What American Readers Remember: A Case Study
Keywords:reader reception, American Literature , memory studies , empirical study of literature
This article describes an archive consisting of literary memories obtained via interviews from one hundred contemporary readers of literature, sourced from a college town in the United States. The memories were summarized and studied in order to establish what readers tend to remember as important and/or impressive in their everyday reading of literature. The summaries include both quantitative and qualitative data, which are presented in brief extracts (tables) referring to facts such as recall of textual elements, circumstances of reading, and most remembered texts and authors. Characteristics of non-professional readers and their readings are thus observed according to three distinct sources of information: (a) the type of text they preferred; (b) the context of their reading; (c) the textual elements they found most memorable. All of these are considered in turn, including more specific discussion on topics of attachments to texts; the role of “classics”; and the readers’ paracanon. The study concludes with three main findings: (1) the participating American readers are shown to have rich and diverse memories of literary works, (2) which usually consist of coherent mental representations of the texts accompanied by some sort of episodic memory attaching them to their lived experience, (3) and these representations mostly involve unusual and incongruous characters and plot occurrences set against the ground of narrative content, which might imply that literature is used as a form of simulation.
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