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Literature > Book History and Print Culture

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A Rationale of Textual Criticism Cover

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A Rationale of Textual Criticism

By G. Thomas Tanselle

Textual criticism—the traditional term for the task of evaluating the authority of the words and punctuation of a text—is often considered an undertaking preliminary to literary criticism: many people believe that the job of textual critics is to provide reliable texts for literary critics to analyze. G. Thomas Tanselle argues, on the contrary, that the two activities cannot be separated.

The textual critic, in choosing among textual variants and correcting what appear to be textual errors, inevitably exercises critical judgment and reflects a particular point of view toward the nature of literature. And the literary critic, in interpreting the meaning of a work or passage, needs to be (though rarely is) critical of the makeup of every text of it, including those produced by scholarly editors.

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RATTLE Conversations

Alan Fox

Including fourteen selections from the poetry journal, RATTLE Conversations offers rare insight into the lives and thoughts of some of the most notable American poets of our time. Informative and intimate, the conversations look beyond the academic minutia and into the heart of what we love—the passion that compels poetry, and the process that completes it. These poets explore not what they wrote, but why they had to write it, and how it came to be. As such, RATTLE Conversations serves as an indispensable guide and companion to anyone who appreciates the art and experience of writing. Includes conversations with: Daniel Berrigan, Hayden Carruth, Lucille Clifton, Sam Hamill, Jane Hirshfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jack Kornfield, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Gregory Orr, Luis J. Rodriguez, Alan Shapiro, Diane Wakoski

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Reading as Therapy

What Contemporary Fiction Does for Middle-Class Americans

Timothy Aubry

Why do Americans read contemporary fiction? This question seems simple, but is it? Do Americans read for the purpose of aesthetic appreciation? To satisfy their own insatiable intellectual curiosities? While other forms of media have come to monopolize consumers’ leisure time, in the past two decades book clubs have proliferated, Amazon has sponsored thriving online discussions, Oprah Winfrey has inspired millions of viewers to read both contemporary works and classics, and novels have retained their devoted following within middlebrow communities.
 
In Reading as Therapy, Timothy Aubry argues that contemporary fiction serves primarily as a therapeutic tool for lonely, dissatisfied middle-class American readers, one that validates their own private dysfunctions while supporting elusive communities of strangers unified by shared feelings. Aubry persuasively makes the case that contemporary literature’s persistent appeal depends upon its capacity to perform a therapeutic function.
 
Aubry traces the growth and proliferation of psychological concepts focused on the subjective interior within mainstream, middle-class society and the impact this has had on contemporary fiction. The prevailing tendency among academic critics has been to decry the personal emphasis of contemporary fiction as complicit with the rise of a narcissistic culture, the ascendency of liberal individualism, and the breakdown of public life. Reading as Therapy, by contrast, underscores the varied ideological effects that therapeutic culture can foster.
 
To uncover the many unpredictable ways in which contemporary literature answers the psychological needs of its readers, Aubry considers several different venues of reader-response—including Oprah’s Book Club and Amazon customer reviews—the promotional strategies of publishing houses, and a variety of contemporary texts, ranging from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. He concludes that, in the face of an atomistic social landscape, contemporary fiction gives readers a therapeutic vocabulary that both reinforces the private sphere and creates surprising forms of sympathy and solidarity among strangers.

 

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Reading Machines

Toward an Algorithmic Criticism

Stephen Ramsay

Besides familiar and now-commonplace tasks that computers do all the time, what else are they capable of? Stephen Ramsay's intriguing study of computational text analysis examines how computers can be used as "reading machines" to open up entirely new possibilities for literary critics. Computer-based text analysis has been employed for the past several decades as a way of searching, collating, and indexing texts. Despite this, the digital revolution has not penetrated the core activity of literary studies: interpretive analysis of written texts. _x000B__x000B_Computers can handle vast amounts of data, allowing for the comparison of texts in ways that were previously too overwhelming for individuals, but they may also assist in enhancing the entirely necessary role of subjectivity in critical interpretation. Reading Machines discusses the importance of this new form of text analysis conducted with the assistance of computers. Ramsay suggests that the rigidity of computation can be enlisted by intuition, subjectivity, and play.

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Reading Novels

George Hughes

Reading Novels is a unique piece of practical criticism, a comprehensive "poetics" of a genre that has not attracted a great deal of attention, at least not on this level. It is a reader's and student's guide that reaches beyond issues of individual texts and historical traditions to essential features of the form.

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Reading Places

Literacy, Democracy, and the Public Library in Cold War America

Christine Pawley

This book recounts the history of an experimental regional library service in the early 1950s, a story that has implications far beyond the two Wisconsin counties where it took place. Using interviews and library records, Christine Pawley reveals the choices of ordinary individual readers, showing how local cultures of reading interacted with formal institutions to implement an official literacy policy. Central to the experiment were well-stocked bookmobiles that brought books to rural districts and the one-room schools that dotted the region. Three years after the project began, state officials and local librarians judged it an overwhelming success. Library circulation figures soared to two-and-a-half times their previous level. Over 90 percent of grade-school children in the rural schools used the bookmobile service, and their reading scores improved beyond expectation. Despite these successes, however, local communities displayed deeply divided reactions. Some welcomed the book-mobiles and new library services wholeheartedly, valuing print and reading as essential to the exercise of democracy, and keen to widen educational opportunities for children growing up on hardscrabble farms where books and magazines were rare. Others feared the intrusion of govern- ment into their homes and communities, resented the tax increases that library services entailed, and complained about the subversive or immoral nature of some books. Analyzing the history of tensions between various community groups, Pawley delineates the long-standing antagonisms arising from class, gender, and ethnic differences which contributed to a suspicion of official projects to expand education. Relating a seemingly small story of library policy, she teases out the complex interaction of reading, locality, and cultural difference. In so doing, she illuminates broader questions regarding libraries, literacy, and citizenship, reaching back to the nineteenth century and forward to the present day.

