Reading and Popular Culture: Contemporary Book Cultures in North America & UK

Department of American and Canadian Studies, School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies

College of Arts and Law


Code 22833

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester 2

Pre-requisite modules ‘You must have completed at least two years of appropriate study in this discipline.’ i.e. literature, cultural studies or American Studies

Module description

We live in an era and a region of the world where less people are reading more books; where more books are published now than 20 years ago, yet educators and librarians fret that young people only play video-games, and the US government would rather Americans read 'To Kill A Mockingbird' than watch 'Desperate Housewives'. Why, in a digital age, does the reading of printed books and the existence of a `bookish culture¿ still matter? In order to explore and understand both the material and ideological aspects of contemporary book cultures, this module focusses on the social location and cultural function of book reading in the 21st century. Drawing upon contemporary case studies from North America and the UK, the module also considers how and why `ordinary¿ people read books, how the contemporary mass media frame reading as a form of popular culture and why these practices matter ¿ politically, socially and culturally.

The module will consist of 3 main units: Reading As A Social Practice; Reading as Popular Culture; Producing Readers. Within each unit we will examine a selection of theories, artefacts and practices that will allow us to investigate the meanings and formations of selected contemporary book cultures. Our texts and case studies will range across media, genres and nation-states, and will include both 'literary' and 'middlebrow' books; TV and radio shows; artefacts from city-wide reading projects; evidence gathered from our own reading histories and observations of spaces of reading (e.g. libraries and bookshops) as well as selected theoretical texts.

Teaching and learning methods

Seminar-style including student-lead discussion, group work, mini fieldwork assignments, online commentaries in WEBCT. Weekly, two-hour sessions.