Reading Beyond the Page: Contextualizing Reading Within the Lives of Avid Readers
Nolan-Stinson, Jennifer Anne
Caughey, John L.
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My dissertation seeks to add to our understanding of reading as a social and cultural practice by examining the roles that reading plays within the everyday lives of four avid readers. The recent proliferation of national reading studies in the English-speaking world indicates a current international preoccupation with reading, but neither these studies nor most previous academic scholarship on reading have taken actual, individual readers into account. Through employing a self-reflexive ethnographic life history approach that includes a series of interviews with each reader and an analysis of how the readers arrange their reading materials in their homes, my work contextualizes how readers use reading and make it meaningful. I argue that new questions and emphases emerge once we center studies of reading within the lives and words of actual readers. For example, my focus on these readers' daily reading practices reveals problems inherent in privileging book and literary reading and points to the need to include a broader variety of genres and a wider array of formats, such as periodicals and online reading, if we wish to understand how reading is used in everyday life. Looking at each reader's life history also emphasizes the need for considerations of the influences of space and time on reading, both at home and while traveling, as well as the material aspects of the reading experience. Furthermore, when we pay attention to the complex negotiations each reader makes between her/his reading interests, social locations, and cultural traditions, it becomes clear that generalizations about groups of readers suppress individual relationships that readers have with their cultural and social influences and therefore how each of these interact with reading. What my dissertation makes most clear is that we must begin to expand our notion of reading beyond the page and into the lives of individual readers if we wish to understand it as a cultural practice.