Feeling for Books: The Book-Of-The-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire

Janice A. Radway, Author University of North Carolina Press $39.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8078-2357-6
Anyone who bought the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as an introduction to the Book-of-the-Month Club will smile when Radway confesses to joining that all-American institution in 1975 to get those two massive tomes. In this study, which includes personal reminiscences, history, ethnography and literary criticism, Duke University English professor Radway explores the place of the BOMC in her own life and in American culture. From 1985 to 1988, Radway was a fly on the wall during BOMC editorial meetings, and she gives engaging accounts of how books are chosen as the Club's monthly selections or alternates. She also tells the story of how advertising copywriter and aspiring playwright Harry Scherman started BOMC in 1926 and within a few short years made it a household word. Club membership, as she sees it, satisfied middle-class aspirations to cultural mastery. Libraries of classics, along with chromolithographs, pianos and parlor organs, became obligatory furnishings in a middle-class home. The final chapters discuss various Book-of-the-Month Club titles that Radway enjoyed as a young reader--To Kill a Mockingbird, Marjorie Morningstar and Gods, Graves, & Scholars, among others. On personal topics, Radway's writing is charming; but passages of dense academic prose, especially in the historical chapters, will make readers wish that this ambivalent academic had allowed herself to be more middlebrow. (Oct.) FYI: North Carolina's 1992 title, The Making of Middlebrow Culture, by Joan Rubin, is a scholarly yet accessible account of BOMC, Great Books, newspaper book reviews, etc., that makes a fine supplement to A Feeling for Books.
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-8078-4830-2
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