From Kirkus Reviews
A virtual self-parody of obfuscation and solipsism in cultural studies. Radway (Literature/Duke Univ.) writes that she has spent much of her career mulling ``the distance I had travelled between a small tract house in suburban New Jersey . . . and a lectern in front of a literature class.'' Radway takes this self-indulgent vision of scholarship as her license to inflate a sentimental interest in the Book-of-the-Month Club into a needlessly mystified ``ethnography'' of it. Her history of the club's creation of a middle-brow reading appetite is relatively informative if, like everything else here, overlong. But because her contemporary ``fieldwork'' approaches the club as an arcane text or exotic tribe, rather than a perfectly intelligible business enterprise, she endlessly worries the relationship between its literary and commercial goals into equivocal blather, such as, ``Decisions about books at the club were always pegged to a highly elaborated conception of book buying and book reading.'' That is to say, ``multiple planes of the literary field . . . were structured according to . . . a planar logic that foregrounded the discreteness and particularity of domains and forms of expertise.'' It will be clear to anyone but Radway that the club is just a marketing scheme with a pretty simple taste-mongering shtick, run, to judge even by her flattering portrayal, by people who sell books, not literature. But Radway is lost in breathless close readings of editorial memos, and cut-and-paste applications of cultural theory--not to mention her affection for the staff and misty memories of young book-loving. More intriguing than any book club's mail-order stratagems is the question of how books like this get sold--to Ivy League departments in the form of dissertations, grant-makers (the Guggenheim in this case), and university presses. (9 illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
A Feeling for Books
, though not at every turn satisfying, does identify an array of vital issues pertaining to the formation of taste, collective and individual. Some readers will wish for stronger links to our cultural moment; others for more extended personal reflection on how a passionate reader of popular works became a scholar necessarily critical of such naive consumption. But no one who finishes Radway's study will ever again scan the club's enticing ads blindly. They will henceforth understand just how such an organization reads its would-be readers. There is reading, in other words, and there is reading--and somewhere, too, there is the chinking of the cash register. -- Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Sven BirkertsA Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire
is more personal than Dr. Radway's previous work, weaving her own history into that of the book club. And it turned out to be more sympathetic than she expected to what detractors have long labeled the club's `middlebrow' taste. -- Chronicle of Higher Education
The most interesting things about this book are its problems ... What makes the book at once more ambitious, distinctive and problematic is that Radway frames her study with a kind of intellectual and social autobiography. In Part I she describes her time spent with the Book-of-the-Month Club in the late 1980's ... In Part 2 she recaptures how some of the club's selections ... affected her when she read them as a girl and tries to understand the content of middlebrow culture through her present rereading of them. -- The New York Times Book Review, Fred Miller Robinson