ATG Book of the Week: Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers: From Charlotte Temple to The Da Vinci Code

by | Dec 25, 2012 | 0 comments

Title: Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers: From Charlotte Temple to The Da Vinci Code
Editors: Sarah Churchwell, Thomas Ruys Smith
Paperback: 9781441162168, $29.95
Imprint: London; New York : Continuum,  2012

What is it about certain books that makes them bestsellers? Why do some of these books remain popular for centuries, and others fade gently into obscurity? And why is it that when scholars do turn their attention to bestsellers, they seem only to be interested in the same handful of blockbusters, when so many books that were once immensely popular remain under-examined?

Addressing those and other equally pressing questions about popular literature, Must Read is the first scholarly collection to offer both a survey of the evolution of American bestsellers as well as critical readings of some of the key texts that have shaped the American imagination since the nation’s founding.

Focusing on a mix of enduring and forgotten bestsellers, the essays in this collection consider 18th and 19th century works, like Charlotte Temple or Ben-Hur, that were once considered epochal but are now virtually ignored; 20th century favorites such as The Sheik and Peyton Place; and 21st century blockbusters including the novels of Nicholas Sparks, The Kite Runner, and The Da Vinci Code.”

“Must Read breathes new life into the study of best-sellers, rescuing them from not only the enormous condescension of posterity but also from the flattering but often reductive readings of modern academics. With its artful blend of textual analysis, historicization, and theoretical speculation, the contributors challenge us to reread and rethink a host of works, ranging from short stories and sentimental novellas to advice manuals and modern blockbusters.  For anyone with an interest in the contours of American print culture from the eighteenth century to the present, Must Read is itself a must read work.” -Leon Jackson, Associate Professor of English, University of South Carolina, USA” –

“”Although the past two decades have seen a sizeable increase in scholarly interest in bestsellers in the American context, there remains a great deal of unexplored territory when it comes to such literature. Must Read goes a long way in addressing this deficiency by examining a tremendous range of such literature with great critical care, insight, and theoretical sophistication. Must Read is a must read for anyone interested in American bestsellers.” — Paul Gutjahr, Professor of English, American Studies, and Religious Studies, Indiana University, USA” –

“”This pathbreaking collection provides a unique contribution to the study of American literature, bringing to the fore a broad survey of popular literature from a variety of eras and genres, and bringing to our attention a number of previously neglected yet essential bestselling works. A valuable addition to literary and cultural studies, Must Read is a must read for students and scholars of American popular culture and American literature more generally.” -Lisa Botshon, Professor of English, University of Maine at Augusta” –

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