Robert Mayer. Walter Scott and Fame. Authors and Readers in the Romantic Age

Professor Mayer’s book is an insightful, eye-opening exploration of the emergence of a new type of literary celebrity at the beginning of the nineteenth century based on close readings of Walter Scott’s correspondence. Considered by Byron himself as “the first man of his time,” Scott is an ideal case study due to the immense popularity he enjoyed during his lifetime as a result of his poetic and novelistic output, especially the Waverley cycle. Beautifully contextualized through comparisons with predecessors such as Pope and Johnson, contemporaries such as Wordsworth, Southey, and Byron, and successors such as Dickens, Hardy, and Hemingway, this study sheds considerable light on the evolution of literary celebrity in general and on the brand of celebrity that Walter Scott embodied in the public consciousness of his time in particular.

Treharne, Elaine and Greg Walker, eds. Textual Distortion

In the introduction to Textual Distortion, a volume of essays published as part of the English Association’s “Essays and Studies” series, Elaine Treharne notes that the process of distortion “remains resolutely associated with the undesirable, the lost or the deceptive” (1). In response to this primarily negative view of distortion, the nine essays that Treharne and her co-editor, Greg Walker, have assembled in this collection document the “varied, dynamic and often positive role of distortion in the transmission and reception of texts” (5). Many of the essays approach distortion from a bibliographic or book-historical perspective, examining the distorting effects of various processes of textual transmission, such as scribal intervention, photo-facsimile reproduction, and digital manipulation. Other essays treat distortion as a mediating factor in the transmission of historical and literary discourse.

Scott B. Guthery. Practical Purposes: Readers in Experimental Philosophy at the Boston Athenaeum (1827-1850)

Guthery’s objective is “to inquire as to what the books Athenaeum members borrowed can tell us about the influence they had on their community” during the period 1827 to 1850 (xix, 17). However, his concern is not solely with who those readers were and what books they borrowed, but the connections between what they read, what they built, and what they wrote. He then goes beyond this to explore what the specific books they selected (and did not select) can tell us about what they sought and what they valued in that literature and how they thought about what they were reading and building, making this truly a unique contribution to the academic literature.

David Letzler. The Cruft of Fiction: Mega-Novels and the Science of Paying Attention

In this thought-provoking, well-written study, David Letzler combines computer science and information theory with genre criticism to propose an innovative way of theorizing reader response to the excesses often found in postmodern and some modern mega-novels. These are “the extremely literate, erudite tomes around which one must plan one’s life for a month” (1) by such authors as Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, as well as James Joyce. Acknowledging that reactions to these novels range from passionate admiration to dismissive scorn, Letzler aims to delineate the ways in which they require modulation of readers’ attention and, in so doing, provide practical lessons for the information age.