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.
Allen, Esther. 2007. "To Be Translated or Not To Be." PEN/IRL Report on the International Situation of Literary Translation. Barcelona: Institut Ramon Llull.
Archer, Jodie and Jockers, Matthew L. 2016. The bestseller code: Anatomy of the blockbuster novel. St. Martin's Press.
Bell, Alice; Browse, Sam; Gibbons, Alison and Peplow, David. (eds.). 2021. Style and reader response: Minds, media, methods. John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1075/lal.36
Benwell, Bethan. 2009. "'A pathetic and racist and awful character': ethnomethodological approaches to the reception of diasporic fiction." Language and Literature, Vol. 18, No. 3: 300-315. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963947009105855
Bourrier, Karen and Thelwall, Mike. 2020. "The Social Lives of Books: Reading Victorian Literature on Goodreads." Journal of Cultural Analytics, Vol. 1, No. 1, 12049. https://doi.org/10.22148/001c.12049
Boyd, Brian. 2009. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Harvard: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.4159/9780674053595
Burke, Michael. 2008. The oceanic mind: A study of emotion in literary reading. PhD Thesis.
Burke, Michael; Kuzmičová, Anežka; Mangen, Anne and Schilhab, Theresa. 2016. "Empathy at the confluence of neuroscience and empirical literary studies." Scientific Study of Literature, Vol. 6, No. 1: 6-41. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.6.1.03bur
Carney, James; Robertson, Cole. 2022 "Five studies evaluating the impact on mental health and mood of recalling, reading, and discussing fiction." PLoS ONE, Vol. 17, No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0266323
Collinson, Ian. 2009. Everyday Readers: Reading and Popular Culture. London; Oakville, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1558/isbn.9781845533557
Hogan, Patrick Colm. 2016. "Affect Studies." In: P. C. Hogan, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.013.105
Copeland, David; Radvansky, Gabriel and Goodwin, Kerri. 2009. "A Novel Study: Forgetting Curves and the Reminiscence Bump." Memory, Vol. 17, No. 3: 323-336. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658210902729491
Djikic, Maja; Oatley, Keith and Moldoveanu, Mihnea C. 2013. "Reading other minds: Effects of literature on empathy." Scientific Study of Literature, Vol. 3, No. 1: 28-47. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.3.1.06dji
Emre, Merve. 2017. Paraliterary: The making of bad readers in postwar America. The University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226474021.001.0001
Elfenbein, Andrew. 2018. The Gist of Reading. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Kindle edition. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781503604100
Elfenbein, Andrew. 2020. "Mental Representation." In: M. Rubery and L. Price (eds.), Further reading: 246-256. Oxford University Press https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198809791.013.21
Farr, Cecilia Konchar. 2016. The Ulysses delusion: Rethinking standards of literary merit. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137542779
Felski, Rita. 2011a. "Context Stinks!" New Literary History, Vol. 42, No. 4: 573-91. https://doi.org/10.1353/nlh.2011.0045
Felski, Rita. 2011b. Uses of Literature. Wiley-Blackwell.
Felski, Rita. 2020a. "Postcritical." In: M. Rubery and L. Price, (eds.), Further reading: 134-144. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198809791.013.11
Felski, Rita. 2020b. Hooked. Art and Attachment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226729770.001.0001
Fischer, Steven R. 2005. A History of Reading. London: Reaktion Books.
Fuller, Danielle, Rehberg Sedo, DeNel. 2019. "'Boring, Frustrating, Impossible': Tracing the Negative Affects of Reading from Interviews to Story Circles." Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1: 622-655.
Harkin, Patricia. 2005. "The Reception of Reader-Response Theory." College Composition and Communication, Vol. 56, No. 3: 410-425.
Hermes, Joke. 1995. Reading Women's Magazines: An Analysis of Everyday Media Use. Cambridge: Polity.
Hirsch, Edward D. 1988. Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. New York: Vintage.
Hirsch, Marianne. 2012. The Generation of postmemory: Writing and visual culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press.
Holland, Norman N. 1975. 5 readers reading. Yale University Press.
Iser, Wolfgang. 1978. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Jacobs, Arthur M. 2015. "The scientific study of literary experience: Sampling the state of the art." Scientific Study of Literature, Vol. 5, No. 2: 139-170. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.5.2.01jac
Koopman, Eva Maria (Emy). 2015. "Why do we read sad books? Eudaimonic motives and meta-emotions." Poetics, Vol. 52: 18-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2015.06.004
Kuzmičová, Anežka. 2016. "Does it Matter Where You Read? Situating Narrative in Physical Environment. Communication Theory, Vol. 26, No. 3: 290-308. https://doi.org/10.1111/comt.12084
Kuzmičová, Anežka and Bálint, Katalin. 2019. "Personal Relevance in Story Reading." Poetics Today, Vol. 40, No. 3: 429-451. https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558066
Long, Elizabeth. 2003. Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCarthy, Kathryn S. 2015. "Reading beyond the lines: A critical review of cognitive approaches to literary interpretation and comprehension." Scientific Study of Literature, Vol. 5, No. 1: 99-128. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.5.1.05mcc
Nell, Victor. 1988. Lost in a book: The psychology of reading for pleasure. Yale University Press.
Pettersson, Anders. 2012. The concept of literary application: Readers' analogies from text to life. Palgrave Macmillan.
Radvansky, Gabriel. 2008. "Situational models in memory: Texts and stories." In: G. Cohen and M. Conway (eds.), Memory in the Real World: 229-247. New York: Psychology Press.
Radway, Janice. 1991. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.
Rose, Jonathan. 2002. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Sandvoss, Cornel. 2017. "The death of the reader? Literary theory and the study of texts in popular culture." In: J. Gray, C. Sandvoss and C. Harrington (eds.), Fandom, Second Edition: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World: 29-44. New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt1pwtbq2.4
Stockwell, Peter. 2002. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. Routledge.
Škopljanac, Lovro. 2012. "Literature Through Recall: Ways of Connecting Literary Studies and Memory Studies". Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2: 197-212. https://doi.org/10.5325/intelitestud.14.2.0197
Škopljanac, Lovro. 2014. Književnost kao prisjećanje: Što pamte čitatelji. Zagreb: Naklada Ljevak.
Trower, Shelley. 2020. "Forgetting Fiction: An Oral History of Reading." Book History, Vol. 23, No. 1: 269-298. https://doi.org/10.1353/bh.2020.0007
Underwood, Ted. 2019. Distant Horizons: Digital Evidence and Literary Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226612973.001.0001
Waller, Alison. 2019. Rereading childhood books: A poetics. Bloomsbury Academic. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474298315
Walsh, Melanie and Antoniak, Maria. 2021. "The Goodreads 'Classics': A Computational Study of Readers, Amazon, and Crowdsourced Amateur Criticism." Journal of Cultural Analytics, Vol. 1, No. 1: 243-287. https://doi.org/10.22148/001c.22221
Warner, Michael. 2004. "Uncritical Reading." In: J. Gallop (ed.), Polemic. Critical or Uncritical. New York, London: Routledge: 21-46.
Williams, Helen L. and Conway, Martin A. 2009. "Networks of Autobiographical Memories." In: P. Boyer and J. V. Wertsch (eds.), Memory in Mind and Culture. Cambridge University Press: 33-61. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511626999.004
How to Cite
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.