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Reading Women

Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800

Edited by Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine E. Kelly

In 1500, as many as 99 out of 100 English women may have been illiterate, and girls of all social backgrounds were the objects of purposeful efforts to restrict their access to full literacy. Three centuries later, more than half of all English and Anglo-American women could read, and the female reader was emerging as a cultural ideal and a market force. While scholars have written extensively about women's reading in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and about women's writing in the early modern period, they have not attended sufficiently to the critical transformation that took place as female readers and their reading assumed significant cultural and economic power.

Reading Women brings into conversation the latest scholarship by early modernists and early Americanists on the role of gender in the production and consumption of texts during this expansion of female readership. Drawing together historians and literary scholars, the essays share a concern with local specificity and material culture. Removing women from the historically inaccurate frame of exclusively solitary, silent reading, the authors collectively return their subjects to the activities that so often coincided with reading: shopping, sewing, talking, writing, performing, and collecting. With chapters on samplers, storytelling, testimony, and translation, the volume expands notions of reading and literacy, and it insists upon a rich and varied narrative that crosses disciplinary boundaries and national borders.

Right Here I See My Own Books Cover

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Right Here I See My Own Books

The Woman's Building Library at the World's Columbian Exposition

Sarah Wadsworth and Wayne A. Wiegand

On May 1, 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago opened its gates to an expectant public eager to experience firsthand its architectural beauty, technological marvels, and vast array of cultural treasures gathered from all over the world. Among the most popular of the fair’s attractions was the Woman’s Building, a monumental exhibit hall filled with the products of women’s labor—including more than 8,000 volumes of writing by women. Right Here I See My Own Books examines the progress, content, and significance of this historic first effort to assemble a comprehensive library of women’s texts. By weaving together the behind-the-scenes story of the library’s formation and the stories between the covers of books on display, Wadsworth and Wiegand firmly situate the Woman’s Building Library within the historical context of the 1890s. Interdisciplinary in approach, their book demonstrates how this landmark collection helped consolidate and institutionalize women’s writing in conjunction with the burgeoning women’s movement and the professionalization of librarianship in late nineteenth-century America. Americans in this period debated a wide range of topics, including women’s rights, gender identity, racial politics, nationalism, regionalism, imperialism, and modernity. These debates permeated the cultural climate of the Columbian Exposition. Wadsworth and Wiegand’s book illuminates the range and complexity of American women’s responses to these issues within a public sphere to which the Woman’s Building provided unprecedented access.

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Shaped by Stories

The Ethical Power of Narratives

Marshall Gregory

In his latest book, Marshall Gregory begins with the premise that our lives are saturated with stories, ranging from magazines, books, films, television, and blogs to the words spoken by politicians, pastors, and teachers. He then explores the ethical implication of this nearly universal human obsession with narratives. Through careful readings of Katherine Anne Porter’s "The Grave," Thurber’s "The Catbird Seat," as well as David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights, Gregory asks (and answers) the question: How do the stories we absorb in our daily lives influence the kinds of persons we turn out to be? Shaped by Stories is accessible to anyone interested in ethics, popular culture, and education. It will encourage students and teachers to become more thoughtful and perceptive readers of stories.

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Still in Print

The Southern Novel Today

Jan Nordby Gretlund

In Still in Print, eighteen Southern novels published since 1997 fall under the careful scrutiny of an international cast of accomplished literary critics to identify the very best of recent writings in the genre. These essays highlight the praiseworthy efforts of a pantheon of novelists celebrating and challenging regionality, unearthing manifestations of the past in the present, and looking to the future with wit and healthy skepticism. Organized around shared themes of history, place, humor, and malaise, the novels discussed here interrogate Southern culture and explore the region's promise for the future. Four novels reconsider the Civil War and its aftermath as Charles Frazier, Kaye Gibbons, Josephine Humphreys, and Pam Durban revisit the past and add fresh insights to contemporary discussions of race and gender through their excursions into history. The novels by Steve Yarbrough, Larry Brown, Chris Offutt, Barry Hannah, and James Lee Burke demonstrate a keen sense of place, rooted in a South marked by fundamentalism, poverty, violence, and rampant prejudice but still capable of promise for some unseen future. The comic fiction of George Singleton, Clyde Edgerton, James Wilcox, Donald Harington, and Lewis Nordan shows how Southern humor still encompasses customs and speech reflected in concrete places. Ron Rash, Richard Ford, and Cormac McCarthy probe the depths of human existence, often with disturbing results, as they write about protagonists cut off from their own humanity and desperate to reconnect with the human race. Diverse in content but unified in genre, these particular novels have been nominated by the contributors to Still in Print for long-term survival as among the best modern representations of the Southern novel.

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