Monday, May 12, 2014

We the readers

"With every allowance for the virtues of treating books as commodities like any other, the literary marketplace might still be made distinct from the community of readers.  This distinction is subtle, and hard to make cartographic, but it's one known to both book buyers and booksellers  . . .  [T]he community of readers has an existence outside the literary marketplace as well, and is responsible for the slow but irresistible rise and fall of reputations.  When you read the letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop today, you are startled to realize that, in their day, Lowell was a god and Bishop still very much an aspirant, a judgement that has been turned almost on its head now.  The forces that propelled the change come mostly from below. No one biography, no one critical text, no one 'reading,' and certainly no one publisher altered the view; readers altered it by reading and then talking to one another.  It was the suffrage of ordinary readers that rediscovered Barbara Pym and remade Trollope a classic alongside Dickens.  The literary marketplace turns profits; the community of readers makes reputations."  -- Adam Gopnik, "Go Giants," The New Yorker, 4/21/2014
I never realized Trollope's critical reputation had fallen so low until I read Susan Hill's Howards End Is on the Landing, though I've also had no success in convincing anyone else to read him.  I think it was readers who made Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder "classics."  And from my own experience, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett as well - and maybe Patrick O'Brian.


  1. Wonderful, and true. Even leaving aside reputations, which I think still depend a fair bit on the critics, the community of readers is what gets books kept on. (I keep thinking of I Capture the Castle in that regard -- it seems like it was coming close to being forgotten until JK Rowling brought it back up.)

  2. Jenny, I had of course read 101 Dalmatians but had never heard of ICTC, until I joined an on-line book discussion group (for Heyer). That was how I found new authors & books - now it's more through blogs.

  3. Trollope serialises well and is often on both TV and radio. The book group I belong to enjoyed The Way We Live Now with it's dramatisation an added fillip afterwards. It also got us interested in his life.
    Ditto Bleak House.

  4. Carol, thanks for stopping by. I've also gotten interested in his life, after reading his books. I really enjoyed his Autobiography.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!