Grad school is just a really mean book club

Rather than seek out the sf Stans that normally provide the material for this assignment, I’ve elected to think about “mass” consumption/reception for Never Let Me Go. A 2015 Publisher’s Weekly article lists the sales of the text as having “sold 74.5K in hardcover and 427K in trade paper to date.”[1] While that’s not workers of the world, I assume that of the texts we’ve read this year, only maybe The Time Machine and Heir to the Empire top it in print volume. So, I’m trying to think about “popular” readings of this novel through book club guides and “the internet” in its most broadly accessible spaces, Google and Wikipedia.

There’s interesting sociological research on book clubs, but these studies seem to focus on the types of reading that happen in small, self-selecting groups who guide their own interrogations of texts.[2] Easier are the “book clubs” or “book club guides” that are published either in the books themselves, on the publisher’s website, or in some other mass media form. There’s plenty for this novel, but I chose Penguin’s and The Guardian’s as representative of “official” end of the book club spectrum. The Penguin is a series of questions that, presumably, some extant club could simply deploy. The Guardian seems to have run an actual book club in London for some years, attendable by the public for £7. The first is interesting for the ways it guides the audience toward certain thematics (but also seems to be testing readers to see if they read all the way to the end?) and away from others (genre, for example), the second for its reports on readers’ frustrations with the text (“Among the many readers writing in to the Guardian Book Club weblog, the issue of this failure to rebel has provoked the most animated questions and disputes,” writes the Book Club host John Mullan). Particularly interesting is Mullen’s report on the discussion around “sci-fi” narrative techniques.

Unlike the Penguin guide, Wikipedia is interested in genre. The 19 authors of the “Never Let Me Go (novel)” page have given us a very genre-focused “Reception” section, citing five high-to-middlebrow publications’ reviews (The New Yorker, The NYT, The Atlantic, The Telegraph, The Guardian) and one horror writer (Ramsey Campbell). The page offers “quasi-science-fiction,” “pop genre—sci-fi thriller,” “horror,” a “coming-of-age” story, and tells us that the book ranked “4th on The Guardian’s list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.”

Finally, Google. When I search “never let me go book,” I get the following “People also ask” queries: “What is the purpose of Never Let Me Go?” “Why is Never Let Me Go a good book?” and “Is Never Let Me Go based on a true story?” —is google the book club of the “masses”? (and with discussion questions not so far from our classroom discourse!).

 

[1] https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/65884-this-week-s-bestsellers-march-16-2015.html

[2] Childress, C. Clayton, and Noah E. Friedkin. “Cultural Reception and Production: The Social Construction of Meaning in Book Clubs.” American Sociological Review, vol. 77, no. 1, 2012, pp. 45–68. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23102578. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.

One thought on “Grad school is just a really mean book club”

  1. I’m really interested in this one quotation from the Guardian’s reading group. “Why would the Hailsham donors read and discuss complex works of literature, poetry and philosophy and not question or rebel against their fate in any way?” Here we have a member of a book club explicitly suggesting the consequence of reading literature, that it will provoke you to question and change your world. But then almost in the same breath the reader changes tack. ” I did not understand how this annoyance was not addressed in the novel by a simple ploy of electronic chips/tagging or (more chillingly relevant) by sophisticated ID cards.” I think it would be fruitful to put this quotation in conversation with talk-talk-talk’s question about the role of education in the novel.

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