comes a coarsening of literary discourse.' (Clee in the New Statesman, 21.3.05) Daytime television is also viewed as 'lowbrow', being similarly configured in terms of its gendered cultural value (Ang, 1985; Geraghty, 1991; Glaessner, 1990). It is little wonder then, that the union of book clubs and daytime television in the form of the Richard and Judy bookclub has caused consternation among the literati. This paper will consider why these feminised spheres of cultural production and reception are (de)valued, by looking at gendered reading habits (Jardine and Watkins, 2005) and considering book group narratives such as Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi as a locus for exploring the dramatisation of these and other tensions.

Keywords: Publishing phenomenon, Reading groups, Book clubs, New readers, Richard and Judy, Cultural elitism, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Feminism
Stream: Other or Stream Unspecified, Books, Writing and Reading, Publishing
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Anna Kiernan

Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media and Cultural Studies, School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University

Further notes: Books and chapters: n Bit on the Side: An Anthology (working title), 2006. (Editor) (Parthian Books) n 'No Satisfaction: Sex and the City, Run Catch Kiss and the Conflict of Desires in Chick-Lit's new heroines' in Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction, 2005 (forthcoming) edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (London/New York: Routledge) n The Algonquin Bar and Cocktail Guide A literary companion to drink, 2002 (New York: Barnes & Noble) n Voices for Peace: An Anthology, 2001. (Editor) (London: Scribner) (New York: Simon & Schuster) n Postscript for Douglas Coupland's novel Life After God, 1998 n Postscript for Vitali Vitaliev's Border's Up! Eastern Europe Through the Bottom of a Glass, 1998 Articles and reviews: n Feature writer for Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, The Guardian, The Bookseller, New welsh Review (NWR), Stealth, Pluk: Photography in London, the UK and Europe n Reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, the Big Issue, NWR n I have interviewed many authors including Courttia Newland, Zadie Smith, Erica Wooff, Matthew Branton, Iain Sinclair, Dannie Abse, and Peter Ho Davies. Publishing: I have worked variously as a freelance writer and project editor for Hodder Headline, Random House, Thames & Hudson, Carlton Books, Quintet, Robson Books, Mencap, The Welsh Books Council and the Central Office of Information. Magazines: 2004- Pluk (Photography in London the UK and Europe) London Books Editor (freelance) 2003-2004 Pluk (Photography in London the UK and Europe) London Deputy Editor (freelance) n Writing and editing copy. n Reviewing books. n Reviewing exhibitions. 2000- Private Eye London Sub Editor/Cuttings Editor (freelance) n Researching stories/articles. n Picture research. n Proofing copy. 1999- Simon & Schuster UK London Editorial Consultant (freelance) n Compiled and edited the rush anthology Voices for Peace in three weeks. Contributors include Ahdaf Soueif, Edward Said, Paul Foot, Anita Roddick, Annie Lennox, George Monbiot, Joseph Olshan, Terry Jones, Ziauddin Sardar, Natasha Walter and Ronan Bennett. Assessing agented manuscripts on behalf of the fiction publisher. Recommended titles have included Amy Sohn's Run, Catch, Kiss, Elizabeth Strout's Amy & Isabelle and Lara Citron's Spilt Milk.

Ref: B05P0113