(2014). Readers and the novel.
In: Wilson, Nicola ed.
The Book World: Selling and Distributing Literature, 1900-1940.
Library of the Written Word, 1.
Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, (In press).
Publishers’ archives can offer us very detailed and extremely valuable information about book production costs, market segmentation, promotional strategies, contractual details, the size of print runs, the profitability (or not) of specific titles, the position of authors within a publisher’s list, distribution and retails practices, and the prospective size and consumption patterns of potential readers and purchasers. Examining such consolidated archives can map out in considerable detail the changing nature of the market for books (and especially fiction) during the period from 1900-40. But one thing that publishers’ archives can rarely register in any significant way is the opinions, tastes, and preferences of readers themselves. Publishers in this period drew upon the selection criteria and judgements of their house manuscript readers and worked closely with literary reviewers, and towards the end of the period, some publishing firms started to collate unsolicited responses from readers, but they were not able to gauge the responses of actual readers themselves.
How might readers have engaged with (in particular) fiction in the period 1900-40, one typified by the increasing commercialisation and market segmentation of genres and categories of fiction? How might they have actually consumed fiction, or indeed, resisted particular types of distribution, marketing, or assumptions of readership? How did the rise of lists or series promote or shape particular reading practices?
In this chapter, I will try and answer some of these questions by examining differing responses to the reading of fiction from evidence currently in the UK Reading Experience Database. While any data set cannot claim to be completely representative or comprehensive, the volume and quality of information about readers and reading in this period currently in UK RED can, I think, allow us to interrogate existing assumptions about the changing literary cultures of the period, and ask new questions about how readers actually engaged with the books that they read.
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||Arts > English
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