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Title: The Readers' Choice: il Fenomeno del Book Club nella Cultura Anglofona Contemporanea
Authors: Boschi, Alberta
Issue Date: 4-Aug-2010
Series/Report no.: Tesi di laurea. 2. livello. Classe 43 S;
The purpose of this study is to provide an analysis of the cultural phenomenon of the
book club, particularly of the success it has enjoyed in the two most important English speaking countries, the United States and the United Kingdom. The study focuses on reading as a social practice, a transaction between the text and the reader, in which the reader participates in the process of meaning-making of the text.
Accordingly, my work provides a brief historical background of the phenomenon of the book club, from its origins in the late twelfth century to the present age.
The first communities of readers in close communication with each other were established in the late twelfth century, when reading in groups was a common practice
related to the need of sharing rare and expensive manuscripts. Thanks to the invention of the movable type printing press book circulation increased. Readers developed a new skill, the ability of reading in silence. A new 'image' of the reader came out, the 'silent reader', which established itself during the XVIII century. Reading became a private activity, and the image of the 'solitary reader' appeared. Meanwhile previous reading practices did not fade out. Different social practices cohabited and met different needs.
Reading groups persisted giving importance to the social nature of reading.
According to Jenny Hartley, "A reading group can be many things […]. The usual
minimal definition would be a group of people who meet on a regular basis to discuss
books" (2002, 2). Neighbourhood and word of mouth are basic elements in a traditional
book club. However, according to Hartley, "A reading group isn't just about reading; it's
about reading in a context which is fostered by the group, and which in turn affects the
whole experience of reading" (2002, 22).
Reading for pleasure is the subject of my analysis: it consists in reading "of our own free will [...]. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else's request we continue because we are interested in it." (National Literacy Trust 2006, 5-6). The
theory of reader response criticism focuses on the idea of 'reading as a transaction': the reader is an agent who participates in the process of meaning making of the text: "The black marks on the page are important, of course, but the meaning is constructed by the reader on the basis of his or her past experience with reading texts and with living in the world" (Ross 2006, 51). A reader's experience is unrepeatable. Book clubs fulfill the need of sharing personal experiences of reading with other readers.
TV, computers, videogames and the Internet have been considered rivals of book
reading. As a matter of fact the interaction among different media has given birth to
novel resources, which in turn showed to be successful in providing new incentives to
reading. Book clubs have entered bookstores as well. Chainstores, such as the American Barnes & Noble, provide places to read and discuss books, organize meetings with authors and sell books at cheap prices. Bookstores have come to adopt a new market strategy based on the double principle of communication and commercialization.
In 1996 Oprah's Book Club went on air for the first time in America: its extraordinary
success was followed in 2004 by the birth of a British celebrity book club, the Richard &
Judy Book Club. These two shows proved to be real cultural phenomena: they showed
great influence on the sales of the books featured in both programs. Oprah Winfrey in America and Amanda Ross in the UK are considered as the most influential people in publishing, thanks to their 'power' in shaping readers' literary taste. Both TV shows are supported by websites users can access to in order to share their reading experience with a wide number of readers. The R&J Book Club’s website summarizes this strategy of communication and commercialization by offering readers
the opportunity to order books online at convenient prices.
Finally, thanks to the web the cultural phenomenon of the book club has come to shape
the global network: the main advantage is that the web, through forums, chats and social networks, abolishes physical borders of space and time and offers new experiences of reading and of socialization. The intimacy that book discussion groups succeed in establishing is the key factor of all these several interactive experiences of reading. Nowadays a kind of chain reaction is taking place: the social aspect of reading
(communication) combines with commercial interest (books sales). In this way the book
club finds its space in today's society: on the one hand it conjugates the pleasure coming from reading a good book with that of sharing one's own personal reading experiences. On the other hand book clubs seem to grant the book permanence. Their integration with new technologies offers renewed experiences of socialization and communication for their users.
Tesi di laurea di 2. livello in Lingue e letterature straniere moderne. Corso di laurea in Lingue Straniere per la Comunicazione Internazionale. A. a. 2007/2008. Relatore Prof.ssa Francesca Saggini. Correlatore Prof. Gino Roncaglia
Rights: If not otherwise stated, this document is distributed by the Tuscia University Open Archive under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution - Noncommercial - Noderivs License (
Appears in Collections:LINGUE - Archivio delle tesi di laurea

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